Why you need to be careful about your relationship with social media

“It takes discipline not to let social media steal your time. Being effective at social media, whether for business or personal use, means capturing people who have short attention spans. They’re only a click away from a picture of a funny cat, so you have to make your thing more compelling than that cat.”- Alex Ohanian

Social media is a lot more like a slot machine than it is like a conversation with friends. I can’t tell you how often I have gotten an embarrassing amount of satisfaction from people engaging with something I shared on social media. Not even something with something that I created, just something I saw on someone else’s page and shared. They don’t agree with me; they agree with something someone else said. But the little bell on the notification bar lights up and gives me a red number, and it feels like people are paying attention. Clicking a like button on social media takes as close to no effort as something can require. Think about if you expressed an opinion about something important to you in a conversation. Now, how would you feel if, after sharing your thought with someone else, they just looked and you and gave you a thumbs up? You’d probably be insulted! You just crafted this thought to share some of yourself with another person, and they just gave you a thumbs up. Now, the thumbs-up, of course, has its place, but it can hardly serve as the cornerstone of an interaction.

Our brains are a lot like computers in many ways. When you have a browser window with 30 tabs and 15 programs open at once, your computer will probably run painfully slowly. Our brains are similar. When we have a whole bunch of things that take our attention, giving any one thing the attention it deserves is nearly impossible. With social media, we have created this thing that regularly vies for our attention because there is always something new. With most tasks, you get it done, and you don’t have to worry about it again, at least for a little while. Social media presents something new that we could attend to at every moment; it never stops giving us new notifications or posts at which to look. It also prioritizes not the best things, but the things that are most effectively going to steal our attention. They know precisely how to keep showing you items that are going to get you stuck in the loop because the longer you’re in the loop, the more money they make.

Set strict limits for the time you spend on social media. Don’t check it outside specific windows of time, or set limits on how much time you allow yourself to look at it. Go on regular social media detoxes. Since implementing these things for myself, I’m less distracted. I’m less anxious because I don’t have these inputs stealing my attention for some hyperbolic clickbait news piece. Putting these boundaries in place has increased the quality of my life rapidly, and it will almost certainly do the same for you.

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