I, of all people, should not have this problem. I wrote “How To Go On A Social Media Hiatus” and went into full-blown detail as to why life is better under such circumstances. You’d think someone with a clear understanding of the subject, like myself, would be elusive and adverse to the misuses of social media. Most people generally agree if a person is informed, competent, and can see the bigger picture, they’ll make choices that best serve their interest and well being.
…Welp, here I am.
I’m back to the same exact feelings I had two years ago:
Fixated. Powerless. Distracted and not in control…
My initial trial in giving up social media felt like a lifestyle choice. I wanted to change my behavior and self-perception; social media content was directly getting in the way of that. Right around the same time though, I started writing and blogging. Obviously, this made me more inclined to use social networks to help facilitate and enable my writing. In turn, I painted social media in a more opportunistic light.
Although somewhat hypocritical, I dropped the whole “hiatus” thing and let social media run its course. It took some time to rear it’s ugly again, but eventually it did—this time for more destructive reasons.
Take Social Media For What It Is: Addictive
The addictive lure of Internet use is of discernible, growing concern. You don’t have to look far to find an article addressing it (after all, you’re reading one right now). But awareness, or realization, that people are using social media more and more is not the issue. In fact, this is relatively useless in regards to a healthy connection with the online world. I’m indisputable, living proof that “awareness” pales in comparison to biological, psychological, and social factors.
The real problem lies in social media’s representation — an endless stream of dopamine, preoccupation, and comfort — not necessarily its visible content.
By their very nature, sites like Facebook and Twitter engage part of the brain responsible for social interaction. Over thousands of years, humans have evolved to understand social stimuli as vital to survival (e.g. analyzing a threat or sexual partner). Such encounters and judgements are non-negotiable. Thus, your brain is programmed to place social media high on the scale of importance, hence the reason many people have a natural proclivity to use it obsessively.
The Perfect Excuse
To me, it feels like my phone, in general, is a massive crutch—something I turn to for information, motivation, and even comfort. Heightened dependency is an obvious by-product of increased integration of technology. This dynamic can be illustrated by the Apple Watch user who no longer runs without it, or the teenager who can’t resist Snapchat at a live event.
The lines between utility and unhinged dependence are blurring.
Social media exacerbates the disasters looming within this reality; it appears communal, constant, and relevant, giving us the perfect excuse to continually find solace in it. The degree to which we, as a people, might become physically and psychologically reliant on it should not be overlooked. The ramifications are steep. It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots, either.
Regardless of the nature, if you consistently lean on something, you’ll gradually adapt to it — you won’t stand properly without it.
The self-awareness that you are completely reliant and insufficient in your own is a massive blow to self-esteem; it means you are not only weak but helpless. This is where I’m at — to the point where peripheral noise is the first thing I hear in the morning (and is suddenly synonymous with motivation to get up). There’s the impulse to use my phone at every idle moment of my day. Worst of all, there’s the voice asking “ALEC, WHY AREN’T YOU BETTER AT LIFE? YOU SHOULD BE BETTER, BUT YOU’RE NOT.”
I can’t take the back-and-forth mental conflict of it anymore. One day, I’ll debate: “This isn’t really that big of a deal. So what if I use a little bit of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and Facebook *breaths* here and there? They give me information! They keep me in the loop, they’re helpful, and I need them to enjoy the things I enjoy and do what I do.”
In the face of significant change, we find (or fabricate) reasons why it’s okay to continue on with destructive behavior. We eat junk food. We smoke and drink. We allow ourselves to indulge now because reward in the short-run is sexier against the long. This shows how certain conventions, although damaging, can be challenging to outmaneuver.
Failed Attempts At Regulating Social Media
Of course I’ve tried to minimize all the noise. I really have.
First, I did the thing where I moved all social media off the home screen of my phone. “Out of sight, out of mind” they say. This worked momentarily, but it only slowed me down. It’s strange, I began to instinctively tap parts of the screen where social apps used to be. It was gross; I felt controlled. Eventually, I got straight in the habit of swiping to the new location and I was right back to square one [literally].
Then I took to Apple’s new time restriction feature, which came with the iOS 12 update. I proudly set time limits for all social networking — 45 minutes a day which includes text messages, FaceTime, and phone calls. When you meet the time limit, what do you think happens? If you guessed “ignore the limit because it’s only a tap of a button,” you guessed correct. Unfortunately, I receded to the point where I blew through the restrictions without hesitation. Again, this caused damage and added to my dismay as a user who wants to stop but can’t.
Bottom line, these half-hearted tactics don’t work. Like an itch you can never scratch, the attraction is always there, constantly alerting and overstating its own significance — but only if you let it.
It’s very simple: the cost of keeping social media on my phone largely outweighs the benefit. There’s no give-and-take with the stuff, it’s all or nothing. For that reason, I’m deleting social media… again.