Probably the most common habit of mine is mindlessly scrolling through social media apps on my phone. Whether I’m waiting for class, relaxing on my bed, or even doing work, I’m constantly picking up and putting down my phone to check these apps. I have no real goal when I do this, simply an innate desire to keep scrolling in hopes I’ll find something interesting. While this seems mostly harmless on a surface level, it’s often an explanation for some of the major struggles I and many others of my generation go through nowadays.
How Social Media Effects You
This constant mindless scrolling not only often wrecks my concentration, it also ends up wrecking my self-esteem as well. As explained by Jean Twenge in her article “Have smartphones destroyed a generation”, despite the name “social media” and the promise of keeping close to people, it often achieves the opposite effect
“Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation. Teens who visit social networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements ‘A lot of times I feel lonely,’ ‘I often feel left out of things,’ and ‘I often wish I had more good friends.’ Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.”
With how I check and use my phone, it’s almost like a replacement for social interaction and discussion. I’m technically still talking to people and seeing what they think so it’s just as good, right? In reality though, it’s usually a much more hallow and soulless interaction. You can’t play off things like funny quirks and tones and often are misinterpreted, leading to idiotic, unnecessary discourse. You also are often exposed to the many horrors of the world, giving yourself even more stress and anxiety.
Time for a Detox
For class we had the task of removing a digital distraction from our life, a “digital detox” of sorts. My choice for this task was all of my social media apps, with the examples above being my reason why. With how much stress and distraction these things often cause, I felt this was the perfect thing to give up. I could not only measure quantitatively, such as how much time or phone battery I saved, but also qualitative data, such as how social I was, how I felt, or how I often acted around others.
Now when I say all my social media apps, I truly mean all of them. Things I use constantly such as Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and even ones I don’t use that much such Instagram and Snapchat were all deleted off my phone. I knew I had to delete all of them because whatever I didn’t end up deleting would just replace what I did as my mindless scrolling fill in. I also made sure to log out of Twitter and such on my laptop so I wouldn’t accidentally check them on there either. Before I began, I made sure to write down some of the info from my phone’s screen time and battery tools to see how much I truly use social media
What I Tracked
During the detox, I tried tracking data that I felt would show how habitual most of my phone use is. This included counting the amount of times I would open my phone and click the now empty spot that used to be a social media app. I also counted the amount of times I would open my phone, look around the apps for something to click on, then realize there was nothing I actually wanted to use and close it.
Another key data point I tracked was how much my social media usage killed my phone battery. As shown in the previous data chart, social media used up a ginormous amount of my battery. This is problematic as I use my phone for things such as an alarm, checking my schedule and staying in control of my budget, but would often be unable to use them when needed because I had no battery. To track how much battery was saved, I counted how many charges I needed per day with social media and then checked how many charges I needed without. I also kept track of what my phone’s battery percent numbers were showing in my settings.
The main takeaway from this quantitative data is that while I didn’t have any social media and used my phone less, I still was using my phone a fair amount. Much of this was because of the time I spent on Safari. In place of social media, I would often do things such as search up questions I may have, check Fangraphs.com for baseball stats and analysis, or look into other things that popped in my mind as I tried to embrace the “boredom” of no social media. While I was still using my phone, I felt these activities were far more worthwhile than social media. This relates to what Cal Newport said when discussing the ideas of Winifred Gallagher in Deep Work, “If we give rapt attention to important things, and therefore also ignore shallow negative things, we’ll experience our working life as more important and positive”.
Now obviously browsing the internet instead of a social media app isn’t the same as work life activity, but it does touch on the idea of ignoring the shallow and negative. Social media can many times be an unpredictable cesspool, but when I’m looking up specific questions or determining a player’s value, I’m doing something far more fulfilling than seeing if some random person thinks pineapple can go on pizza or their often uninformed political opinion.
Another takeaway I had was the effect video games had on this detox. I play a fairly large amount of video games already and that increased with the lack of social media. This, like my Safari usage, does seem like it’s counterintuitive to the detox but it surprisingly isn’t. As shown in a group study done by University of Montreal researches, despite video games and social media both being a type of digital screen time, the effect they have is often much different
“[Elroy] Boers work suggests that “upward social comparison” and “reinforcing spirals” are likely drivers of depression related to screen time, but not “displacement.” In fact, it pushes back against the idea of video games as a driver of depression at all.
“The vast majority of kids play the games socially, either physically side by side with friends or joining friends via headset. Skills (both technical and social) are rewarded, just like on a playing field or a Science Olympiad team. It only becomes problematic if that’s the only thing a kid is doing,” said Hunt.
I often play multiplayer games with friends and it’s some of the best times we have spending together. This was also improved due to my lack of social media. It’s become commonplace for me to check my phone during downtimes like loading screens or character selection, but much of this detox I spent this time conversing with others to pass the time. Even when I’m playing single player games, I still often talk to people about the game. Both of these scenario’s I found much more enjoyable than seeing yet another pointless Twitter discourse.