One of my favourite videos is an Apple Music R&B production where Summer Walker and Ari Lennox sit down for a candid conversation about the things they’re ‘over’. With an endearing openness and familiarity, the ladies discuss their frustrations about everything from men and monogamy to waxing and natural hair. When the topic of social media comes up , Summer makes a particularly enlightened observation:
“It’s an app. Relax, if it gets deleted tomorrow, I think you’ll actually have nothing to talk about in life. Like, nothing. And that’s kind of scary.”
There are countless op-eds,articles and research papers that look deeply into how social media affects our lives, and many of them highlight the drawbacks that we should be weary of: it takes up too much of our time, makes us draw unfair comparisons between ourselves and others and, because of the way social media platforms are designed to be addictive, they are associated with anxiety, depression and even physical ailments.
I have had an unsteady relationship with social media, sometimes fully embracing it for its ability to connect me with friends and family, and other times taking long breaks from it because of how draining it can be. It wasn’t until I started being more mindful about my social media use that I was able to take control of it for the better. My hope is that these tips will help you do the same.
Understand the ‘why’s of your social media habits- If someone were to ask you why you’re on Facebook , Twitter or Instagram, you’d probably say that these apps help you to connect with people and causes that you care about, stay up to date with the news, and discover new products, among other things.
While these are completely valid reasons, they can sometimes mask other motives. Are you posting that selfie to rack up some likes and feel validated? Did you retweet those quotes about disloyalty 15 times because you want your ex to see them? Are you obsessively checking to see who has watched your story and using apps that tell you who unfollowed or unfriended you? Believe me, I know. We’ve all had those moments.
However, attaching your social media presence to your self-worth and giving that much weight to other people’s opinions about us is not only unhealthy, but it also encourages us to use social media as a crutch when we have unresolved issues within ourselves- and we’re better than that.
Purposefully select the accounts that you follow – I see social media as a way to immerse myself in content that genuinely interests me, so I make the conscious decision to follow accounts dedicated to topics like photography, reading and aviation. The key word there is ‘conscious’- I’m not just following accounts for the sake of it- and yes , this goes back to the ‘why’s’ we spoke about earlier.
I try to make sure that everything I come across on my social feeds reinforces ideas and images of what I want for myself now, and what I envision for myself in the future. Photos of black and brown women who, in their diverse beauty, encourage me to embrace mine? Yes. Snippets of German and French to remind me of my language goals? A must. Conversations that challenge my thinking? Absolutely.
I also try to limit the number of accounts that I follow at once because digital clutter is very much a thing- and we’re not having it. I want no part in heated Facebook debates, I’d rather not have a social feed flooded with selfies or photos of people’s material possessions , and I don’t gain much from knowing where every single celebrity is jetting off to next , so I simply find ways to disengage from these sources.
Be mindful of your social media ‘connections’ -Think about all the people you’ve followed or friended on your socials- do you actually engage with them all ? Or do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling past a lot of their posts?
Just because you get regular updates about an acquaintance’s exciting new relationship or a distant friend’s college experience doesn’t mean that you’re sustaining a meaningful tie to them. Again, ask yourself- aside from your close friends and family, what is it that you’re gaining from constant updates about other people’s lives? Don’t allow social media to perpetuate connections that you’ve either outgrown or never had in the first place.
You’re not obligated to follow anybody – This may be an unpopular opinion, but hear me out ; it’s okay to mute or unfollow people whose social media practices don’t align with yours. It doesn’t have to be a statement about your personal feelings towards them- it could just be that your interests have changed, or that everytime you see their posts you find yourself emphasizing everything they have that you don’t:
“Why can’t I be as curvy as her? ”I wish my relationship was that perfect.” “There’s no way I’ll ever be able to afford this lifestyle”.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the images and identities people project on social media usually don’t tell their whole story. This is your domain, and you should be the only one deciding what energies to let in.
Don’t feel pressured to share everything- In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown outlines our tendency to feel as though we have to ‘keep up’ with everyone else on the internet:
“Social media has made us more acutely aware of what other people are doing- this often encourages us to believe that these (non-essential) things are things we should be doing as well.”
Sharing both the novel and mundane moments of our lives has become the norm- but remember, that extravagant dinner date or beautiful sunset doesn’t become any less real if all your followers don’t immediately know about it. Don’t get so caught up trying to capture every experience that you forget to be an active participant. It’s ok to have moments that are yours and only yours.
Allow yourself to disengage-We’ve grown so used to whipping out our phones and endlessly scrolling while we’re standing in line, waiting for a commercial break to end, or even just relaxing in social settings. We’re so reliant on the dopamine hits from every ‘scroll to refresh’ that it’s almost as though we’re afraid to have moments where our brain isn’t being stimulated.
I once read somewhere that “social media is best as unplanned entertainment, rather than unplanned distraction”, and I couldn’t agree more. There are many apps, browser extensions and even built in software features like Apple’s ‘downtime’ that are designed to help us control the time we spend on social media by blocking our access to certain apps at designated times. Many people have also testified about their success with social media detoxes and deleting their accounts altogether.
Once you’ve decided what role social media is going to play in your life, you can determine which of these methods are most sustainable long-term. I think that using some of the steps outlined above can help us maintain a healthy balance between knowing how to use social media to fulfill our social, career and life goals, and at the same time realising that there’s more to life than likes.