Being addicted to social media means being overly worried about it, feeling an unstoppable urge to log in or use it, and spending so much time on it that it messes up other important parts of your life.
At the very least, we can agree that we all fall prey to what I call "social media craving." It's a state where being close to social media through sight, audio, or touch makes it hard to control the urge to do something or mindlessly scroll.
Certainly, social media has greatly improved our lives. Whether you're an aspiring entrepreneur, writer, singer, public speaker, or just want to reconnect with old friends, social media has an unmatched reach. The support we can gather for fundraisers, spreading awareness about sustainable living, finding a blood donor, and various other efforts, are all thanks to social media.
But, is all content creation meaningful, ethical, or at least thoughtful?
Drowning in Information
The amount of stuff you can find on these platforms is pretty cool. Whether you're a new mom looking for Montessori influencers or a kid searching for fun reels, there are a bunch of choices. Even just scrolling randomly isn't always useless. I've stumbled upon ideas for my articles many times while scrolling with no clear purpose. But, gotta be honest, I could have used those hours to actually write, think, read books, try out some of those DIY videos that keep popping up, spend time with my family, or just relax alone. It's not just that I'm using my time badly; it's also kind of risky. The posts I see, the messages I get on WhatsApp, the people I follow, and the ads I'm bombarded with create a narrow view of the world around me. The more I stare at the screen, the smaller my perspective becomes.
The Shocking Reality of Content
The difference between how much stuff we take in and how much actually means something in our lives can be surprising. The slow, almost invisible way the things we see online affect our personalities, our beliefs, and who we are is pretty scary.
Unseen Forces Driving Content
Creating and consuming content happens without us even realizing it, and there are loads of reasons behind it—wanting more followers, feeling pressured by friends, trying to make the platform's algorithm happy, dealing with questions about who we really are, and the list goes on and gets even deeper and darker.
We all want to quickly check our messages, likes, and comments as soon as our phones notify us. We're interested in what people think about our weekends and how many of our followers liked the photos we posted. When was the last time you had a fantastic vacation without sharing it online?
The Consequences of Connectivity
Our online activities are constantly monitored, bombarding us with targeted ads and posts. We regularly encounter unsolicited advice, superstitious messages, and false information. Unfortunately, these have become the norm. This has led to unnecessary consumerism and a distorted view of various aspects of life, from politics to self-worth. The algorithms reinforce our existing biases, making us more polarized. Whether we're creating or consuming content, it seems challenging to escape the influence of the trillion-dollar tech industry. We tend to see, do, think, and believe what is expected of us.
Unmasking Social Media's Illusion
The trickery of social media lies in making us believe we have a lot of choices.
To improve the situation, we must push for fair rules and embrace ethical designs. Simultaneously, we should guide ourselves in making better choices.
Various solutions exist—tools tracking screen time, keeping devices away, using apps to set time limits, turning off notifications, and more. While these are helpful, the core lies in our motivation. Engaging in a mindful inner dialogue helps us discover and maintain that motivation.
Social media holds different meanings for different individuals. Achieving a healthy balance tailored to each person requires personalized solutions. It's not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and we can't treat all social media platforms alike. Each app serves different purposes and demands unique handling.
To gain control, we must embark on an exploration of every regularly used app, understanding five key aspects of each.
Why do I use the app?
Explore beyond the typical answers like "it's fun" "to pass time" or "to create content."
For some, it might be crucial for promoting their business. Others may see it as a supportive space with like-minded individuals going through similar life phases. You might catch yourself comparing your life with others. It could just be for enjoyment or a mix of various reasons. But before moving forward, reflect on what specific needs it fulfills for you.
For those willing to delve deeper, try linking the fulfilled needs to internal conflicts like insecurities, seeking validation, identity crises, or even plain FOMO.
What fuels your content creation? What drives you to scroll endlessly?
When does it make me feel good?
The answers can vary from "when I get a like" "when I find solutions for my toddler's picky eating" or "when I read a great review for my product." We welcome both types. Just jot them down, however many there are.
Let's categorize our responses into "short-lived" and "long-lasting." The first category involves feelings that fade once you move past the post or exit the app. The second lingers in your mind for a bit longer, adding value to your life—like a useful tip, an inspiring quote, customer reviews, information about plastic overuse, or awareness of animal abuse. It doesn't have to be all cheerful.
How much time do I spend on it?
Our phones can likely tell us the hours, but we want to go deeper to grasp how much time is spent with purpose.
Creating content on anything and everything can become a habit without real intention. Ask yourself, "Why am I posting this?" and examine your answers. Even in content consumption, it's crucial to be purposeful. Before logging into the app, ask, "What am I looking for?" and head straight to the relevant content. This helps control time spent on items in the short-lived list we made earlier.
Keep an eye on things in our long-lasting list too. While purposeful, they may contribute to biases. Check if your feed has enough diversity—opinions and topics.
Understanding the time spent on both short-lived and long-lasting activities is crucial and needs to align with our acceptance.
What else could I have done with my time?
This question may imply that anything is better than social media, but not necessarily.
It's a sincere attempt to understand things you want to do but haven't due to time constraints or mood. Even trivial things like endless scrolling can drain energy. If interests take a backseat, it raises awareness of the issue's magnitude.
It's not just about interests and hobbies. Can you spend enough time with your kids? Connect with friends offline? Have sufficient physical activity? Pay ample attention during family dinners.
Reflecting on a Day Without Logging In
What emotions arise when I stay away for a day?
Many of us feel the urge to check or respond to messages and notifications instantly. Let's intentionally distance ourselves from the app for a day. Observe how often your mind thinks about it, the self-control you exercise, and the relief upon logging back in. This exercise helps us understand how much our mind unconsciously revolves around the app.
If you discover an unhealthy connection with the app, delete it. Take a break from it, a detox. Reinstall when you regain control, if you still desire it.
Healthy Social Media Practices
Some useful guidelines apply in general.
- Disable notifications—no badges, prompts, or previews.
- Keep your phone away during family time.
- Follow a variety of accounts.
- Discuss time spent on social media with family or friends.
Achieving a comfortable relationship with social media is challenging, requiring continuous intervention and behavioral adjustments. These systems aim to influence our psychological tendencies. It's akin to playing a game against a computer analyzing every move.
Building self-awareness and making conscious choices are our most potent tools. As Tristan Harris states in "The Social Dilemma," how can you combat the matrix if you don't realize you're in it?