We all use the Internet, and during these isolated days, our profiles can feel as real as our own bodies (which is spooky, and that's another conversation in and of itself).
Yet social media profiles are most certainly not who we actually are. Perhaps because of this, a lot of us have bad feelings about social media. We know it can lower our self-esteem and increase our loneliness. We're aware that it can devour our attention and can wear away at our ability to focus and connect with others.
The Internet is full of lies, harmful products, and cruelty. So is real life, unfortunately. But the thing about the Internet is: You can actually curate it. You get to decide what and whose posts you see and how often you choose to engage with them. We're probably still in the early stages of social media, which will likely integrate itself even more seamlessly into our lives as time goes on, so now is the time to take the reins before it's too late.
Here are some tips about how to improve your experience on social media:
1. Set time limits
Whether you're taking a week-long digital cleanse once a month or trying to keep your TikTok usage down to one hour per day, limits are important—because before you know it, BAM, you'll have spent five hours on your phone each day. There are plenty of apps you can use to control your social media use, from SelfControl for Mac to Moment for iOs to QualityTime for Android. Download one, decide how much you want to be online, and go from there.
I personally love taking occasional cold-turkey cleanses from social media. A weekend with no digital connection at all makes the introvert in me very happy. I'm often even tempted to delete all my accounts permanently, but then again, I'd miss the daily poems, the dank memes, interesting articles, and song references that pop up on my feed every day.
2. Change the conversation
When you make a post, ask yourself what sort of impression you'd like it to have on the world. Do you want to make people feel less alone? Do you want to encourage people to explore something? Not every post has to be a sermon on renunciation—a quarantine thirst trap is totally understandable—but also, in this world, we tend to receive what we send out. If you're sending out negative content, you'll probably get negative content back, and vice versa.
Some social media wellness experts advise cutting off your social media use well before bed, even at around 8 PM. A night without scrolling and checking emails? Well, it might give you the chance to read that book you've been putting off for weeks.
3. Pay attention to how social media makes you feel
If you're having trouble determining what to eliminate from your social media consumption habits, take a moment to pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after using various platforms. After posting a photo on Instagram, you might feel a heady rush from all the notifications, but what comes after that?
It could be that you're actually having a lot of engaging conversations, or reading interesting things, or just relaxing and enjoying yourself while scrolling. But you might also realize just how unnecessarily stressful social media is and how siloed and isolated your little bubble is. Unfollow accounts or pages that don't spark joy, and instead elect to fill your feed with pages you actually want to see—posts from writers you enjoy, advice, memes, thirst traps from your celebrity crush, or whatever it is that tickles your fancy.
4. Ask yourself why you're logging on before you do
I'm totally guilty of mindlessly opening my phone whenever I have a spare second, but recently I stopped and started thinking: What might that be doing to me? Have I become so bad at sitting with my thoughts, so afraid of silence that I can't go a minute without flipping open Instagram and scrolling a bit? If I asked myself why I was logging on, the answer would most likely be a silent shrug. No reason.
Recently I read some sage life advice. It said we should spend all of our time doing things we should be doing or things we want to be doing. So by that logic, if you don't have to spend time on social media, and you don't want to spend time on social media, why should you do it?
I have a gnawing suspicion that social media is a way of gaining the feeling of connection without the actual fortifying effects of real-life, mutual connection. It scratches an itch most of us even don't know we have.
On the other hand, social media can foster beautiful connections. It can spark movements and change lives. It can help new people meet and collaborate across the world; it can be a way for people to share their work, their grievances, their lives; it's becoming an interlocked web, a virtual world brain, a digital mycelium network that links us all together.
Either we're giving an AI extremely good fodder for an eventual robot takeover (while selling our lives to Mark Zuckerberg without even knowing it) or we're building the most interconnected network of all time. But in the meantime, if you find that you want to be using social media, go right ahead, and stay aware of the bigger picture. Remember that you're in control and always ignore the trolls.
5. Put the phone down when you're hanging out with someone else
Most people—especially those whose love language is "quality time"—often deeply appreciate it when someone else is being fully present with them. Try putting your phone down the entire time you're hanging out with someone, whether you're on a date or at a party, and see how it affects you. You might also put your phone away when you're trying to work or create something or even when you just want to have a day to yourself.
Today in the time of Zoom hangouts, it's so easy to flip to another tab during a friend's long monologue, but try to resist that temptation. Look the person in the eye as best you can, and you'll find that the small amounts of connection available to you via video chat are much more powerful without notifications pinging in the distance.
6. Don't compare yourself and don't make yourself into a commodity
Capitalism has grown so advanced that we are now selling ourselves—as products, as vibes, as personas. Remember that the next time you feel down or are comparing yourself to other people online.
Social media can also help present unrealistic goals. Self-discrepancy theory says that we are always trying to bridge the gaps between our current, ideal (who we want to be), and ought (how we think we should be) selves, but social media can distort goals for ideal and ought selves, leading to low-self esteem and even mental illness when these goals can't be reached.
7. Enjoy it
In the end, remember that social media can also be a very good thing, or at least a neutral thing, neither better nor worse than real life. Routine social media use can help fortify social networks, and many people produce helpful, healing, and positive content online.
Though it's always a good idea to take a breath and step away from the screen, in the end, social media is just a part of our lives now. Still, its omnipresence begs some questions. Is it trying to take over our bodies? Is it coming for our souls? Will our society someday be divided into influencers (all packed in houses in LA) and non-influencers (on communes in the wilderness)? Regardless, until the bots take over, or until we can see each other in person, I'll see you online!