Click. “Did you get the email?”
Buzz. “Hey, it’s been ages! We should meet up.”
Ping. “You HAVE to see this video!”
My fingers are flying over my cell phone, intermittently switching to the keyboard in front of me. I have countless emails demanding a reply, and I’m also trying to have a heartfelt catch up session with a friend – oh, not to forget the the really cool person I met last week whose acquaintance is worth developing. Even as I write this, I am simultaneously glancing at the message I just received and chuckling at the meme from five minutes ago. Now I need to scroll through the stockpile of my own memes to send an appropriate reply before I can continue with this blogpost.
Hang on, give me a second…
I’m back. I was just criticized for using “right” instead of “write” in a WhatsApp message. Did I tell you that eating lunch also forms part of this juggling act?
MULTI-TASKING! It is the modern world’s latest psychological evil. I’ve read enough snippets of How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb to know that I am breaking every rule designed for harmonious existence. I was listening to an AlphaChat podcast the other day on social media, and the discussion revolved around how much value we really derive out of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Cardiff Garcia started the conversation off quite aptly when he said, “If the social media we have is the social media we deserve, then we must be pretty terrible people.”
This really got me thinking: "Is the social media I use the social media I deserve?” Let’s see… friends of friends’ Facebook rants; a feed satiated with self-pitying memes propagating a culture of aversion for difficulty and hard work; flawless selfies of a girl whom I know is really miserable inside; shirtless drunk guys with bloodshot eyes, arms slung around each other, and the caption “bros for life”; that one guy on my feed who is a staunch Trump supporter; the other guy who tells us what kind of woman he would and would not marry; the cocktails captured at just the right angle with just the right filter; the fake news, the haters, the cats playing piano, Twitter’s vitriol, and not to forget… #Blessed.
So, to answer the above question: No. I deserve far better than this pathetic roll-in of information that adds little value to my life, and arguably detracts from it.
According to statistics, 22% of the world’s population uses Facebook. Think about that for a second. It certainly is what I was thinking about the other night during the energetic buzz of a 2am mosquito orchestra when I stumbled across a TEDx talk on why we should all quit social media. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, talks about the “rules for focused success in a distracted world.”
The reality is that the nature of social media has fragmented the way we think. Most social media platforms bombard us with a myriad different ideas in one user experience – whether that be your friend sharing the feminist opinion piece, the other posting the cat video, or some wonky news article about the Obama’s getting a divorce.
How often do you actually read those articles to the end, never mind at all? Secondly, how often do you use that information as a springboard for further research and analysis? We are more likely to scroll through our feed, read a few paragraphs, chuckle at a few memes and come away feeling that we have connected with the world and gained new information.
But this is a lie. The first thing it does, is indirectly destroy our ability to concentrate. What we effectively have done is stimulate the shallowest part of our cognitive processing, completely ignoring the deeper processing that would allow information not only to be retained, but also fully understood, interpreted and internalised.
Our interaction with social media tends to raise our dopamine levels (think about every time you here that “Ping!” and feel a tingle of excitement) and offer quick stimulation to our sensory and short term memory – but really not much else. This dopamine is the same chemical that responds to alcohol, sugar and drugs – basically, it’s addictive. This leaves us craving the experience more and more, oblivious to the fact that it slowly erodes our concentration across all fields.
There is also the immediate harm, however, of simply taking up far too much of our time. Besides juggling topics and ideas when using social media, we are now also juggling social media into our day. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are designed to have you stop whatever you are doing whenever a new notification pops up. I’m going to be dead honest – even as I write this I have to stop myself from reaching over to my phone to check the messages that keeping coming in.
Have you ever considered tracking how much accumulative time you spend on social media per day? Try it. According to The Telegraph, the average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day. Imagine if this “average Joe” decided to cut just 40 minutes from his daily dose of social media. He could spend that 40 minutes going for a run, learning a new language or just spending quality time with his friends and family.
It isn’t necessary that we banish social media from our lives – we just need to realise that as with all things, it is best enjoyed in moderation. These three things will help you give your mind a break, and hopefully allow you to better control your user experience:
1. Respect your time. Respect your mind.
Your time on social media should be an exclusive activity, not a subconscious impulse that breaks into whatever you are doing. Give yourself set times when you will be active on social media; for example, one session in the morning and one in the late afternoon/evening. (And by session I do not mean endless binge scrolling, but rather just long enough for you to do what is relevant, like answering messages.) No more checking every half hour – that comment or that like can wait, because chances are whatever you’re doing in the “real world” is far more important.
2. Speaking of “relevant”…
Can we please just accept that some people aren't at certain points in time? I’m talking about those random messages you get from random people you’ve never met, who evidently have no reason to contact you other than to say “Hey”. I sometimes feel that people use the easy accessibility of technology to reach out to people with whom they have absolutely nothing in common and with whom they would never talk face-to-face. You are under no obligation to reply! Ignore them. Delete the message. Just because social media allows us to speak with the whole world, does not mean we should. To put it bluntly: Ain’ nobody got time for that.
3. Tweak that algorithm
We all know that sites like Facebook are designed to tailor our experience to what we already know and like. The “suggested friends”, the adverts that keep popping up, or the similar new sites bombarding your feed – these tend to ensure that you are kept comfortable and cozy within your little bubble of knowledge. Well, it’s time to break that. The first thing to do is to unfollow the friends who are sharing cat videos. Cat videos will not make you a more intelligent human being. Start following the friends who share news articles that make you think, and the friends who actually write posts – not sentences – that share their well articulated opinion on a particular topic. If you do not have these kind of friends – evaluate your life :)
In conclusion, I do not think that we necessarily have to live like hermits in order to avoid the pitfalls of social media – because, let’s be honest, scrolling through memes and finding out what our friends are doing can be fun. We do get a sense of connectivity to the world. However, taken too far, our time on social media can be the very thing that disconnects us from reality. If we can learn to set some simple boundaries, not only will we create the social media we deserve, but we also will have achieved that dying feat of the modern age: self-discipline.
So next time you feel the urge to binge-scroll through Facebook or Instagram, ask yourself, “Am I living my life at its optimum? Does this add value to who I am?”
If it doesn’t, start doing something that does!