Social media is great! It allows us to stay connected with the people that matter most, no matter where in the world they are. It gives people the confidence to fly the nest, safe in the knowledge that their family and friends are always there and always with them.
But as in all things, moderation is the key to happiness. For all its many virtues, social media is not without its vices.
The apps that service your social feeds have cunning features, specifically designed to capture your attention. Notifications, persuasive design, FOMO, the list goes on.
As a result, the average person spends 2 hours and 15 minutes per day on as many as 8 social media networks. That's enough time to visit your grandparents and have a cup of tea.
Or have an intense gym session.
Or work on your CV to get your dream job.
But instead, we spend it catching up on other people's lives.
One of the biggest problems in today's society is our diminishing engagement.
There are so many activities available to us today compared to even 20 years ago. The ease at which we can access those activities is causing our attention spans to get shorter and shorter.
Netflix. Spotify. Amazon Prime. These services give us whatever we want, on demand, at the touch of a button. We've gotten used to having distraction after distraction on hand to amuse us at a moment's notice.
When you combine a diminished attention span with a saturated social media landscape, the result is a design philosophy that keeps you locked into social media with chains of your own making.
Companies are desperate to grab your attention and keep hold of it for as long as possible.
Why is Social Media So Addictive?
It isn't. At least, no more than it has ever been. As social creatures, we have always been fascinated with what everyone else is up to.
We've obsessed over celebrities for as long as there have been celebrities. Magazines have been making us feel bad and telling us how to look years before Instagram came along.
The addictive thing about social media is how it's served to us today.
This scenario might be familiar to you…
You: What's up?
Facebook: Something's happened!
You: What? What's happened?
Facebook: Something on your Facebook Group! Don't miss it, come and see!
You: Can't you just tell me?
Facebook: No! Follow me and see!
You: Fine. *Opens Facebook*
Facebook: You haven't posted in a while.
Why do social media apps do this?
They send you notifications for things that don't actually happen, or are so inconsequential it makes you wonder why you even looked at your phone.
The answer is persuasive design.
Persuasive design is a common technique that essentially helps guide you towards taking actions the designers want you to take. You see it everywhere, from “Buy Now” buttons on websites to the warning red color of STOP signs.
As humans, we're great at seeing patterns and responding to stimuli. Persuasive design takes advantage of that to get the required response from the user.
The red dot of a notification, the dots of a message being written by the person you're texting and push notifications are all examples of persuasive design.
Notifications, as well as the order the content appears and a hundred other tiny features, are designed to trigger and re-trigger your fleeting engagement over and over again.
Reasons to Stop Using Social Media
Your Mental Health
If you feel a sense of achievement or satisfaction from clicking on an app to clear your notifications, you're a victim of the vices of persuasive design.
Getting easy kicks is great! Simple pleasures are something we all need more of in our lives. But too many low-level, low-quality kicks can lead to a loss of perception in other aspects of life.
It becomes too easy to rely on activities that are easy, instead of pushing yourself to achieve something that really matters in your life.
Spending too much time on social media can also have negative effects on your self-esteem. Like fashion magazines, social media is packed with people whose lives appear better than ours. With social media apps pushing that content into the center of our lives over and over, the classic feelings of inadequacy hit faster and harder.
This can even affect people in healthy social media circles. When you can connect with your peers and like minded people in your professional environment, seeing their successes all the time can lead to impostor syndrome.
Social media is getting better at tackling fake news, but it's so easy for the thing everyone is talking about to become true, even if it isn't. If you rely too heavily on one source for all your information about what's going on in the world, you're only ever going to see one side of any story.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking you're in a diverse network of individual thinkers either. Social media algorithms are skewed to show you the things you like, the people who like them and people who share your views.
So, while it may seem like you have a diverse mix of voices in your Twitter feed, in reality you have an echo chamber of your own opinions.
We like people we agree with and your social media accounts become feedback loops of reassurance. Everyone must think the same way you do because all you see is people sharing your views.
This makes it easy for people to shape “the narrative” of any situation, whether that's a political scandal, a community outburst or just friends falling out.
Over exposure to social media can lead to your perception of the world becoming limited because you only see what you want to see.
How to Stop Social Media Taking Over Your Life
Promote healthy mental and physical well-being by taking regular breaks from social media. Get out there and do something interesting instead.
1. Practice Self Control
Many smokers say that the hardest cigarette habit to break is not having that smoke first thing in the morning. For social media it seems to be just as hard. 80% of smartphone users check their phones before they even brush their teeth in the morning.
Exercise self control to break the habit of constantly checking your phone. If you can't see the screen, you can't be sucked in by your notifications.
Whatever you're doing right here, right now is more important than what's going on in the world of social media.
2. Use Tools
If you feel like you need a little help with your self control, there are tools that can help. Facebook and Instagram recently announced a new dashboard that tells you how long you spend on their apps, along with functionality to set a daily limit for usage. The new dashboard can also mute your push notifications temporarily.
There's nothing wrong with asking for a little help from technology. Just ask your FitBit!
3. Limit Your Following
Is there anything more cathartic than having a good old fashioned Facebook Purge? Probably. But culling the people you follow on social media, especially those hangers-on from school, can help make your feed a much healthier place. It will also reduce the amount of content you're being bombarded with on a daily basis.
Keep social media as a healthy part of your life. Make it a positive space full of people you love.
4. Be Social IRL
Unless it's a life changing piece of news, anything you and your friends want to say to each other can wait. Instead of sharing everything over social media, arrange a regular catch up. Make dinner plans or go for drinks. Be social in real life, like you were back in the misty pasts of the twentieth century!
Human connections are what we strive for when we use social media. There is no substitute for the real thing.
5. Get Perspective
Your worth as a human being is not measured in likes. It isn't measured in comments or followers. It is measured in your ability to love, to lead and to share. The people who care most about you care about you as the person you are, not the person you are on Facebook.
Keeping everything in perspective is the key to enjoying a healthy lifestyle with social media, and will help to stop social media taking over your life.