Why are we compelled to spend so much time on social media?
Our compulsion to check social media is driven by a primal fear-– FOMO (Fear of missing out)
We as humans evolved to experience FOMO in order to survive. FOMO is a regulator—it keeps us on our toes so we participate in and follow the group, which in pre-historic times was the only way to survive. We are biologically programmed to make sure that we are part of the “group”, whether our group is our far-flung college buddies, our high school friend-group, or other people with similar political beliefs.
The problem is, that since the rise of the internet and social media, we are able to “see what we’re missing” 24/7, and our basic FOMO instinct has no checks and balances. FOMO compels us to spend literally hours checking to see what everyone else is doing, and it is now possible to do so all day long. Internet addiction is a real problem in today’s society, but everyone can benefit from a social media management strategy so they don’t waste time on online when they would really be happier doing something else.
How can I stop wasting my time on social media?
1. Set aside a specific time (or times) each day when you are going to go on social media, preferably after you have already completed some of the more important things on your "to do" list. You can even use this time as a reward for having accomplished some of the more unpleasant tasks of the day.
2. Set an alarm for the times you are on social media. Have something planned for after your social media time that brings you joy. Especially if it’s something that gets you outside—even if it’s just a little thing, like sit in the garden for 5 minutes, or walk around the block.
When I’m in my office and I need a little break, I sneak up to the roof for three minutes to just enjoy the view and take a couple of deep breaths of fresh air. It sounds almost moronic, but I would challenge you to try it just once and see for yourself. The important thing is to have a specific transition that is distinctly different from being on your laptop or phone.
3. If you are browsing your social media in the evening adjust the screen on your phone or computer to a calming orange-y light. You’ll be surprised at the difference this makes (there’s science to back this up! ) On the iPhone, go to Settings–>Display and Brightness–>Night Shift. You can also use a free app called f.lux that adjusts the screen on your computer. Android users can use an app called Twilight .
4. Block your computer. You can install an app that won’t let you go on social media from your computer at certain times of day. One such app for iOS is freedom,. A similar app for windows is stay focusd . You can check out this article in the Wall Street Journal for more ideas on how to block social media and other distractions.
5. Keep a diary. Keep track of how many minutes you spend on social media. This can be as simple as a large post-it note on your computer. Just being aware of how many minutes you actually spend, versus how many minutes you think you spend, can organically lead you to devote less time to social media, and more time on activities that are personally satisfying in a way that Facebook never is.
From a mental health standpoint,
It is important to challenge the role of social media in our lives.
When we hang out on social media, exploring other people’s lives, we are not participating in our own life. We are not being present in the here-and-now—the small moments that, over time, make up a lifetime of experiences and memories.
Sometimes this is our goal, we are trying to escape the boring/scary/unpleasant parts of our lives by vicariously exploring someone else’s.
But consider this: research has shown that even when people are doing unpleasant tasks, their measure of happiness at the end of the task is significantly higher when they are fully focused on the task. I’m going to say it again—people are happier when they focus on what they are doing, even when what they are doing is unpleasant. This means that in the end, if we need to “zone out”, we are better off doing a repetitive task we don’t even like (clean the kitchen, fold the laundry) than we are spending 20 minutes on social media looking at the photos of Aunt Ellie’s vacation in Costa Rica.
Social media can connect us to people far away, introduce us to ideas of which we would otherwise be unaware, and expose us to inspiring stories and videos that give us a little “happiness booster shot”. In order for social media to improve our lives, we need to carefully monitor how we spend our time there.
Beware of these common soul-sucking traps inherent in social media:
1. Are we using social media to keep up-to-date on the activities of people we don’t ever actually see or even talk to IRL? (Does the fact that we now have a common acronym for “in real life” bother anyone besides me???)
2. Are we using social media to rant about a topic without giving any useful information to the reader? Are we attempting to change minds and hearts with cogent arguments, or are we just slamming the other side? (Are you listening, O Leader of the Western World?)
3. Are we posting photos just to convince people (and ourselves?) of how great our life is? It is so easy to feel “less than” if we haven’t posted as many cool photos as our friends. We all fall prey to this emotion! Many people have deleted various social media accounts when they realize this is the case. It is easy enough to share important photos with close friends using more private channels like texting and, heaven forbid, in person!
4. Finally, we need to pay close attention to how we feel after browsing social media, whether we restrict ourselves or not. Do we feel happy, more connected to people we care deeply about? Do we get a little happiness bump because we spent 10 minutes watching an inspirational video posted by a friend? Or do we feel depressed that we just spent half an hour watching a meme of a cat jumping from the floor to the top of a shelf?
If you are less than 90 years old, chances are that social media plays a significant role in your life. You can learn to manage your social media time so that it serves you in ways that enhance your life and moves you toward your personal goals. Nevertheless, your primary instincts will often thwart you in this effort. It is important to be mindful about your time on social media, and to use the many hacks and tools available to overcome your basic FOMO. You can limit the time you waste on social media and spend your valuable minutes in ways that reflect your own personal values.