As of April 2020, it was recorded that the average adult spends around four hours a day online, possibly as a result of the lockdowns. However, this is just an increase of 30 minutes from the 3.5 hours recorded in September 2019. 

Life ‘online’

There is an option to do most activities online. From banking and shopping to entertainment and socialising. Companies have become more digital too, offering the option to work from home as long as you have an Internet connection. We have become more digitised, preferring to be social online through chat groups and social media feeds. Lately, the majority of our free time is spent on YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok. It’s become such a problem that our phones now have an in-built system that allows us to limit our screen time.   The world is literally at our fingertips and we can’t seem to stop ourselves from wanting more. 

Recently, I completed a social media workshop. It was all about how we can use social media to get the best interactions and engagement from a business perspective. I realised this was the mantra behind social media: ‘show people what you think they want to see’. It’s all about playing on desires, hopes, dreams and fears to get others invested in your product. This gave me a much-needed reality check. The bigger message is that you only see a snapshot of someone’s true story on social media, never the whole picture.

Escaping social media

I decided to do a little experiment and take some time away from social media. It proved difficult, to say the least. I found I couldn’t take a break without feeling like I was ignoring my friends, losing an audience on my creative account and missing out on news about people’s lives. I felt as though I had pressed pause on a huge part of my life. I also became very aware of my own thoughts and the need to have something to look through or scroll through to distract me from whatever it was I didn’t want to deal with. My experiment reaffirmed that a break from social media has never been more important — and never more difficult.

Eriq Qualman, an author of Socialnomics, created a video to show the digital transformation of the world in 2019. The statistics highlight the effect of social media on our brains and the world.

  • Our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish. Humans have a 7-second attention span and goldfish have an 8-second one. 
  • It was predicted that by 2020 we would be having more conversations with robots than with our own spouse. 
  • The world populations of several social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, are greater than the populations of some countries.

The world is transforming. The average person now spends around 144 minutes on social media per day, and a lot can happen during these minutes. In 2020, every minute, 190 million emails were sent, 1.6 million swipes occurred on Tinder, 2.5 million snaps were created for Snapchat, 694,444 people were scrolling through Instagram, and 59 million messages were sent on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. We are continuously searching for the next piece of news, the next funniest video, the next trend, or the next message and notification to fill our day. The way we choose to spend our time sees us prioritising the online world more and more.

Social media plays on mental health

Social media has played a part in the rise of mental health problems. But if it has such a detrimental effect on our mental health and our lives, why do we choose to spend our time in this particular way? Studies have shown that social media can be addictive. There have been calls from the UK government and the WHO to do more research into the effects of social media, with a debate raging as to whether it should be classed as an addiction. The fear of missing out or ‘FOMO’ is quite real, I assure you. Then there’s the guilt in ignoring people’s messages or not replying straight away, and the fear of sounding uneducated when the latest news item is being discussed amongst friends and colleagues. With all these emotions exhausting us, there is an urgency to be ‘present’ at least once or twice a day to ensure none of the above happens.

It’s important to note that our attachment to social media and its various problems may have been exacerbated by the events of the last twelve months. For many of us, it has become our only source of staying connected and up-to-date with people’s lives, given that we cannot physically meet with them. But the need to stay connected brings its own set of problems, including the tendency to compare our own lockdown life with someone else’s. We’re constantly wondering if our lockdown experience matches in some small way the success stories we read about; never do we really question their motivation or sincerity.

Eriq Qualman argues:

‘We don’t have a choice on whether we digitally transform. The choice is how we do it’.

It’s not impossible to quit social media, but it is rather difficult given our long-term involvement with it that borders on dependency. Maybe all we can do is learn to manage our time better when online and be aware of some of the trappings.

Stay present and don’t compare yourself to a highlight reel. 

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