I was addicted.
Addiction can be powerful, and it can take hold of you for quite some time before you ever even realize you might have a problem. Whether it’s alcohol, hard drugs, porn, cigarettes, gambling, caffeine, or social media, many of us struggle with some type of addiction. It’s not easy to deal with, but one of the first steps to dealing with any problem is the recognition and understanding that there’s a problem in the first place. From this point, you can begin to find ways to combat whatever the struggle may be. So here was my issue.
For the last few weeks, I decided to quit social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram. I occasionally posted for our Unleash’d channel, and used YouTube for reference a few times, but otherwise didn’t use social media. The main reason was that I felt that I had been addicted to certain apps, as I would frequently and compulsively check them. The realization came one day when I didn’t have my phone, and I felt awkward every time I reached into my pocket, only to find nothing there. It was weird to want to know what time it is, or to be heading down the stairs, or in the bathroom and not have the ability to scroll aimlessly to see what was going on with a few random people. After the initial realization of how strange it felt to not have my phone, it made me more aware of my behavior when I did have my phone. As a result, I tried a little experiment: I turned off all notifications, didn’t keep my phone on me at every second of the day, and stopped checking the aforementioned platforms.
Now, before there’s any intense quarreling about the intrinsic worth of social media, I’ll say that it depends on how you use it. There are certainly some people that think it’s the bomb, while others will argue that it will be the cause of our ultimate downfall. I’m not here to settle this debate, but rather to share my own experience in the hopes that perhaps some other people may benefit or share their side of the story. In my experience, I felt I was using a few apps too much, and it seemed like others were too – like the guy next to me yesterday in line for confession who pulled out his phone several times to check Instagram, or people in the break room at work who talk to each other while staring down at their screen. In all fairness, it seems like certain social media outlets are designed to be addictive. You can literally scroll without end on Instagram’s discover page, and in apps like Facebook and Twitter you can jump from page to page for hours. When you refresh, there’s always something new, and when watching YouTube, there are recommended videos ad nauseum. Back in college when I used twitter all the time, I began to notice that I had trouble reading longer articles, even if the article was something that I was extremely interested in. Whether or not this had to do with my constant scrolling and reading things with 140 or fewer characters, I can’t say for sure, but there could be some correlation there. The main point is that it was always too easy to take out my phone, open an app, and waste time without even thinking about it, and that was a problem in my mind. It seemed like I was addicted, and maybe other people were too.
The point of this article is not to demonize social media, or to dissuade people from using it, but rather to document my own finding, and see if anyone else has experienced anything similar. I honestly don’t think that there’s a big conspiracy to control or brainwash you by some evil genius. The addictive nature of social media is probably driven by entrepreneurs who realize that the more time you spend on their platforms, the more likely you are to buy something from one of the advertisements that are perfectly tailored to the things you like. It may also have something to do with the fact that we are social beings, and that we have a tremendous desire to feel loved, connected, appreciated, and understood. And for those of you who use social media properly, I’m sure it can be an incredible tool which can help to facilitate such joys. However, it’s also easy to fall into the habit loop of seeking dopamine hits from the super stimulation of random likes, follows, and notifications that these apps can constantly provide. There can be a sensory overload which causes us to crave checking our phone without even noticing it. And I think that’s where I was at.
Here’s another example which provides some interesting contrast: ask any of my friends, and Joe especially – I SUCK at texting. I’m often busy at work, and when I come home, I enjoy spending time with my wife or going to the gym, but my priorities seem disproportionate when I can check random people’s posts, but not reply to things that actually matter. Or what about group texts – why do I care to look at what lots of random people are doing online, yet I don’t participate in group texts despite the fact that these are generally people I am close enough to talk to. Why read random articles rather than seek out ones that I actually care about? In short, social media wasn’t all that “social” for me, and was probably taking away attention that I could have been dedicating to more important endeavors. I will say that when I first started my mini-boycott, I did have some FOMO, but still heard plenty about all the hurricanes, North Korea, and Football protests. However, instead of reading headlines and randomly regurgitating other people’s information, I was forced to read an actual article if I wanted to dive more deeply into the subject.
Thus, due to these realizations, I decided to take back control. I no longer check my phone compulsively, like at stoplights, bathroom breaks, and fits of boredom. My goal is to be more interconnected with those that matter, and to form deeper, more meaningful relationships. If social media can aid in that process, then that’s great. Turning off notifications and checking apps only with intention was an awakening for me, and is something that I will look to continue to improve. I’ll use these platforms on my own time, with purpose, and will follow and interact with people that add value to my life.
So, whether you’re addicted to social media or not, I hope that you can learn from my mistake and know that while it can be a great tool when used properly, it can also get out of hand quickly and without warning. Just make sure you’re checking your stuff on your own accord, and not out of habit. Make sure you’re following people that bring you up, that contribute positively to your life, and that you care about. Make sure you’re actually engaging and being mindful, and you won’t fall into the same trouble that I did.