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Pressing my thumbprint onto the home button of my iPhone and waiting for the screen to illuminate, I never felt that my desire for connectivity on social media or phone to be abnormal. Because it’s not. I’ll sit in a friend’s living room where everyone else’s eyes scan their screens, I’ll sit in a café and more than half the faces are turned downward to their phones. I’ll be at a party and people are Snapchatting or taking selfies left and right, unembarrassed and filtered.
But something in me shook loose yesterday afternoon. After spending an hour on the phone with my best friend (a high school teacher) whom I rarely interact with on social media talking about the future of social and how it’s shaping the world we live in. We discussed an article I had read that day about the linking of depression and time children spent on social media. The heyday of social connectivity was just beginning as Brooke and I entered our pre teens with AIM soon followed by MySpace. I remembered the fights between friends and schoolmates that began on instant messenger, the photos I shared on my MySpace page, and the fake accounts we would all create to prank (or bully) one another. It shaped my teen years…and these outlets were only a fraction of what’s available at the fingertips for us now. I can’t even imagine what digital tools will be at our disposal by the time my future children are in their teens. And it slightly concerns me.
I was thinking of how I hope my kids will be present in the moment. That they’ll want to engage with the world outside of what’s on their pocket sized screens. That they’ll see landscapes and the faces of their friends untouched by VSCO or masked by doggy ears. That they’ll learn how to deal with conflict face to face, with mediators, and social skills. But if I can’t even do some of that, how will they know that’s even possible? I know that by the time my kids are using social media (which trends younger and younger with each year) my experience in that realm will probably be obsolete- but I felt that if I am going to set any kind of example of being available and connected without a smartphone in hand, it’s got to begin now.
Things have changed drastically even in the short space of a few years. Thinking back to my time in Cambodia, I had always been on social media and all platforms for that matter. But I wasn’t married to my phone. For a few months, I even had a Nokia reminiscent of the 3310, the only thing it was really capable of was making and receiving calls, sending T9 texts, and playing Snake. As my time went on there, I clearly spent more time on social platforms…and it began to take a toll. I can see how it distanced my partner and me in our relationship (bringing your phone to bed should be disallowed), how I became a bit obsessed with selfies, and that potentially it was the beginning of something unhealthy…a sort of addiction. I never went to sleep scrolling through Instagram mindlessly liking photos of staged interiors or cats wearing hats made of their own fur. My phone may have been with me, but it wasn’t always commanding my attention- particularly when there were much more interesting and wonderful people and things around me.
My work has also influenced this need and desire to constantly feel connected and available. Managing social accounts for different companies, working for a social media aggregate startup, and practicing real estate agency where business hours are basically all hours of the day doesn’t make setting down the phone for hours at a time a possibility. That’s fair. But some boundaries began to blur and I realise that business and pleasure were becoming difficult to separate. The little red notifications or the ding of an email were like the sound of a bell for Pavlov’s dog, and I’m the dog.
So I decided that I’m going to try to cut back on social media and see how it effects my mindset. Maybe I’m sad frequently because it seems that 70 percent of the information I’m taking in is fairly useless and 20 percent is negative, leaving a measly 10 percent for positivity and value. Maybe I’m angsty because it feels like the entire world has the ability to command my actions at the press of a button. Maybe I feel frustrated because I’m used to getting a tiny hit of dopamine every time someone likes my photo or comment, and not getting that for an extended period of time makes me feel less validated.
Deciding to limit hopping on Facebook and Instagram hasn’t been easy. And it’s only been six hours since I made that decision. This morning I forced myself to click out of Facebook on my phone three times because I had mindlessly opened it. Instagram another four. Spending a few hours a day on these platforms should be enough, unless I’m using them for work purposes which is well…a purpose. I can get to my important friend’s shares and respond to Shooting Stars videos and even post that photo of perfectly runny eggs or a favorite selfie. The other hours I spent scanning and liking? Perhaps I’ll start reading voraciously again. Maybe I’ll have more intimate and important conversations. Or simply just be in the moment.
And don’t get me wrong: I love social media. I think it’s genius. The intricacies of the inventions, marketing, and engineering is incredible and constantly evolving and engaging. It brings people together in ways that we would have thought impossible ten years ago. I adore being able to see my nieces and nephews grow up and the little pieces of life that I catch from my friends both near and far. It’s important and I celebrate it and the minds that create and utilize such incredible tools. But get this: I never want to get to the point where I truly believe that social media “likes” are as good as sex. Even if science tells me so.