The Language of Addiction
I Quit Social Media And This Is What Happened, scream the clickbaity headlines.
Social media cleanse. Social media fast. Social media detox.
Just look at the language we use when we talk about the issue. Cleanse. Fast. Detox. Quit. As though social media is somehow filling our lives up with digital toxins.
That view isn’t entirely wrong.
The Dark Side of Social Media
Social media sucks people in and keeps them there, resulting in hours and hours of time lost. In fact, social media sites are deliberately designed to be addictive: companies like Facebook want you to spend as much time on their sites as possible, so that they can sell you targeted ads.
A lot of the stuff being shared around is also just plain bad for us. Often it makes us angry, self-righteous, and judgemental. These qualities do not make us better people. They certainly don’t make for a better world.
Thus, if we’re not careful our precious mental space can get filled with an avalanche of clutter all day long.
And that can make it hard for us to think clearly, creatively, or wisely.
An Alternative View
That said, I don’t think we should cut social media out of our lives altogether. I’ve found it a great way to turn acquaintances into friends and to keep in touch with many people in a busy world. I have friends today that I would never have met if not for the things they were posting. So I’m not about to give it up.
I think social media is like salt, or wine: a little goes a long way towards making life more pleasant and enjoyable.
We just have to be prudent about how much of it we consume.
Setting Sensible Limits
Social media is like a wild horse that will run away with you if you let it. So how do we use less social media then? By setting sensible limits to rein it in and keep it under control.
Here are five limits that I personally use:
1) No apps.
One of the most important rules of habit change is this: make it harder for yourself to do the things you want to do less of.
Social media apps made it far too easy for me to access their sites, and bothered me with endless alerts on my phone all day long. So I deleted them all.
Today I log in via a browser, which is more inconvenient for me and makes me less inclined to check in whenever I’ve got a spare moment.
This simple change also gives me a much less busy phone.
2) No news.
I don’t follow any news sites. If I absolutely need to know what’s going on, I ask people.
I once tried an experiment for a year: for the whole of that year, I read no newspapers, watched no TV news, and did not follow any news channels online. And at the end of the year I found I knew all of the year’s big news stories anyway.
What does this mean? Simply: if a news story is big enough, it will make its way to you. You don’t have to go looking for it.
Don’t follow the news.
3) No drama.
Life is too short as it is. Social media is something we use in our spare time, and the last thing we need to have in our spare time is drama.
I am extremely averse to drama. I don’t tolerate it and I try not to create it.
So I don’t ever engage in arguments online. If someone says something I don’t agree with, I simply don’t respond. If someone attacks me personally, I block them. That’s all.
This is true even if they are making good points. I accept and welcome criticism, but I completely reject any drama or disrespect in the way those points are presented.
It is quite possible to be critical and respectful at the same time, and if someone doesn’t show me that courtesy I don’t keep them around.
Drama queens seek attention. I will not give it.
4) No negativity.
If anyone on my feed is ranting or posting an endless stream of negativity, I unfollow them.
Everyday life is complex enough. I don’t need anyone or anything to make me more angry, resentful, frightened, worried, or cynical about the world.
For those who like such things, I assure you that you can get a perfectly healthy dose of stuff to be mad about in your day-to-day life. You don’t need social media to pile on more for you.
5) The faith-in-humanity rule.
This rule is simple, but one of the most powerful of all: if I encounter anything online that makes me lose my faith in humanity (a vicious article, an idiotic commenter, and so on) I have to immediately close my browser and go do something else.
If I didn’t have the four previous rules, this one should probably get me offline in 30 seconds or less. But with all five in place, I can actually stay on for a few minutes at a time. And I enjoy those minutes, too.