Being connected. It’s what we crave. We thrive on relationships and belonging, on being part of something bigger than ourselves.
It’s little surprise that social media has grown so rapidly to help us meet our need for connection. At any time of the day, we can tap into our networks and engage with the people we love. In fact, December 2017 statistics showed that 1.4 billion people logged onto Facebook daily.
Yet, it begs the question – is this constant state of ‘being connected’ meeting our needs for connection?
I know for me, it hasn’t. In fact, the more time I spent on social media, the less connected I felt to the people around me, especially my husband and children. Big social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are the masters of behavioural science, and they know how to keep us on their platforms.
I can recall many times when I was at the playground or out with my son, and being seduced by my phone to check in and see what was happening on social media. Often disguising it as ‘work’. Thankfully, in some lucid moments in the social media scrolling trance, I’d find myself conscious to the present ‘real-life’. And in those moments, I would remind myself that nothing I could read online was even a fraction as important as the present moment with my son.
As my general feelings of disconnectedness grew, I started to become aware of my emotions as I scrolled through my Facebook and especially Instagram feeds. I found that while I was being entertained and learning, I was also left with a sense of inadequacy. Ads were popping up in my feed, deliberately wordsmithed by talented copywriters to tap into my fears and insecurities.
On Instagram, carefully curated posts seemed to highlight that ‘everyone’ was enjoying more success than I was, or were doing more interesting things with their lives and children. I remember seeing a dear friend post about her incredibly connected day with her children, and I bent over my pile of folded laundry and cried. Only realising later that I had spent quality time with my son, done three loads of washing, cleaned the house and managed to squeeze in a few hours of consulting work. However, in the moment, I felt like I had failed that day – because I wasn’t out climbing trees and having picnics.
I think it was around this time that I decided enough was enough. Social media and I needed a break. I didn’t go cold turkey and delete my accounts, but I only checked in on them every third day or so. I still had a business to keep running, so I’d post on those sites, do a quick check to see if anything important had happened and then get off the platforms.
It really was freedom
And in those moments, minutes, hours, when normally I would kill time by checking social media, I would connect in with myself or be present with my son as he played. (By the way, a study involving 72,892 internet users aged between 16-64 showed that 39% of respondents used social media to kill time.) I downloaded a meditation app on my phone and found new and interesting meditations to try. I listened to podcasts.
One of those podcasts – The Robcast by Rob Bell – provided a deep insight into personal connection. He talked about spaces. And how in the past those ‘spaces’ while waiting for an appointment or on the bus or waiting to pick up our kids, used to be filled by daydreams and being with ourselves. And those spaces allowed us to process things going on in our lives, providing opportunities to heal. But now, in our constant state of ‘connectedness’, we are constantly filling up those spaces, and we’re not giving ourselves the space or quiet times to do this important healing work.
This was game-changing for me, and now I allow plenty of opportunities for ‘space’ in my life – just being content with the nothingness of the moment.
I was curious to find out who else in my networks had taken a break from social media and why. It turns out that I wasn’t alone and there were general themes involved in why people take a social media hiatus.
Comparing yourself or being swayed by others
Ellen from Brisbane took a break that allowed her to refresh and refocus. She found that she was being swayed by what other people were doing. This is a double edged sword. Social media is a great way to see how other people are doing things, but it can also influence what you do and how you express yourself and your creativity. When you compare yourself to other people (who may not even be expressing ‘reality’ anyway) it’s easy to get caught up in feelings of inadequacy and even failure. This can give a real blow to your self-esteem. But, is it even worth it?
‘Getting hooked’ were two words brought up often, and it’s no surprise. As I mentioned earlier, the popular social media platforms understand behavioural science and they understand how to tap into the areas of our brain that provide pleasure and reward. As a result, we get hooked. One of the people in my network said, “I removed the apps from my phone and couldn’t believe how many times I mindless[ly] tried to check nothing in particular.”
According to statistics gathered in December 2017, the average time spent per Facebook visit is 20 minutes. Considering we often check social media several times a day, this can really add up. According to another person, “I downloaded an app called Quality Time and it adds up how much time you spend on your phone and in each app. I was spending HOURS on Facebook. It’s a bit of an energy suck in my opinion and [now I’ve left the platform] I’m much better off.”
Another person in my network went on a break due to privacy concerns. While she didn’t elaborate, it’s easy to get swept up in social media and overshare. Especially when it comes to your kids. Privacy settings can be controlled to some extent, and discernment can be exercised when posting. However, our data privacy can be out of our hands. Recent news has revealed how data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, collected data on 50 million people in a Facebook data breach, and used that data to target ads in the United States and Brexit election campaigns. Unfortunately the things we ‘like’ and even the third party apps (eg quizzes) that our friends use can expose our data unknowingly.
How to stay happy on social media
While taking short breaks from social media can free us from the above-mentioned pitfalls, I was curious to find ways to be on social media and remain happy and connected. Happify provide the following tips in their How to Stay Happy on Social Media infographic:
• Schedule social media into your day – choose two times a day to check your social media accounts.
• Unplug one day each week.
• Only follow people and accounts who inspire you.
• Limit yourself to two or three plaforms, to avoid social media fatigue.
Tell us your story! Have you ever taken a break from social media? What caused you to take a break and how did you feel? What tips do you have to keep happy and connected on social media?
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