I enjoy Social Media. I first went on Facebook when you still had to be a university student to join. I use Instagram, Pinterest and Goodreads. I stumble around with SnapChat on occasion… but I’m kind of scared of TikTok. I watch a lot of YouTube videos, and I’ve even made a couple in the past. I have a blog (clearly), and I have considered starting up a podcast.
Depending on how you define social media, some of these media types and platforms fit the definition better than others. “Social Media” is a broad category, and the way we interact with it’s various branches can vary from platform to platform.
As with many aspects of our lives, social media has it’s positives and it’s negatives. There are things that make these platforms and media types great, and things that make them less great. Because of this, I have often wrestled with my own use of social media. I even went so far as to “break up” with Facebook one year, though I eventually found myself back on the platform when I moved to England, because it’s useful for keeping in touch with people that are far away, or that we don’t see often.
Social media can also introduce unique pressures on our lives, and it can magnify pressures that already exist in society. There is the danger, for instance of seeing other people’s posts and being dissatisfied with our own lives. As so many others have pointed out, we all have a tendency to compare our daily lives with others highlight reels, or highly curated pages.
In reaction to this, many people have started posting more of the daily, mundane, or messy parts of their lives. I think this is great. I also don’t think this is a one size fits all “fix it.” I have often found myself viewing other people’s messy lives and wishing for some aspect of that life. As a single woman who has wished to have children, seeing your posts about the messiness of motherhood can be a reminder of that unfulfilled dream. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still enjoy seeing these posts.
What I have realized over the years is that we should always take care to be conscious of how we are interacting with all forms of social media, and media more widely. There is nothing wrong with changing how we interact with these medias at different times of our lives. Or even from one day to another. If I’m having a day where I’m lonely, and wishing that my life had gone in a direction, then scrolling through the posts of all the wonderful mamas or happy couples that I love is not always the best idea. I can come back and appreciate those posts another day.
On the flip side, if you’re in the middle of chaotic and messy days filled with diapers and crying toddlers, I am sure that there are times when you don’t want to see my travel posts. Or the posts of someone else in your same stage of life who seems to have it all together that day. Some days we are just not able to handle certain types of posts, or certain types of media. And that’s okay. I think that’s part of being human.
I have also found that the way that I interact with social media can be affected by the specific platform. For some reason my Facebook feed has the greatest potential to make me angry, and frustrated, and just overall upset. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been more careful in what I follow on Instagram, or if it’s because of the types of posts that appear on Facebook.
I think it might have to do with the visibility of words and comments on Facebook over other platforms. Now, words are my thing. I love to read what people have to say, and Facebook and Twitter can be great for that. There are a lot of positive discussions that come out of Facebook and Twitter. But, and this is a really important but, it can become overwhelming very quickly for me. Especially during a time when everyone is talking about the same thing, such as the current pandemic.
For me, and this might not be the same for you, there is so much potential for anger, frustration and anxiety in scrolling through these types of posts. People are going to have different ideas and opinions. And that is okay, and good even. Differing opinions help us to see new perspectives and learn and grow as people. But sometimes platforms like Facebook or Twitter (or the YouTube comment section) can make us focus more on where we disagree, and less on understanding another point of view. It is easy to forget to be kind and extend grace.
I do read captions and comments on Instagram. But I think that, between the two, I am more likely to be drawn into reading a post and all of the subsequent comments, on Facebook than I am on Instagram. I can also almost completely avoid the captions and comments on instagram if I so choose. I can scroll through and look only at people’s pictures if that’s what I want to do that day.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to live in some kind of happy go lucky, positivity bubble. Being part of people’s lives, even if only through the internet, means engaging with them on good days and bad days. It means posts that are happy and posts that deal with hard things. But I have realized since the start of this pandemic, that certain types of posts can have a significant negative impact on my day.
The first week that I was working solely from home, and all of the social isolation rules were beginning to be put into place, I consumed a lot of media related to the pandemic. Everything was unknown, and I think on some level, I had the idea that the more I knew about it, the more control I could have over the situation, and my place within it. But consuming Pandemic related media quickly became overwhelming. And, as I have spent years learning, knowing everything about a topic doesn’t give you any more control over it.
