Thea is a passionate writer who covers a wide array of topics, including film/tv reviews, opinion-based pieces, and relationship advice.
As With Anything Human: Flawed
It is estimated that there are upwards of 2 Billion social media users all over the planet. It is called a "tool" to connect us to others, keep us informed, and entertain us when bored. The problem is, the human mind reacts to social media in ways that were unforeseen by users, but strategically planned by its creators. The results are an empty, angry, addicted, misinformed society that is on the brink of real-world violence stemming from the virtual sphere. I believe everyone should watch "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix. It really gives great insight into these global problems I just mentioned.
In this article, I outline my own personal struggles with social media on a smaller scale. I think you will relate to this. Then, I'll share some things I did to set boundaries with social media beyond just willpower, which in my opinion, is inadequate to fight off social media's control of your life.
I Feel Like I Need It
I run a small side-businesses and use a Facebook page to communicate with potential clients. So, in essence, I need Facebook. If I were to cancel it, I may lose revenue on my products and services. Everyone else is on it, and there is no better way to reach out to others quickly than making a post to an already-garnered audience. I wouldn't know where to start without it.
Likewise, Facebook makes us need it. Most businesses have Facebook pages and it's the quickest way to find updates on schedule changes or events. You can search all types of groups, and a community of like-minded people (more on that later) awaits you, to bash whatever you want to bash, or support whatever you want to blindly support.
I also feel that socially I need it. I get a rush from comments and memories. I feel loved and warm when a friend posts something that we did and tags me. I feel included. Part of the crowd. Accepted. This is especially true during the pandemic. It is extremely isolating and without Facebook I don't think I would feel as connected to others. The bulk of my social interaction these days happens on Facebook. I think I would be quite lonely without it. Another factor of my own life that makes me crave the social aspect of social media is recently becoming a stay-at-home mom of two in March 2020. My days are filled with diapers, cooking, laundry, discipline, and child-level conversations. My mind craves stimulation and Facebook offers me that. I really feel like I need it socially and mentally.
Cruelty and Suppression of Free Speech
I am surprised many times at how heartless and hateful commenters on Social Media can be. Just the other day I commented that I believe Kindergarteners shouldn't have to wear masks since scientific data from several European countries including Iceland doesn't support the practice. This one guy I never met was ready to fight over it. I never defended my argument because I had said what I wanted to, and I even told him that I respected his opinion. Well, he certainly didn't like that very much. He still attacked me. Finally, I turned off the notifications on the post, because there was no civility to be had; he simply did not want me to have a different opinion. He was unable to agree to disagree. He had picked his side and was unwilling to even respect someone whose opinion was different. I'm sure all readers have had similar altercations.
As "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix points out, social media is really dividing us. Everyone thinks their side is 100% right because the Facebook Algorithm creates posts catered to their likes and interests. That means people on the left are seeing leftist news and people in the right are seeing right-wing news. This is not healthy for a free society. We should ideally be presented with many varying viewpoints (it's not always left and right) and learn to respectfully defend ourselves while acknowledging that there are others who think a different way and have many other different experiences that make them who they are.
Social media makes us judgmental. It groups us into factions and reinforces groupthink ideas, and makes us think any minute deviation from those ideas is heresy. It really imposes these factions on us, and they are horribly legalistic and intolerant and illiberal. And it is very, very hard to see beyond them to think clearly.
These ideological factions have always been noticeable on the internet, but now they are starting to leak into real life with real consequences. Parler and Gab are apps that have been blacklisted by the left. Anyone could join these apps, even leftists, it just so happened that people with unpopular right-wing opinions joined these apps, and some extremists used the platforms to post hateful rhetoric and incite violence. Yet when a literary agent from DeChiaro Agency was found to be using them when it was hard for her to log into Twitter at her home in Alaska, she lost her job. Not because she was inciting violence or being hateful to minorities or being intolerant. It's just because she had accounts on those two social media platforms. That is troublesome on many levels. If we are a society that appreciates free speech, we should not silence our opposition, no matter how wrong we feel they are.
Most social media commenters act like experts with twenty-seven doctorate degrees. It really is ridiculous. You say one thing and users very quickly pop on to tell you just how you are wrong about everything and that you're stupid, and that you belong to ____ group so you must think ____ and you should shut up. It's like unrelenting playground bullying but by know-it-all adults. And it can be hurtful.
