I check social media and I am scattered between other lives and my life. I keep checking it anyways. A woman I went to school with has tragically passed away. Our older sisters were friends. It’s not lost on me: I am lucky to be here. Alive, and really living.
Someone else is traveling in France. And I wish I was traveling in France. My heart catches when I see someone on a cool adventure. There are many places on the planet I have yet to visit and want to see. With social media, I can theoretically live vicariously through people traveling everywhere. But it will never be the same thing. Pictures cannot be touched or smelled. Pictures cannot feed you dinner or smile back at you.
Since we know this is true, why are we so enamored with pictures anyways? Why do our brains crave that surface-level impersonal connection? Why do we keep scrolling, for what are we searching? What if those silent moments we fill with social media are meant for quieting the mind? What are the consequences of looking outward when we should be looking inward? What happens to our inner-lives when they are neglected? What happens to pure awareness when it forgets itself?
We become more disconnected. We spread ourselves too thin, like we are trying to live many lives. We are plagued by FOMO, the fear of missing out. It becomes a vicious cycle. Social media causes the disconnect, and so we seek connection through social media. We jump down the rabbit hole of other people’s realities for the nth time. We want to believe we can get out of this mess the same way we got into it.
I think social media is probably okay in careful moderation, like most things. But is moderation always possible? When you’re lonely, because you’re a stay-at-home mom or you’re sick in the hospital or you’re new in town or you’re a teen who doesn’t fit in or you’re seeking escape from depressive thoughts; then it’s hard to deny yourself the dopamine rush of scrolling.
Millennials check their phones more than 157 times a day, according to a Facebook executive.
We touch our phones 2,617 times a day (this includes every swipe and tap) says another study.
It’s an epidemic. According to Forbes, social media affects our mental health in these ways:
– It’s addictive.
– It triggers more sadness, less well-being.
– Comparing our lives with others is mentally unhealthy.
– It can lead to jealousy, and a vicious cycle.
– We get caught in the delusion of thinking it will help.
– More friends on social doesn’t mean you’re more social.
Researchers have found that social networking sites are associated with body image concerns and disordered eating. Girls have already struggled with coming of age in this beauty-obsessed culture, and now with social media, they have magnifying glasses in their fingertips. When a girl’s worth becomes wound up in her image, she loses so much of herself, her potential. The horizons shrink around her.
These side-effects are real and shaping lives, young and younger and old and older, more than we like to admit. I know I have the addiction, this compulsion to check social media when my brain has a moment of downtime. Waiting in line. Cooking at the stove. Long stop lights. Between sets at the gym. On the playground.
And yet, I don’t feel guilty about using my phone on the playground when my children are well-occupied. I am more than just a mom, I have work emails to monitor and I have thoughts to jot down and I have messages that need responses. When I’m using my phone to communicate and think and work, the device is enriching my life rather than distracting me from it.
But, if I haven’t seen my kids all day and I take them to the playground, I hope that I am playing with them rather than stuck to the screen. It’s all about finding that elusive balance and using one’s judgment to better one’s self, rather than for condemning others. If you see a mom at a coffee shop ignoring her kids because she’s on her phone, please don’t judge her. She could be desperate for headspace, she could be communicating with someone in need, she could be supporting her family.
That’s why it’s tricky, why these devices are difficult to navigate: They have so many different meanings and uses, our relationship with them is complex and tangled. How can we live with them and make them work for us, rather than feel like we’re working for them?
One thing that helps me reduce my social media activity (more than anything else) is texting with friends and family. By nurturing real conversations, my phone offers deeper connections. I tend to these relationships instead of opening the Instagram app. I am energized by personal conversations. It feels almost like I have sat across from someone I love.
For a healthy relationship with social media, we must pay attention every time we open the app: Is this making me energized or depleted? When my feed is full of awareness, when people are looking for solutions to the problem of evil rather than ranting about it, when I see that people are really living and growing, when I can relate to their posts, when they are demonstrating creativity and passion, then social media leaves me inspired and enlivened. This makes sense. We are of interest to one another.
Despite everything we can share and learn from one another, we don’t need to be in one another’s head space every hour of the day. We don’t need to be codependent with one another. We need to stop checking social media excessively, because we need to rest. We need to take care of ourselves and tend to our own lives. We need focus and concentration to be mindful and to self-actualize.