This weekend, my wife and I spent a great deal of time talking about social media—specifically how she responds to it. For a few years she was on Facebook, up until a particularly negative incident led her to abandon it. A couple years ago, she decided to give Twitter a try, but eventually found people’s negativity made her sad. She then deleted her account. She likes Instagram because it’s full of happy pictures. But even then, she finds she needs to put strict limits on her usage to protect her time and attention.
I think she’s on to something.
I generally like social media. I prioritize my usage around work—which means I’m checking the accounts I manage a few times a day (but then only for questions and comments directed to these accounts). My personal accounts I use for a different purpose.
- I share random updates to make people smile.
- I share blog posts and podcasts.
- I retweet people who say more profound things than me.
- I pay attention to a few people who I know are going to make me laugh.
- I avoid tweetstorms and threads like the plague.1
But I when I use social media, I don’t feel as though I’m being controlled by these platforms. I don’t have the sense that I’m obligated to participate. I don’t feel that twinge in the back of my mind to find out what’s happening on any social media network (something that does happen to some people).2
I don’t have a need for it, if that makes sense.
None of us do, really. There’s a degree to which we all know this. And I’m sure we’d all agree to it. But in talking with Emily, who is currently reading a book about social media and approval addiction, I get the sense that the relationship between platforms and users is actually more complicated for many that I can think it is. Actually, that’s disingenuous. I know it’s more complicated.3
Which is why I said my wife is onto something. Which is also why I think it’s other friends who deleted their accounts altogether, and others still who have removed the apps from their phones and use other services to manage their accounts are also onto something. They are aware of the danger social media holds for them—and for the rest of us. If we’re not wise with how we use social media, our experience with these tools can gain a control over us that they do not deserve.
So what do we do? I’ve got three suggestions:
- Consider whether you need to be on a platform at all. The answer is almost always no, but there might be a useful purpose. If so, identify what that purpose is.
- Delete the accounts you don’t actually need. (*cough*Snapchat*cough*)
- Create meaningful boundaries. Place limits on usage, but not only usage. Limit the content you consume in ways that make sense for your purposes (if you’re using a platform to stay in touch with family members, then you don’t need to be following celebrities, y’know?).
Those are a few simple, practical actions to take. They might help, at least to some degree. At a minimum, I hope they get you thinking. Remember, you don’t need social media, even if your brain tells you otherwise.
- Sure, sometimes I’ll come across something that annoys the bejeepers out of me, but that’s usually when it’s new from Canada. ↵
- Games have been the bigger issue for me on this point, which is why I got rid of them from my phone. ↵
- Research points to social media creating a similar response in our brains as to what happens when we receive a hug. When we get a like or a share, we get a shot of dopamine. ↵