Despite having been raised in a time when technology and electronic communications have evolved and advanced in leaps and bounds, I am often still gobsmacked by just how much power is held by the Internet and its commanding offspring, social media, in shaping and influencing our daily lives.
In many ways we are privileged to have access to information in the blink of an eye – information that can be used to improve our shared knowledge, to promote health and wellbeing, to teach and support, to benefit individuals and organisations. It can be wonderful to be able to stay in touch with loved ones in the click of a button – to share photographs and stay connected when we may be distanced by geography or circumstance – these are true blessings. Social media can be a tool of value and utility when used with purpose and mindfulness.
Unfortunately, however, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that social media use can be detrimental to our mental health and sense of wellbeing – from young children, adolescents, and across the spectrum of adulthood.
In my experience, it can also be extremely disruptive to our own inner contentment (this short film is a perfect example of this tragic phenomenon) and this is a topic I am strongly passionate about discussing and bringing awareness to. I am confident that most of us have experienced both the beneficial and detrimental side effects of social media consumption at some point. However, I often wonder if we are really cognisant to the insidious, slow-creeping sidekicks – comparison, judgement, distraction and competition – that can so easily permeate our psyche and influence true contentment.
I have been very interested to learn about other people who have experimented with life without social media and/or regular Internet access. One such individual is Dr. Cal Newport, a computer scientist who himself has never had social media accounts, and who presents compelling arguments about why it is healthy to quit social media (see his TEDx talk here). Esther Emery is one of my favourite YouTubers and off-grid homesteaders living in south-west Idaho who, in a social experiment, decided to go for a year without the Internet (see her TEDx talk here). No doubt there are many other individuals who have experimented with re-assessing or minimising their social media consumption to the benefit of their psychological health.
Since I began my journey into minimalism, I have made it my mission to become really intentional about my interaction with social media. One of the great gifts minimalism has taught me is that we can essentially ‘minimise’ anything in our lives to enable greater peace and wellbeing. Why not then apply great intentionality and simplicity to the way we share and consume on social media, to benefit our individual and communal sense of wellbeing?
When I talk about intentionality, I mean using social media in a way that is deliberate and purposeful as opposed to unchecked, unregulated and therefore open to influences that breed comparison, judgement, distraction and competition.
In an effort to bring awareness to what I perceive to be the elephants in the room, I share my biggest concerns about unchecked (and un-intentional) social media use below:
- Most people don’t publicly share their bad or usual/everyday moments on personal profiles. Most shared moments are highlights of happy moments – which for the individual can be lovely to share – we all do it! However, if you relentlessly consume others happy highlights for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you may start to feel a twinge of discontent for your own ordinary moments. It is very easy to think that others have vibrant lives because of the moments they choose to share publicly.
- Social media is largely a public forum. While we can regulate our privacy settings in most apps or programs, it is so easy to fall into virtual ‘friendships’ and associations with others you may not usually share personal moments with. This is concerning from a privacy perspective and requires individual discernment in what is shared publicly and what remains private.
- Studies continue to show that social media use (in general) is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression.
- Social media apps are designed to be addictive. The dopamine hit that is released in the brain with every notification of a like, comment or retweet is creating neurochemical responses that become a brain response pattern. There is some deeply concerning discussion that social media design has been modelled after the repetitive and mesmerising allure of casino slot machines.
- It is simultaneously a form of entertainment and a distraction from life.
- It is one of the most common and easy way for advertisers to get your attention and influence your discontented desires into shopping power.
I by no means think that we should all delete our social media accounts and boycott the Internet. To think that any one sweeping approach would be a good fit for everyone is ridiculous.
What I do believe, however, is that this world makes it very easy and very addictive to be ‘plugged in’. It seems to have become a big part of the collective unconscious.
What I propose is that we take back a little power by applying some critical thinking, some focus and some deliberate planning into what we consume, how much we consume and how often. We need to revisit the diet we have put our brains on.
Four Steps to Create Intentionality in Social Media Use
1. Check in with yourself.
Take some time to reflect on why you use social media. It is to share ideas, promote your business, connect with others? Is it to document your life? To share in travel adventures? It is because you feel you may be left behind, personally or professionally, because everyone else has a Facebook or LinkedIn profile? Is it because you figure ‘why not’? I would urge that everyone has a reason why they created a XYZ account to begin with – identify yours. Does your use match your intention?
2. Evaluate value.
For me, I have made changes in who I follow on Instagram and who I am friends with on Facebook. I also filter who I may regularly see in my news feed to be closer family and friends with whom I have real life relationships. This provides greater value to me than an overwhelm of information coming left, right and centre from sources that don’t hold as much value to me personally. I gain value from connecting with like-minded souls on Instagram and deliberately avoid images and media that I personally find value-sucking. Give yourself permission to unfollow and unfriend. The people that matter in your real life will still be there.
3. Experiment and see what works for you.
You may like to turn off notifications for apps. Or delete the apps altogether! You may set time restrictions (for example, unless I am posting about a blog, I generally won’t access FB or Instagram during the work week and limit my weekend access significantly). I can discovered I have a lot more time in the day, I am less distracted and have more capacity for focus than I thought I did previously J
4. Being mindful that we all have ebbs and flows of exciting and ordinary days and this is a natural, normal and healthy part of living a balanced life.
So I put the challenge out there: I challenge you to limit or go without social media for a whole day – a whole three days – a whole week – longer. Check in when there is value to be added to your life, if you wish, but not out of habit, or out of boredom.
This may sound ridiculously simple, but if you normally check your apps multiple times each day, it won’t be easy.
The best part? I am so much happier when I am offline. I am truly contented. I go about living my happy little life and minding by own business. It is glorious.
If this is not freeing, liberating and joy-inducing, what is?
Minimising and being intentional about social media use has the potential to give you back real life value. You set the tone for what you see and share. You set the standard for what dances in front of your eyes, how often and why.
Because when you step away from the scroll, you can step fully and intentionally back into your one precious life – the real, authentic, human, joyfully ‘boring’, sometimes exciting, ebb and flowy, person-centred life that is uniquely and spectacularly yours.
Until next time – simplify, focus, pursue and count your blessings.
Photo Credit: Rachael Crowe