I know that I can get emotionally overwhelmed quickly. Sometimes through things that you would not think would trigger a strong emotional reaction. And that’s not something that I can handle long term. It’s not healthy to be constantly in a state of that type of heightened, often negative, emotion.
We are living in an unknown, and often scary and confusing time right now. This is not going to go away because I step back from constantly consuming content related to it. But it’s also not going to go away if I spend my days hyperfocused on that same content. The difference is that in the stepping back I am less stressed, anxious and worried. So I have started to limit my exposure to certain types of content.
You might think that this means that I’m ignoring the situation. Or being naive. Or burying my head in the sand. But I’m not. I still allow myself to consume news about the pandemic, and what people are posting about it, daily. I still watch the news, I still check out my Google news feed, and I still go on Facebook. Even though I know that it has the potential to upset me. But, and here’s the important thing for me, I am spending a lot less time on it right now than I might normally.
I’m learning how much I can handle. And some days I spend more time on Social Media than others. Some days all of the posts seem to be neutral or positive. Somedays most things make me smile or laugh or think. Some days all the posts that I see feel negative. On those days, I spend only a little time there.
What am I doing Instead?
Distancing myself from some types of social media doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become ridiculously productive, or that I’m filling my time with only “meaningful” activities. Because I’m not. I have become more productive in some ways, but it’s not an exact cause and effect. I’m writing more. But I have been planning on starting this blog for awhile. I didn’t suddenly start blogging because I distanced myself from social media. But I’m not reaching for my phone as often while writing.
I’ve also been spending more time on YouTube. I listen to a lot of videos while doing other things. But I am watching only videos that have no, or almost no, reference to the pandemic. Watching videos about books is part of my normal routine, but lately I’ve also been watching ones about video games. It started with Animal Crossing, and has now switched to the Sims. I have found it strangely calming and relaxing to watch, or listen to, someone else build in the Sims.
Along with watching more YouTube, I’m also playing more video games. I bought a Nintendo Switch almost two months ago now, and I started playing Animal Crossing. And that game can definitely be a time suck. I’ve also been playing The Sims and other miscellaneous computer and console games. But the difference between social media scrolling and these video games, at least for me right now, is that they are much less likely to make me stressed and anxious.
Being more distanced from my social media feeds right now does not mean that this will always be the case. These new habits are being created as a reaction to a specific situation, and these habits may not be maintained if the situation changes. I know that. What works now, might not work later. I also don’t see myself cutting myself off completely from social media. Many things that I want to do, or try, involve some aspect of social media, either directly or indirectly.
And there are aspects of social media that I truly like. I enjoy connecting with people that I rarely see. I like that I can still feel some connection, however small, with people all over the world. I enjoy the connection that comes from interacting over a shared passion or interest over the internet – even if we never meet. I like that sharing art is so much more accessible through the use of social media, despite all of it’s problems and pitfalls.
But I have also seen the benefit of distance. The less time that I spend on Instagram, or Facebook, or Pinterest, the more I enjoy the time that I do spend there. I can enjoy popping in for a few minutes at a time, or for a longer period less often, because I don’t reach the point of saturation as quickly. And I think that’s a good thing. Stepping back has allowed me to enjoy the content without being overwhelmed by the quantity. I hope that I can take some of my new insights and new patterns into the future.
A friend of mine describes one of the pitfalls of social media as “noise.” Sometimes instagram or Facebook become noise for us. Most of the time, it’s the negative things that make these platforms a source of noise in our lives, but it can also be the neutral posts or even the positive posts. She encourages us to step away, and distance ourselves, if the platforms become noise for us. I think this is such good advise. When we notice that social media has become noisy, and upsetting or distracting from our lives, then it is time to step back. It might be for only a few hours, or a day. But if it needs to be longer, then so be it.
Turning it off and on again can fix a lot of technological problems. But I think it can also fix some of the problems we have from interacting with our technologies. So, if you are feeling overwhelmed, or anxious, or frustrated, with what you are seeing on social media, or the internet more generally, then take this as the encouragement you need to step back and unplug. Turn it off. Come back when you’re ready to. And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re burying your head in the sand because you are choosing not to dwell on the negatives in the world right now.
Have you ever tried stepping back from Social Media for a time? What did you find from that time? Have you adjusted the way you use social media right now? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time,