The moment I wake up. Seconds before I drift into sleep. I am on my phone, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Because that next post just might be it. What is it? I don’t know. Nobody does. But one day, one of us may find it. This is the endless hell of social media. A dopamine infused scroll-marathon has all (or most) of us in its tendrils. Thankfully, I am a reformed and recovered social network addict. And I hope I can help you take care of this problem too.
What is Social Media Doing?
First, some groundwork. What is going on with social media, and why is it a problem? The founder of Facebook admitted that his company can pull off what it does by “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”. In addition, researchers found that social media works its magic by triggering the same impulsive part of the brain that gambling and substance abuse trigger.
Addiction is problematic independent of any further effect, but that is not the total extent of social media’s issues. Studies have shown that apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have profound negative effects on the mental health of their users. A survey on 14-24-year-old Brits found that users across four platforms suffered a whole host of negative mental effects.
Depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and bullying are only a few of the issues caused by social media. Its a drug, its users are addicts, and the side effects are horrendous. Another survey tracked over 5000 Americans to determine if social media was bringing them happiness. The results are astounding.
67% percent of Instagram users report being unhappy with how much they use the product, yet they use it anyway. Clearly, we are engaging in actions that we don’t even like for no reason. I have gathered statements of my peer’s stances on social media use. Some just love it all around and see no problem with it. Others know that social media probably isn’t the greatest thing, but don’t have faith in their ability to stop. Still others have quit completely, aside from platforms like Snapchat and Reddit, which many see as exceptions.
If you hate that you use social media and really want to quit, keep reading and see what I did. Even if you love it, maybe you should give what I did a try. You may find out that life truly is better without social media and that the changes are pretty phenomenal.
How to Detox
Social media has bothered me for a while. When I had been using it, I would hate myself for wasting so much time on it. I could be reading or writing or doing homework, or a plethora of any other action that is even remotely productive.
The worst part is that when I would spend over an hour on Instagram, it wouldn’t be because I sat down, used it for an hour, and got up and moved on. It would be sprinkled in here and there, interrupting the flow of whatever I’m doing. It was an impulse that I couldn’t resist. I just had to know if something amazing and fulfilling would pop up in my feed. The answer was always no.
Because I am a scientist, I decided to conduct a series of experiments. I had impulsively deleted social media apps because of wasted time before, but I had never set an interval. I had never said, “I am going to stop using social media for x amount of time”. So this time, I decided to try it. My friend Cassandra and I decided to fast social media together for a week.
I remember feeling more focused and like I was able to better utilize my time. Cassandra reported that “it was surprisingly difficult to quit”. She didn’t realize how much she utilized social media in her everyday life. In turn, this fasting gave her much more time to utilize when she was just sitting around. The default was no longer to scroll through an app. She felt “more productive and less bogged down”.
When it came to people, she said she missed the conversations that she would usually have over social media. But at the same time, she “also felt more intentional”.
“Like if I wanted to talk to someone I had to actually text them or reach out, it wasn’t just because we interacted on social media, which I like. I felt like I talked to more people that I actually wanted to and actually enjoyed talking to.”
Freedom is Ahead
After a week fast, we both got back on social media. But not long after, I decided to take the whole month of December without social media.
It was transformative. Never had I taken such a prolonged vacation from infinite scrolling hell. I felt more focused, more in the moment, and overall happier. Come January I was back on, but that was short lived. It was enjoyable being free from the dopamine infested hands of social media. I had used it to distract myself instead of engaging in a meaningful conversation with someone around me, and I didn’t even like it.
I didn’t like the amount of time I spent on social media. Even more, I hated that at parties people would sit around staring at the hyperreality of social media, rather than engaging with the fellow party-goers. I can only describe it as an opium of the masses.
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