August 31, 2020

I Need a Break

A friend reflects on their social media usage and whether or not it’s healthy

My friend Álvaro recently penned this piece about his decision to step away from social media for a while.

I myself left Facebook last year, for similar reasons, so Álvaro’s frustration resonated with me:

I’ve come to the conclusion that social media, in its current form, is actively detrimental to my mental health and well-being. It’s taken a lot of introspection, but I’ve realized that social media has been slowly poisoning my character in ways I don’t even fully understand. Being constantly exposed to an endless stream of negativity has made me more angry, and it has shortened my fuse significantly. My tolerance for disagreement is at an all-time low, and I find myself being defensive even when there’s no apparent reason for it. Perhaps more importantly, it’s been draining my capacity for joy and my ability to appreciate the little things in life. All of this has had an impact in my everyday life, my work and my relationships, and I’ve had enough.

I’m ruthless about curating my feeds to prune out toxic negativity, but there’s a subtle detail here that I’ve started to think more about: social media’s potential for negative effects on your life aren’t only present when you encounter toxic content.

Even if all you see is pleasant, social media participation costs you time.

For many of us, it costs a huge amount of time if left unchecked. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic that’s changed my outlook on this, but I’ve become aware of how precious our time is and how dangerous it can be to spend it thoughtlessly. Since we have a limited number of hours in the day, sacrificing several on the altar of social media seems almost irresponsible. Particularly without a clear sense of what we’re getting in return.

For example, I have felt no desire to return to Facebook since I left, which tells me that the network wasn’t providing me with any genuine value in return for the time I spent on it. That’s an easy case. But what about Instagram?

Instagram and Twitter are both pleasant networks for me, thanks to my curation efforts (I realize that for many they are the crux of the toxicity). Even so, I find myself asking what I get from each. I see Instagram as a good home for visual inspiration, a salve for my wanderlust, and a biased-but-optimistic source of social updates from my closest friends. Considering how little time I spend browsing, I think the trade-off us ultimately worth it.

Twitter, similarly, is a good source of news and cultural commentary that’s often amusing. I don’t tend to spend more than a few minutes per day browsing the feed, so there too I find the exchange to be reasonable. Twitter also serves as a surprisingly popular point of contact for people; I get more Twitter DMs than I thought I would considering how infrequently I post things.

This is in stark contrast to Instagram, which I haven’t been posting to much but which has never been a very social” platform for me. I’m an Instagram introvert, if such a thing exists…I spend my time browsing, liking, and commenting, but I don’t get much engagement on my own posts or direct interactions via messages or stories. I’m not sure why Instagram is so much less social for me than Twitter when the opposite is true for other people I know who use both.

In the end, I’m happy with where my social media usage is these days. It’s minimal and I don’t tend to get sucked into long stretches of mindless scrolling. I’m much more likely to have that happen on Reddit, personally. Something to work on.

To return to Álvaro’s piece though, I think the concept of taking a total social media break is valuable because it gives you an opportunity to break the addictive loops they ensure us in. It gives you the space to figure out what you truly miss (if anything). Most people would likely find that they miss a lot less than they expect to.

I think that the healthiest way to interact with social media is sparingly, skeptically, and intentionally.

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