Social media is so interwoven into the fabric of our society that it’s sometimes hard to remember a time when we weren’t sharing pictures, recommendations, and facets of our daily lives with the world. And while it certainly has benefits in the areas of connection, education, and access, social media has also proven to have some significant downsides. Among those downsides, the most obvious to me is that it simply takes up time, often without objective permission.
My tumultuous relationship with social media
I’ve grappled with social media for years. I’ve never been the type of person to want to share every detail of my life. And I also haven’t cared much about the lives of people outside of my immediate friends and family. So as I used to scroll through the old Facebook feed, I would think to myself, “I haven’t seen or talked to some of these people in years; do I truly care what they’re doing?”
I got so fed up back in 2017 that I decided to get off social media altogether. And after reactivating my Facebook earlier this year, I quickly remembered why I left.
My initial reason for getting back on Facebook was to join groups. As I’ve started this new health and fitness venture, it feels more important than ever to find online communities to support my new goals.
But after I log into Facebook and check out groups, I inevitably hit the “home” button and start to scroll. Yet, what is it that I’m looking for?
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that these sites are designed to be alluring. I understand that there are teams of brilliant and very well-paid developers whose top priority is to get people to stay on the site as long as possible so we can absorb as many ads as our eyeballs can take.
But despite knowing that it’s designed to be addictive, I feel like I needed to go deeper to figure out my internal motivations.
What do I really want social media to do for me, and what emotions am I trying to uncover?
Inspiration? Validation? Education? Connection? Entertainment? Distraction?
Initially, I didn’t know the answer. I was just scrolling, occasionally slowing or stopping to read something. But overall, I exited the browser window feeling crappy. Like I just wasted a bunch of time, and for what?
I pride myself on efficiency and productivity, so it feels vital to self-correct when I realize something might be putting my productivity in jeopardy. And when I reactivated Facebook, I already put certain guardrails in place:
- Facebook isn’t on my phone
- I don’t even know my password to log in on mobile
- Notifications are disabled
Yet despite these guardrails, when I open up Facebook on desktop intentionally to check one thing, I come to 15 minutes later and feel like I’ve simply flushed valuable time down the toilet.
Anyone else share that feeling?
Have you ever asked what you really want from social media?
I have a feeling that for a lot of people, it’s a source of entertainment. And we certainly need to be entertained, especially with all the other burdens of daily life. We open the app not really knowing what we want from it but that we’re bored and ready for someone else to ease the burden of our boredom. Lo and behold, you squander away hours until it’s time to do something else, so technically, the site did its job, right?
But if I asked you to schedule out your day, how much time would you be willing to allocate to the categories of “mindless scrolling,” “entertainment,” or “seeking validation”? Probably not a lot. And certainly not as much as you may be spending on it right now.
Personally, I’d cap that category at 10-15 minutes but treat it like sweets in my daily diet, completely optional. I can have a sweet treat if I really want it, but if I want to go days or weeks without something, that’s fine too. Social media can become a mindless addiction, much like eating unsavory food. So how can we draw the line?
Identifying what you want
- Figure out what you’re doing there. Before you open up a social media app, ask yourself, “what do I need from this right now?” It might change daily or even throughout the day, but asking yourself the question and being honest about your answer is always step 1. When I’ve done this recently, the answer I’ve come up with is “I don’t want to do the next thing on my to-do list so I’m looking for a distraction.”
- Once you’ve identified what you want from social media, check if there’s another way to satisfy the same need. When I admit to myself that I’m seeking distraction, it becomes a lot easier to compromise and say “Okay, that’s valid, but just finish this task, then go for a walk to mentally refresh instead.” If you’re looking for a connection, can you call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while? Can you send a thank you note to a coworker for something they helped you with last week? If you’re seeking inspiration, can you curate your feed to only show creators that inspire you? Are there certain artists you can check out via their direct websites instead?
- If the answer is no, you can’t get what you’re looking for anywhere else, decide how much time you’re willing to spend. Sometimes your answer might just be that you’re bored and want to let your mind wander for a bit, and that’s cool. But set a timer for 10 minutes instead of falling into the social media rabbit hole and coming up for light in 2 hours.
- Try using the minimalist site where everything is low quality, and it’s not nearly as enticing: https://m.facebook.com/. A trip to this site makes you want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Use this to make your social media dive less appealing or when you tell yourself you only want to check one specific thing.
The main thing about our relationship with social media
Social media isn’t going away anytime soon, so we need to find a balance that makes us happy. If spending time on social media is upsetting or leaving you feeling like something’s missing, re-assess the relationship. And it’s okay to break up if that’s what you need to do. Even a temporary social media detox (or a few years like I did) can be so freeing and teach you to see the world and your time in a new light.
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