Do you know how long you spend on social media everyday? Android phones feature a “digital wellbeing” setting that allows users to track screen time. As for iPhone users, Apple brightens our every Monday morning by sending a notification to let us know how specifically how many hours we spent on our phones in the previous week. An average user’s screen time is about three and a half hours a day and the majority of that is spent on social media. That’s over 24 hours a week. Can you imagine that? An entire 24 hour period spent staring blankly at our phones, scrolling.
Despite the unsettling image, we probably shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for how we pass our time these days. Sure, those hours could be spent more productively, but given our current circumstances, we can cut ourselves some slack. The issue lies, rather, in the negative impacts this time may have on our minds. Social media isn’t just empty time spent on our phones, it can have negative impacts on parts of our lives such as our sleep, self esteem and attention span.
And yet, the number of people on social media sites is growing rapidly. Sure, there are a lot of people who have successfully gone off the (Instagram) grid, but many of us are addicted to the apps, unable to go more than a few hours without checking our feeds. We hate it, we know it’s bad for us, but we are unwilling to cut it out of our lives.
Why are we afraid to delete social media? The most obvious answer is, probably, virtual FOMO. Fear of missing out, fear of missing something that might have interested us. Missing important updates from friends, pictures, videos, and so on. What if someone forgets to tell us? What if we’re left out? Many of us rely on social media for news updates, too; Twitter, particularly, is a handy way of getting instant updates in bite-sized pieces.
We are afraid of falling out of touch. We would feel shut out, reclusive, if we weren’t part of social media. For many of us, this is too great a sacrifice.
Our world is increasingly dependent on social media. By being users of apps like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, we have grown accustomed to that world and learnt to interact with it. Social media doesn’t just allow us to connect with friends, it allows us to network and make new connections, which may be essential to our careers. Are there career costs to deleting social media? For some people, probably. For others, it’s not even an option.
Besides networking, there are many other positive elements to social media. For one, it is great for practicing and promoting creativity. Documenting your favourite pictures and creating a sort of scrapbook of your life on Instagram can be fun. Such sites also make it possible to showcase all different forms of art.
Many people find a lot of comfort in the easy, instant connection that social media offers. Particularly in lockdown, it can be nice to see how friends and family are spending their days. Social media makes it easy to connect with these people, to check in on them and catch up. It can take no more than replying to a story to rebuild an old friendship.
Among the other positives of social media are instant communication, socialization, building communities and connections, and the ability to find help and support for various issues. Social media is not all bad – it would be much easier to delete it if it were. Depending on individual user experience, the positives can outweigh the negatives.
The answer may lie, then, in how we command our experience of the app, and how long we allow ourselves to spend on it. If we know that social media is having a negative impact on our lives, but are not willing to cut it out, then we must work to change the way we approach it. If you want to learn how to have a positive experience on social media, we have an article about it here.
Social media is a way of engaging with the larger world, outside of your local area. But we must be careful, particularly during COVID. You might have extra time on your hands now, which is easy to fill with scrolling through your phone. You might be reading things that make you anxious, seeing pictures and videos that make you question the public’s attitude to COVID. It’s important to pay extra attention to our mental health during this time, and I believe part of that lies in reconsidering our approach to social media.