Is social media serving a true purpose in your life, or is it just a distraction?
After five years of using digital channels for my weekday career and blogging side hustle, this is a question that bounces around in my brain on a near-daily basis. Why? Because over the past few years I’ve begun to notice a huge shift in our relationships with, and behaviour on, platforms like Facebook and Instagram. And I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable with our new normal.
There are more headlines than ever out in the digital ether decrying fake news, data theft, mental health effects, suicidal selfies and aggressive advertising to name just a few of the social platforms’ pain points. Assuming, taking all the above into account, that you still want to be online at all, how can you filter out the noise and make sure you’re using this type of technology to benefit your life and relationships, and not simply the revenue of these omniscient companies? Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
Start tracking app use
Both Apple and Android devices, as well as apps like Instagram, are now offering people the ability to track screen time. In Apple this is done via your phone settings and on Android via apps like Moment (their tagline is ‘less phone, more life’… Take from that what you will). They all provide similar features: The ability to track usage, schedule downtime, set limits for specific apps and compare daily and weekly habits.
From experience, the key to mobilising this data is not to trade it with friends like you’re proud of how much time you spend scrolling — ‘three and a half hours on Instagram for me yesterday!’ was what I heard someone say on their podcast recently — but it’s to actually do something about it. Spend your time more mindfully elsewhere (see below) and set yourself a limit reminder — mine is 30 minutes of social media per day.
Swap scrolling for something else
For someone who lives ‘up north’, I have a London-style commute: I’m on public transport for almost three hours every day, getting two trains and two buses in total to my Edinburgh office. That’s a lot of time I could quite easily spend stuck to a screen, mindlessly spiralling into constant scrolling without any real purpose. Instead, I’ve replaced social media with hobbies I am passionate about, like reading an actual book or writing (on the Evernote or Notes app). Take an example: In January I read four books instead of the zero I read last August when I started commuting, all from opening a book instead of scrolling for the hour I was travelling in the morning.
Incidentally, using my hours and minutes in the day doing activities I actually love genuinely makes me feel better. Yes, I do occasionally get social media FOMO, but then I force myself to fall into the much healthier distractions of reading, journaling or yoga.
Don’t be afraid to unfollow
If seeing an ex-partner’s updates on Facebook or an old friend’s Instagram stories from their round-the-world travels is making you annoyed or anxious, most social media platforms allow you to unfollow or mute troublesome connections. Muting is a good option if you don’t want to defriend them as they won’t know you’ve done it (let’s not muse too much on what this feature says about our digital relationships for now).
Be a force for good
In a decade do you want to look back and realise that you spent most of your free time glued to your phone? I’ll answer that for you: NO YOU DON’T (incidentally I can’t help thinking that our tech addiction will be the curse of the millennial and Gen Z age). We need to control the technology we use, not the other way around. That means utilising social media to build meaningful relationships and support the causes we care about.
Why not start a Facebook group to share unused food or clothing products in your local area? Use Instagram to connect with likeminded photographers and plan day trips together? Encourage colleagues and connections on LinkedIn to continue doing great work by commenting on their posts? Using social doesn’t have to make you a ‘phone zombie’ but as long as we’re wielding this relatively new tech mindfully and with purpose, I truly believe we can get a lot in return.
Now, go put your phone down (or share your suggestions for disconnecting in the comments, and then switch off).