We are living in a social media world. We scroll while driving. We text one friend while we’re having coffee with another. We check messages while lying in bed with our partner. We click on that bright blue ‘F’ and start scrolling before we even realise what we’re doing.
The research is in - we’re addicts.
And I don’t use the term ‘addiction’ lightly. In the Western world we spend 5 hours a day on our smartphones, and 2 of those on social media. Millennials check their phones 157 times a day. And with this, we are seeing a rise of mental health issues - more time on Facebook is literally increasing rates of anxiety and depression. Not to mention the years of our life we are spending in a semi-present state of mindless consumption (yes, I’m being dramatic - but this sh*t is scary!)
So why are we addicted? Firstly, it releases dopamine - it feels good when we get that hit of social approval. It’s why we keep going back, again and again and again. Dopamine is the same thing that makes us feel good when we drink and gamble - it’s chemically addictive. So when we’re stressed, anxious or bored, reaching for our phone becomes a quick fix. And around and around we go!
Secondly - social media is designed that way. Different platforms are competing for our attention. The more of our attention they get, the more valuable their advertising space is, and the more money they make. And they use some pretty cheeky tactics. Ever notice how your new profile pic will get scattered likes over a long period of time? That’s because the software is showing your photo to different people at different times. That way you'll keep getting notifications that pull you back onto the app. And the few seconds that it takes for Instagram to load your likes and comments? It’s a deliberate feature that’s the equivalent of the whirring pictures on a slot machine - it gets us amped up to see whether or not we’ve ‘won’.
Not only is excessive use of social media damaging our relationships and mental wellbeing, it’s contributing to longer work days. Instead of compressed, focused days, work is being spread out to fill most of our waking hours, but with frequent ‘breaks’ on social media.
Being aware of how addictive social media is gives us back some level of power. So what can we do to get all the good stuff while minimising the bad stuff?
1. Decide which apps you want push notifications for, and which you can ditch
2. Move addictive apps off your home screen - or if you’re feeling particularly hardcore, use some social platforms from your desktop only
3. Create ‘windows’ - periods of time where you allow yourself to really engage with and enjoy all the wonderful things about social media
4. Want to go pro? Buy an alarm clock and get that mental-crack out of your bedroom
Social media by itself doesn’t automatically ruin or improve our lives. We can choose to use it consciously, in a way that is fun, engaging and meaningful. We can and should be the boss of our own time and attention - our happiness, relationships and success depends on it!