In the words of Blaise Pascal, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Try sitting in a room alone, with your phone away. No screens, no nothing! Just you and your mind and you will realize how difficult it is. In a drastically changing world, we are losing ourselves more than we can imagine.
NUMBERS DON’T LIE
In the last decade there has been a drastic increase in the number of smartphones sold. Much notably has been the rapid upsurge in the time the average user spent on social media. Just five years ago, the average social media user spent about 1 hour and 50 minutes on social media.
In 2020 the average social media user spent about 2 hours and 25 minutes a day which equates to a full waking day in a week, almost three full days in a month and more than one month in a year. The numbers are high in some countries like the Philippines where the average social media user spent 4 hours and 15 minutes every day in 2020. On the lower end, a country like Japan averaged 51 minutes a day in average social media usage.
There is even more data showing that android users spend an average of 4 hours on their smartphones each day.
Here’s the tip of the iceberg.
More than 42 percent of internet users suffer from depression as a result of excessive internet usage. Moreover, more than 48 percent of internet users cannot control their use of social media.
I won’t bombard you with a lot of numbers just in case you don’t like Mathematics but it is worth noting that the average mobile phone user checks his phone 39 times every day.
Your rate is obviously higher than this but you can hardly admit it. Phone addiction is real. Have you ever noticed what happens when you leave your phone behind? How many times do you find your hands slipping into your pockets to reach your phone even though you do not have it?
WHEN ATTENTION BECOMES MORE VALUABLE THAN GOLD
In the modern era, extracting eyeball minutes has become more lucrative than gold extraction. Companies are paying the best programmers in the world to keep you glued to their devices, apps, websites and all. (I also want you to stay glued to this article till the end. Just before you call me an a*s hole, read on some more). These companies want your attention and they are easily winning against the majority of us.
Behind that screen, there are more than a thousand engineers who have designed that app to be more addicting. They do not want you to leave their sites. In the words of Bill Maher, “The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they are friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they are just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to the world.”
THE DARKSIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media has become the last thing we check before we sleep and the first thing we check at when we wake up. Some of us are even sleeping with our devices on our hands. That’s how glued we are. These tech guys are winning. They have been able to keep us glued to our phones. The increase in the amount of time spent on social media has not come with any blessings. Curses only! Here are some of them
- The rise in suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempts, depression, anxiety and stress levels among social media users and more so teenagers. A recent study has shown a profound correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and suicidal rates among teenagers. In a nutshell, the more time you spend on social media the higher your chances of attempting suicide. The more you use social media the more you are likely to be depressed.
This has been attributed to factors such as cyberbullying and the “perfect life” pictures portrayed on social media. This has affected our mental health by making us feel less important. We are feeling more left out. We are constantly comparing our lives with the lives of others. Comparing other people’s highlight reels with our normal lives. We are comparing other people’s fake lives with our real lives. This is making us more depressed, anxious and stressed.
2. We have become less happy and lonelier
A recent study has shown that more teenagers are lonelier today than ever before. Confessions of even some of them saying that they have no close friends are terrifying. They have no friends who know them well enough to understand them. This is incredulous. In a super connected world, we are losing the deep meaningful connections that make life worth living. This has taken a toll on the happiness levels of teenagers.
3. Productivity levels have gone down.
Since we cannot keep our phones away, we are taking them everywhere we go. In our workplaces, study rooms, churches, and even washrooms. We are literally using our phones in the toilet. Just remember what happened when you were just about to get started on your assignment and your phone buzzed. You then reached it and checked to see the new message from one of your friends. He had sent you a link to watch a video by one of your favorite celebrities. You then went on to lie to yourself that you were just going to watch that one video. An hour later you had not started your assignment.
We have become less focused. Our concentration spans have decreased. We just cannot concentrate on our important tasks without constant distractions from our mobile phones.
4. We have lost touch with the people closest to us.
You say that social media has made the world a global village but at the same time, it takes two people living in the same room and lying on the same bed into two very different worlds.
Visit any family during meal times and you will just realize how disconnected they are from one another. They are complete strangers sitting in the same room, on opposite sides of the table, besides each other, sharing a meal, with mobile phones on one of their hands and spoons on the other. They are even looking at their phones more than their plates.
5. In a world run on social media, it is surprising that we are becoming less social beings. In the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, “For all the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing beats human interaction.” With the low bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, we cannot connect profoundly with others. We have changed from primates who lived in groups, were excellent in reading gestures and body language to solitary species preoccupied with screens. We are losing the basic human interactions necessities.
In case you didn’t know, face-to-face conversations causes the release of the cuddle chemical-oxytocin. This is the same hormone produced by breastfeeding women. It is responsible for the bond between mother and child. Moreover, when people connect physically- through a handshake, a high-five or a pat on the back-oxytocin is released. This enhances trust and feelings of attachment.
