Two friends are sitting across from one another in a café, both on their phones, complaining about their lack of [internet] connection.
Some time ago this allegory came to me. For a while now, technology and virtual reality have been coexisting within our society. Social media, for example, is a form of virtual reality in a way. “Virtual” is defined as “not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.” Hence, when you look at “virtual reality,” it is a strictly technical reality, which makes its existence valid. This signifies the basis of social media, or at least of the role it plays in our lives.
Most of us are aware that social media is a computer-simulated product; it doesn’t hold any physical value. But as a means of communication, identity, and societal and economic growth, social media may potentially define the 21st century in history textbooks of the future. In this day and age, it’s difficult to refrain from using social media. Even when you hear here and there that we are consumed by the internet and social media, it’s quite easy to brush aside and keep scrolling.
I started to realize how much the internet has taken ahold of me after installing an app called Moment to track the amount of time I spend on my phone every day. My average comes out to about five hours a day. Whenever it reaches roughly eight, I panic. I would justify for myself, however, that most of that time went into watching YouTube videos—I wasn’t just on social media or scrolling aimlessly. But still. Often, I trick myself into thinking I’m using the internet to learn or to “get inspired.” Truthfully though, most of the time, my inspiration only turns into action when I’m back from exploring somewhere, whether that’s a shop, a gallery, a movie theater,, visiting a friend, or people-watching. My best and rawest inspiration generally only comes from interacting with my surroundings, even if it’s a banana peel being trashed in a strange way on the corner of a dirty street. Trust me, I came up with a shoot idea on my way to class after walking by a scene like that.
Social media can trick me. After a few hours on social media, I have a new perspective on myself and who I should try to become. I suddenly believe that I like Led Zeppelin, because that girl I follow, who happens to be hella cool and interesting, likes Led Zeppelin. This s one out of ten other scenarios in which I find myself aligning with certain things because I think “it would suit me,” because “well, I love The Smiths, and she likes The Smiths, so if she likes Led Zeppelin, it would MAKE SENSE for me to like Led Zeppelin.” Then, I would myself: “Do I actually like The Smiths? I only know three of their albums, and asides from Morrissey, I have no idea what their names are.” Yeah, I’m totally confused about my sense of self after a few hours on social media.
In real life, you might compare yourself to the skinny girl who stands next to you in gym class or to the boy who always wins that writing contest to which you regularly submit. But social media changes the rule of comparison. On the internet, people can appear however they wish to craft themselves. And all of a sudden, you’re comparing yourself to the ideas and personalities others are creating. To an extent, our social media presence is our own craft, an art which we curated and perfected rather than an actual reality. Our social media presence isn’t necessarily a mirror image of ourselves.
Apart from the distortion on our idea of self, social media has somewhat warped human connections. Before diving into this, it’s necessary to give social media credit in aiding our communication and ability to keep in contact with loved ones. As somebody who’s living away from home and who has been in a long-distance relationship, I truly appreciate the existence of social media. But asides from helping long-distance communication, social media might be keeping us disconnected from one another.
It’s easy to put up an identity on social media when you’re interacting with somebody. Thus, everybody is locked in their bubble, unable to be vulnerable and to genuinely connect. Ironically, a sense of community is lost even though social media is obviously branded as an online community.
Social media, at least in developed countries, has been fully integrated into people’s lives and daily activities. Most of us check our phones before going to bed and right after waking up. We fear being disconnected from what’s going on and what others are doing, what they’re talking about. There are trending hashtags on Twitter, an explore page on Instagram, and a trending page on YouTube.
The first step to disconnect from an unhealthy relationship with social media is to realize that it is unhealthy and that it likely will not contribute to your long-term happiness and goals.
☆ Install the ‘Moment’ app if you have an iPhone or something similar if you use a different phone.
I’m not sure if this app has really helped me cut down my internet consumption, but it definitely has helped me see clearly how much time I spend on my phone. This realization has helped me stop picking up my phone when I’m bored or mindlessly scrolling through random things on my phone.
☆ Delete apps that you know aren’t adding to your growth and happiness.
I thought this was just a trend people were doing and that it wouldn’t actually help. But after deleting Facebook, I found myself only visiting the site when I actually needed to go on it for something specific. Most of the time, we use social media subconsciously. You’re on your phone tapping the app icons, and for a split second you decide to check what’s happening on Instagram. Then, when you realized you’ve spent too much time looking at others’ pages, you’re hooked and feel inclined to complete whatever it is that you’re doing. I’ve spoken to friends who admit that they’ve sometimes opened a social media app for no purposeful reason, and have ended up spending a lot more time than planned on those apps.
☆ Come up with three things that you can do instead of being on your phone.
Sometimes you suddenly have 30 minutes to kill. Or you’ve just finished schoolwork, and it’s a little too early for bedtime. Going on your phone would easily be an option now. But if you’re serious about cutting down time spent on the internet, come up with three alternative options. (If you have only one and you don’t feel like doing that, you’ll end up on your phone again.) This method is totally subjective, because everybody has different things that they enjoy doing. Maybe you don’t like reading a book, but you’re down to read a magazine or listen to a podcast. Figure this out, and be prepared for those times when you reach for your phone out of boredom.
☆ Give yourself goals to work towards.
Bear with me, as this can seem very existentialist and broad to grasp. You don’t need to have monthly goals, but be sure to give yourself regular goals to work towards. Often, I find that those people who are often “bored” or very obsessive about curating a personality online lack a purpose in real life. Give yourself a goal or a purpose outside the realm of virtual reality or social media. This new interest will help to disconnect your mentality and mindset from social media as its main focus.
☆ Interact with what is physically real.
Sometimes, the best way to disconnect from social media is by getting involved in the opposite of what social media is composed of. For example, leave your electronic devices at home and go outside into nature or into a pool of strangers on the street. You might feel uncomfortable and lost, not knowing what time it is, where you are (possibly), and who is trying to text you. But this complete change of atmosphere and environment once in a while will help let you see a different side of life and recognize what lies outside of the world of social media.
☆ Eliminate certain things from your daily routine.
Try to hang out with and talk to your friends if you live close to each other. Don’t text, talk instead. I get that texting can be convenient throughout the day, but when it can be avoided, try to have a physical conversation. Talking can create so much more of a connection, making the things discussed more real and important. You’re also interacting with the person, not with a device.