Life

The End of a Three Year Experiment

Over three years ago I stopped looking at social media feed on Facebook and Twitter.

I continued to use messenger and DM apps but my days of scrolling through the sea of images, text and video were over. To make sure I wasn’t tempted to regress I also unfollowed everyone on Facebook and completely stopped using Twitter directly (You can be friends with someone on facebook but not follow them, just means there is virtually nothing in my feed). This was in an effort to stymie the addictive habit of scrolling through social media sites compulsively, while also combating an ever growing FOMO (fear of missing out) that I was beginning to feel. I started this towards the beginning of my ‘low news diet’ where I restricted my active consumption of news for various reasons. 

About a year ago I picked up Instagram. This broke the streak to an extent, but I found I had little desire to scroll through feed. I have recently decided to re-follow everyone on Facebook and see what happens.

Disadvantages of giving up social media feed:

  • Without continued direct contact I lose touch with others

This caused more of a disconnect between me and people I would otherwise maintain some connection with. I have since felt that staying in the loop to some extent, however superficially, may be a positive social advantage.

  • My selfish lack of social media reciprocity 

If I am not interacting with other people’s posts why should I expect them to interact with mine? There was this inherent selfishness to my continued use of social media to promote what I’ve been working on but not engage with what other people want to share. This has made me feel guilty about not reciprocating the support and encouragement I receive on social media. 

Advantages of giving up social media feed:

  • Time

Completely removing the addictive habit of social media has saved tons of my time. Compulsively opening my phone or mindlessly scrolling through menial and attention grabbing content can soak up thinking time. Those seconds and minutes of checking or scrolling in a spare moment will add up to hours.

  • Attention span

There is increasing evidence1 that the internet in general is reducing our attention span, making it harder to concentrate for longer periods of time. This means activities like reading books or even watching films are often interjected with compulsive phone-checking. I noticed that I was finding it harder to read books for long periods of time. My regular consumption of short form video and audiobooks/podcasts was mostly to blame for this but it is increasingly obvious that social media plays a role.

  • Avoiding the aesthetic of the phone-zombie

Checking phones and using them in otherwise un-stimulating situations is an amazing thing for improving productivity and making the most of boring scenarios. But this habit of regressing to the phone when it would be better to pay attention to your surroundings or have a bit of time to just think is becoming increasingly common. In social situations when someone gets out their phone, the projected subtext towards the other person looks like saying: “I’m bored of your company” even if this is not the case and isn’t an intended projection (although I know I can definitely be boring company so perhaps it’s justified in my case). Maybe I’m a hypocrite and I check my phone too much even without social media. I like looking things up on my phone whenever I’m curious and rely on it to structure and organise many aspects of my life. Perhaps I am more of a phone-zombie than I realise.

  • Mental health

I am currently researching the effect the internet can have on mental health and will hopefully have a larger written piece on it finished this month. A huge part of that being the effect social media has on us. Long story short – there is good evidence that heavy use of social media has negative effects not only on our self-esteem but also our cognition.2 3 4 5  

  • Avoiding news over-saturation

When I started reducing my active news consumption I felt that social media was going to be the primary cause of a relapse. It’s worth noting that I don’t completely shun the news. I keep up with important current events, but the sheer volume of irrelevant and non-impactful information being tube fed into my cortex led me to be more parsimonious in my news reading. There is an invisible weight of negative psychological pressure lifted while on the low news diet. Issues that you have little to no impact over have left the back of your consciousness. This means you can focus on the positive impact you can meaningfully have on the world in the places where you have the greatest impact. 

Why I am ending the streak

I want to once again try to mix social media back into my life to better understand the effect it can have. I don’t think I can fully conclude whether the negatives outweigh the positives for me without trying social media once again with a fresh perspective. The habit of avoiding social media feed other than to answer a message or make a post might makes scrolling through unappealing to me anyway. Hopefully there is a way to strike a healthy balance.

Sources: 

  1. Lorenz-Spreen, P., Mønsted, B., Hövel, P. and Lehmann, S. (2019). Accelerating dynamics of collective attention. Nature Communications, 10.
  2. Hunt, M., Marx, R., Lipson, C. and Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), pp.751-768.
  3. Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D., Lin, N., Shablack, H., Jonides, J. and Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE, 8(8), p.e69841.
  4. Huang, C. (2010). Internet Use and Psychological Well-being: A Meta-Analysis. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13(3), pp.241-249.
  5. Forest, A. and Wood, J. (2012). When Social Networking Is Not Working. Psychological Science, 23(3), pp.295-302.

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