6. Instant gratification.
We are no longer able to do the boring and important things. Our fore fathers had to dig dipper to experience pleasurable moments. Think of their hunting activities, their story telling and games they participated in. It even took them longer to build relationships and find partners. This wired their brains to be more patient and think of the long term.
Nowadays, pleasure is just some clicks away. We are seconds away from entertainment and high stimulation. We are even much closer to toxic pleasures like pornography. This has wired our brains to receive rewards instantly. We have become less patient and tolerant. Think of the get-rich quick fixes and the increased divorce rates.
7. Sleep deprivation.
Since we are checking our phones last thing before we sleep, we are affecting our sleep patterns. Just check at the growing rates of insomnia among teenagers. Mobile phones emit blue light that suppresses the sleep causing hormone- melatonin.
WHERE THEY CAUGHT US PANTS DOWN
- THE INTRODUCTION OF THE INFINITE SCROLL.
This is where you endlessly swipe down through content without clicking. This is how these tech guys are able to keep us glued to their apps. We are constantly searching for novelty-new things. Nothing holds our attention better than the unknown. If you look at all the things that entertain us, they all have an element of surprise. This leads to the release of dopamine-the pleasure inducing hormone that makes us feel good.
With the infinite scroll, we are constantly seeing new things as we swipe down. This generates numerous rewards to the brain causing the release of dopamine. Since the brain is drawn towards pleasure, we are glued to our screens as we endlessly swipe down for new content.
2. THE CONSTANT REFRESH OF THE NEWS FEED.
Just how many times do you refresh the news feed on your favorite social media platform. Our brains are looking for the latest and newest information for rewards. The idea of endlessly surfing your feed for entertainment is a trap.
RESUMING TOTAL CONTROL
As we have seen, social media has dyer repercussions if not used with caution. I will walk you through several steps you can take to assume control of your life from these tech guys.
INTRODUCTION TO DIGITAL MINIMALISM.
In the words of Cal Newport, “Digital minimalism is a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things that you value, and happily miss out on everything else.”
PROVEN WAYS TO BREAK SOCIAL MEDIA/PHONE ADDICTION AND WISE USE OF OUR SMART PHONES
- Declutter your digital life. Cluttering your time and attention with very many devices, apps, and trivial services creates an overall negative impact in your digital life. You cannot be on all social media platforms. You are wasting a lot of time switching from one app to another to view almost the same kind of information. Try choosing one that represents your best interests and one that is least toxic to you.
- Turn off all notifications from all your social media apps and keep your phone in “DO NOT DISTURB MOOD” always. This will keep you away from constant distractions. You will not have the invitation to check at your phone unless you do.
- Take constant digital detoxes. Set certain periods when you stay away from social media. Some people take a whole month break every year away from social media to reset their lives and rewire their brains. Others select a certain day of the week when they stay away from their phones completely. Others select certain periods of the day when they stay away from their phones. Try choosing the best one for you, but I would advise you to start with the last option. Set a certain period of the day when you are away from your phone. More so early in the morning or late in the evening. If you have the audacity, you can take the most daring option and see how far you can tackle your phone addiction.
- Consolidated texting/emailing. Instead of checking your email and text messages every now and then, set a specific time during the day when you can reply text messages and emails. This will keep you away from the need to constantly reply to one person at a time.
- Practice leaving your phone at home. This is hard when you consider how versatile our mobile phones have become. However, whenever possible like when going to church, when going out to play, leave your phone behind.
- Avoid keeping your phone in your pocket whenever possible. You can put it in your bag while travelling or just place it somewhere in your room.
- Keep your phone in a separate room from your study room or work place where possible. This will accord you the focus you need to tackle important tasks in your life.
- Avoid using your phone during meals or when having face-to- face conversations. Grant your partner or the person you are conversing with your full attention. Connect profoundly with them.
- Prohibit the use of mobile phones in certain areas in your home. Wise families have already set up rules that prohibit usage of mobile phones in their bedrooms. Others do not allow usage of mobile phones in the kitchen. Others do not allow mobile phones at the dinner table. These families are deeply connected.
- Reduce the reliance on your phone. For example, instead of using your phone as your alarm clock, buy an alarm clock. This will help you avoid using your phone in bed.
With much knowledge on how to wisely use our phones and social media it’s always hard to take the required action. Just like any other behavior change or addiction, phone/social media addiction is no different. Do not be over ambitious and take giant steps immediately. You will find yourself back, bigger and worse to your old habits. Start by raising the alarm and acknowledging that there is need for change. Then lay out a road map on how you are going to do it. Start small, move with baby steps and sooner or later, before you even realize it, you will be over and out of this addiction.
THE LAST NAIL
No matter how much we try to deny it, social media has become part of our lives. We need to be more intentional and cautious with how we use it. Remember that everyone you chose to follow on social media impacts your future decisions, thoughts and belief systems. Choose wisely. Remember to not only follow people who positively influence your life but to also unfollow their exact opposite. You are the boss, take control of your life!