By Vanessa Ford
As a first year law student I have quickly learned that much like my money, my time is a scarce resource. Faced with a large amount of class time, and an even larger to do list, I knew I had to sacrifice something in favour of increased productivity. It was time to trim the proverbial fat. The fat I was consuming daily. In the library, in bed, in the bathtub, on the way to class, and sometimes even in class. Social media.
I am not saying that social media is inherently bad or unhealthy, yet much like healthy fats, it is all about balance. My task was simple. Limit my social media activity (be it on a mobile device or a computer) to thirty minutes a day. This included Facebook perusing, Twitter tapping, and my personal guilty pleasure, Instagram scrolling. Upon looking into this I discovered a sea of apps that provide assistance in this area. However, I found the use of an app contradictory to my reduced screen time objective and decided to employ different strategies to limit both exposure and dependence. To limit exposure, I turned off all notifications for social media apps on my phone/lap top and I deleted Facebook messenger from my phone. Dependence proved more challenging. I am sure I am not alone in stating that the advent of this technology has perpetuated an unbridled level of impatience amongst users. The instantaneity of these platforms makes having to wait for a response frightful. We are always on, accessible and in the know, and if not there is potential to experience severe fomo. This fear is slightly unfounded. Life goes on. A lesson I learned after placing my phone a mere 10 feet away from me. Oddly enough, this was far enough away to create a physical barrier, alleviating some of this dependency. There were plenty of pens and pencils within reach to occupy my wandering hands.
As someone who values their privacy, and who did not think they had a social media addiction, I was unpleasantly surprised when this initial reduction had me out of sorts. I am ashamed to say the less I looked, the more I wanted to. I realized it is far too easy to welcome the distracting (and familiar) nature of social media when alone in a new environment, and when facing daunting reading material. Also challenging was dealing with the prospect of appearing indifferent to new friendships, which are now typically strengthened through online connections and interaction.
I would be lying if I said I achieved my goal in the first day. Or the first week. The worst part was that I initially felt isolated and disconnected. While I was far more productive and focused, the lack of frequent, if not constant, social interaction became very obvious to me. Before making that ten-foot trek I realized that these connections were far more fulfilling when I pushed myself to make them at school and in real life. I found myself spending more time speaking on the phone with friends and family and less time interacting with what are essentially strangers. Social media is supposed to be social, but what is social about sitting alone with a screen? This behaviour began to feel more anti-social than anything. It took a few weeks and soon I began to associate social media with certain times of the day and certain behaviours. The overlap between study time and social media vanished and luckily, no one unfriended me because of a delayed response to a meme. Although when I went back after some time away my feeds became a stranger place. Ironically I felt even more disconnected. Content did not resonate with me and I did not feel as fulfilled by these interactions. The platforms seem to fill a gap, but they are no substitute for the real thing. At least my real thing.
Before you go thinking I am a social media detractor, please note I have not reached that level of enlightenment. Maybe my priority shift aided this transition or maybe it was high time I took a look at my social media habits. Either way I have realized that much like good fats, it is all about balance. Too much of something can be harmful. Mindlessly scrolling for thumb stopping content was not really working out for me, but I know going dark is also not an option. The eQuality Project could not have been more accurate in stating that going offline is not an option for most of us, especially youth. For me, the ease of connecting to others and sharing content that is both humorous and informational is what keeps me engaged. I value these connections and moments, yet I also value the ability to retain a level of control. I use social media and it does not use me. I think we must be cognizant of this when interacting with this technology. This challenge has made it clear how normal its grip on society has become, but also how easy it is to step back, gain some perspective, and view it for what it really is. And that, is in the palm of the scroller.