Addictive in Nature
Social Media was designed to get us addicted. We love comments and being included. It is part of our brain's design. Companies buy ads on social media platforms, so they need to keep us online to see those ads and buy products. For me, the most addictive thing is definitely scrolling. I will go on my Facebook feed and just scroll, scroll, scroll. I decided to analyze myself and see when I did this. It was usually when having to play some mindless game with my kids. "Mommy, you be the robot and I'll be the zombie, then take this card and I'll give you five dollars then I have to go hide!" "Okay, son," I say and sit down with my robot hat on, and start to scroll, letting out an occasional, "Mm hm," or, "Wow, really?" to my pre-schooler as he makes up his game as he goes. So really, it's when I'm bored. We can no longer be bored. Social media is like a pacifier. The first thing I do when bored or overwhelmed is scroll. It does calm me, and makes me not so distraught, but it also robs my time.
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I remember in college posing cute pictures after going out with my friends and really watching the comments and likes. I suppose everyone did that, but it felt like it was only me. I needed approval and loved the attention. What a trap. Because when others posted their own cute pictures, I felt I had to out-do them or felt inferior. Thankfully, now that I'm in my early thirties, I no longer live trapped in that way. Still, it was a part of my life and I don't think it is safe or healthy for preteens and other impressionable populations.
Another anecdote about the addictive nature comes from my own observations of my classroom through the years. I taught English in Spain, then Spanish in North Carolina, for a total of seven years. The first year I taught, teens didn't dare get out their iphone 2, flip phone, or blackberries and not everyone had internet access. The next year, most kids had internet but still put it away with no problems when asked. When confronting a parent about phone usage, the parent supported the teacher and talked to their kids: problem solved. The third-fifth year, kids still kind of knew that there was a time and place for phones and would reluctantly put them away when asked. The past two years I taught, however, it was markedly different.
Kids needed their phones on their desks. They couldn't function without them. They needed to check for notifications every few minutes and text or snap or whatever they do under the table. If you collected their phones, they were miserable and angry. It was like coming between a drug addict and their drug. They became irate, defensive, mouthy, and lost respect for me as a person. I became their enemy. Since I value classroom rapport very much, I chose to stop fighting the phone battle. The result was a watered-down educational experience, boredom, lethargy, and lack of enthusiasm about language, more than normal even for their age. Sure, they respected me, but they were lifeless and lazy; unmotivated and uninvolved. I straight-up quit teaching. Left my job and never looked back. And a huge factor in that decision was that I was teaching a room full of addicts and there was no winning. The drug won.
All this is very dire and bleak, but I have set some goals and put up some boundaries on my own phone to help me not succumb to Social Media's sticky grasp that wants to control my life.
- I turned off all notifications on my phone. If I want to see something, I have to go into the app to do so.
- I blocked certain websites on my phone that I was unable to stop perusing by sheer willpower alone. My husband knows my screen time passcode, but I do not, so I can't access those blocked pages unless I whip out my Macbook. I much prefer using the internet on my Macbook. It doesn't have that ever-so-easy fingertip scroll that sucks my life away.
- I made a plan to download all my Facebook images and content to a hard drive and a timeline to block facebook on my phone. That way I can only log in when I want via computer. I also want to delete the app. I am actively trying to create real-life friendships via iMessage and meeting up to hang out. I like it when I find a friend that is willing to do life with me, and not just virtually. That means I will have a community in real life when I do decide to get off social media. I'm also working on moving my mini-business off social media.
- I try to remind myself that my side/opinions are not 100% perfect, and the opposing side is not as evil as facebook would have me think they are. Truth frequently lies in the middle.
- My phone has a bedtime. I turn off wifi and by willpower alone I am able to not look at my phone from approximately 9:00 pm until 7:00 am, even if I wake up during the night.
- On Social Media, I follow a broad range of people with varying different viewpoints, who are lovers of free speech and do not vilify those who think differently than themselves. This gives me perspective.
- I subscribed to a non-partisan news source called 1440, which emails me news every morning with no left or right propaganda. I no longer read highly partisan news sources like CNN or Fox. I do still read NPR, National Geographic, and Christian Post, because these three sources explore data and faith, and do not exclude others who don't think like them.
Will this be enough? I'm really not sure. But they are baby steps to helping me control what is now controlling me. With all luck, my relationships in real life will grow and flourish, and I will still feel connected without needed to be logged into social media countless hours of every day. Just 30 minutes a day (which I greatly exceed) adds up to seven round-the-clock full days in one year on social media. I'd say I spend more like 20 full days a year. It's not worth it to me. Wish me luck as I try to balance my struggle and move away from social media.
© 2021 Thea Tsayt
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 28, 2021:
Well written and totally relatable. The only way is, to control things, before they control and affect our peace of mind. That makes me think about my younger days, when we had no social media, but still we were quite social.
Thank you for sharing.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on January 28, 2021:
Jackie Zelko on January 28, 2021:
I agree with all of this! I came to terms with my social media addiction in college when I realized no one truly cares about my Tweet that says, "Walking to class!" lol. That moment turned my life around and is the reason I stopped posting so much on social media. Boundaries are so important, and I love the ones that you listed!