This blog needs to fall under the heading, once you know something, you cannot unknow it. I think we all know that social media and smartphones can be a major distraction. The other night while out to dinner with my husband I took a look around the restaurant. The table next to us was a family of five. Three members of the family were on their phones the entire meal. The five year old little boy desperately trying to get his father’s attention, failed at his effort. The husband and wife behind us both had their phones out, in hand, and thumbs scrolled away most of the meal. Yes indeed, once you become aware of something you cannot NOT see it.
First we would admit that smartphones are revolutionary. Certainly most of us wouldn’t want to go to a time without them. We wouldn’t go back to horse and buggy travel once we had cars, train travel once airplanes were invented, and we certainly wouldn’t go back to the encyclopedias, large unfolding maps, and telephone books, since the advent of smartphones. The iPhone hit the market in 2007.
We then added social media to our phones, and this took our phone use to another dimension. Not only could I take a picture with my smartphone, I could now blast that picture out to the world thru social media. What once was a respectful disagreement between two individuals has now become a politically, racially and other horribly orchestrated debate between one person and hundreds of non-present faces.
While it is amazing technology, for me the honeymoon is over. Just as I gave up alcohol because I did not like how it was affecting my personality and my levels of peace and joy, I’m waking up to the fact that my hangover days with my smartphone and social media are coming to an end.
Let’s start with some facts. Smartphones and social media have been around long enough now that several studies have been done on their usage. I won’t quote the studies here, because frankly you know how to use your smartphones too, so Google™ them as I did. Suffice it to say the use of smartphones and social media while having certain benefits also has many pitfalls. These include: loneliness, impaired cognitive function, decreased productivity with inability to focus on a task at hand, higher levels of anxiety, and let’s not forget death from motor vehicle accidents and suicidal risk. It sounds like the side effects of one of those drugs on TV where the list of side effects far outweighs the benefits of the drug and you wonder why in the heck you would take the drug in the first place.
Now that we know, or frankly finally admit, to these affects of social media and smartphone use, what do we do with the information? I continue to go back to, once you know something, you cannot unknow it. Once we are aware of how addictive smartphones and Facebook™ likes are and how they impair cognitive function, increase anxiety and overall decrease happiness, what are we going to do differently?
The first step is awareness. We have to be consciously aware. Being human gives us the unique opportunity to decide. We take hold of that which we can. Surely we can take hold of whether we use our smartphones as tools to enhance our lives, or whether we allow our smartphones to use us and become yet another source of stress and addictive behavior.
Ask yourself these questions to uncover if you are in control of your smartphone and social media usage.
Do you keep your phone on your night stand?
Do you check your phone in the middle of the night if you wake up?
Do you check your phone first thing in the morning before you do anything else, like kiss your spouse or make a cup of coffee?
Do you love your likes? Do you count them? Do you go back frequently throughout the day to double check your likes or “views”?
As you go through your day, do you have the compulsive need to document every moment of your life?
Have you noticed the ability to focus on one task for extended periods of time is becoming more challenging? For example, when reading, do you find yourself rereading the same paragraph three or four times?
As soon as you have an available moment of boredom, at the checkout line or at a stop light, do you turn to the phone?
Do you even know what boredom is, now that we can fill any nanosecond of time with a quick email check or social media update?
If I told you someone had commented on one of your posts or pictures, but you weren’t able to check it….until the end of the day, would that cause you to be anxious?
As you are scrolling thru others’ posts do you become judgmental, hyper critical or otherwise not nice in your thoughts such as, oh please your life is really not that wonderful, or you really don’t look like that, or I know you are not that happy, or what is that like your 10th post today? And do you realize people say the exact same thing about you?
Have you noticed sitting or walking without any music, phone, digital device has become very hard to do?
Do you “quick check” your phone every 5 to 10 minutes and/or keep these platforms running in the background of your smartphone?
Do you find yourself scrolling and scrolling and scrolling even though you absolutely could be doing something better?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, well them we are alike, because I answered yes to all of them.
So I’ve decided to do something differently and I’ll have to report back in a few months and let you know how it is going. Some of the changes I’ve made include: while not completely removing all social media from my phone, I did put all the things I check, such as Facebook™ and Instagram™, two email accounts and Facebook™ messenger to the last screen on my Iphone. Therefore in order to check in to any of these platforms, I have to be more intentional about it. As I’m scrolling thru the screens, I am much more aware that I’m doing it. I no longer keep my phone attached to my body like a third arm. I keep it face down in the kitchen. When driving I keep it in my purse. While at work, I look at it as if it’s a laptop computer and use it similarly. I no longer bring my phone with me wherever I go. If my husband and I are together, we’ll just bring one phone in case of emergency. I started using my car’s GPS again rather than my phone’s GPS. I still love and listen to my podcasts but I am very intentional about certain times of the week that I listen to them, rather than listening to them throughout the day when I have spare moments. I allow myself boredom and have gotten back to the practice of being. I’m fully aware of the design of various social media platforms to grab my attention which causes a quick hit of dopamine, and I do not allow the addiction to flourish. It is literally no different from my decision to stop drinking alcohol. Once I realized just how addictive the behavior was I changed, just like that.
After reading this, I ask you to reconsider your smartphone and social media usage. Perhaps you’ll be like me. Perhaps you’ll be even more diligent and control your smartphone and social media usage even more. At the end of the day I’m going after more joy, not less and the more I am in control of what I allow into my consciousness, the better off I am going to be. I hope you agree.