Social media. You either love it or you hate it. Or, if you’re anything like me, you hate that you love it. I know that I would be a lot more productive, and probably have a lot more fun without it. But something (read: Instagram) keeps pulling me back in.
Every morning I start my day by checking my social media feeds, notifications, and subscription boxes. As sad as that is, it’s a part of my routine that I would feel lost without. I wasn’t always like this though. There was a time where I was happy to go places sans mobile phone and didn’t feel the compulsion to check it every few minutes. Granted, I saw my friends every day at school, didn’t hold down a job that required me to be online or have a reason for someone to need to reach me at every hour of the day, but I digress.
Friend or Foe?
As it turns out the impulse to check up and check-in is all too common with 84 percent of cell phone users claiming they could not go a single day without their device. It has also been found that some people check their phone every 6.5 minutes. That’s around 150 times a day.
The reason for this, according to cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell, is that there is something seductive about being constantly connected. Oftentimes in Western culture, we are measured by the value of our network. The small joy we get when we see we have a notification is because it reminds us that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves.
Writer Lisa Shanahan may have summed it up best, stating, “the Internet buzzes in the background of my life, comforting – always there to entertain me, to feed me information, to connect me to my grid of friends and family and to people I follow.” While there is no doubt that there are endless benefits to social media – facilitating and maintaining relationships, promoting a sense of belonging and self-esteem and an opportunity for identity formation to name just a few. It can also bring additional stress to our lives through sleep disruption, distraction, and procrastination, FOMO and overwhelmingly as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. Oftentimes without us realising.
Lead By (Celebrity) Example
More and more celebrities are preaching the digital detox message. Professional athletes like LeBron James partake in social media blackouts at crucial times in their career to get their head in the game. James, for example, enforces a social media ban during the NBA playoffs. Sports psychologist Dr. Jarrod Spencer supports this strategy for athletes as it gives them a clearer mind. He says, “Eliminating social media has a significant benefit on an athlete’s performance. Athlete’s today have a hard time focusing because of the addiction to social media that plagues our society. But the biggest thing that it affects is their sleep.”
Similarly, big names like Kim Kardashian and Ed Sheeran have taken extensive social media hiatuses. Kardashian took a three-month break from social media after being held at gunpoint in Paris, with her attackers revealing her social media antics helped them know when and where to strike. Her removed presence from social media was big news, particularly as sponsorships make up a significant portion of Kardashian’s income. It was reported that her hiatus cost her $3.6 million. However, she has encouraged everyone to priority check and step away from social media.
While Kardashian’s circumstances are unusual by any stretch of the imagination, Ed Sheeran’s sabbatical from social media was a result of negative energy and touring the world but only experiencing it through a screen. Heavy.
If you’ve ever found yourself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, comparing yourself to a social media influencer or fretting because your latest Insta post didn’t get enough likes than it might not be a bad idea to take a leaf out of Sheeran’s book and consciously un-couple from your beloved platforms.
Humans just function better when they occasionally disconnect, says Genevieve Bell. In fact, one in three people feels more dissatisfied with their lives after scrolling through Facebook. While those who have unplugged from technology report an improved quality of life as they spend more time with friends and family, get more frequent exercise and cook, and eat, healthier food more often.
Where Should You Start?
Schedule a time to disconnect. Whether it’s over dinner, the first hour you’re awake in the morning or the thirty minutes it takes you to commute to work. Schedule it, and stick to it. Melanie Alvarez, assistant news director at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and ex-social media addict says you’ll feel the difference in a week while the habit can be formed in a month.
Ironically, you can also turn to technology in an effort to help you disconnect. ‘Freedom‘ forces you to be productive by disabling your Internet access for an allocated time, as decided by you while ‘Self Control’ blacklists your dead-zone websites (don’t even think about trying to take a Buzzfeed quiz) for allocated time periods while giving you access to the entirety of the rest of the world wide web so you can smash that assignment out, distraction-free.
Or, if you don’t want to take the plunge to unplug you can make a few small changes to make your time spent on social media, a better one.
- Cleanse your feed. Assess what you use each social media for as well as who you follow. If seeing someone’s posts brings you down then mute, unfollow or unfriend them.
- Turn off your notifications. Once you turn them off you don’t have constant reminders pinging away at you. And when you do check your accounts it’s a nice surprise to see what is there waiting for you.
Or you can get squeeze in some last-minute screen time and check this Ted Talk’s for some inspiration on how to do social media better.