Over the past few years, my screen time and social media usage has become problematic. Once Apple created the update for iPhones that lets users see how much time they spend looking at their phone, it became even more evident. The week before I wrote this article, I was spending an average of three and half hour per day staring at my phone. This number is alarming, especially considering that this only accounted for the time I was looking at my phone screen. I spent plenty of time watching TV and working on my laptop as well. Even worse, the majority of that time was spent on pointless social media scrolling.
I hesitated to write this article because I feel that this topic has been talked about enough and there’s nothing revolutionary that I could add to the conversation. There have been plenty of news articles, TED talks, and documentaries about the dangers and addictiveness of social media. But while listening to all of these warnings, I had the false sense that it didn’t apply to me. After starting to look more carefully at my screen time statistics and reflecting on my social media habits, I realized that it certainly did.
That’s why I decided to do an experiment of sorts. For three days before I wrote this article, I tried to swear off all social media to see how it would affect my feelings, my level of productivity, and how much my screen time decreased without social media.
My hypothesis going into my three day social media hiatus was that my screen time would decrease significantly and that I would barely be on my phone unless it was for school. I also predicted that it would be very difficult for me to stay off of social media since it’s something that I’m so used to and has become part of my daily routine. Typically, scrolling through various social media sites would be one of the first things I did when I woke up and one of the last things I did before I went to sleep. It was also a time-filler whenever I was bored and had nothing else to do.
And so, my three day, no social media cleanse began. On the first day, I was pleased to find that I didn’t experience a fear of missing out on whatever my friends were sharing. I found that I was much less stressed by polarizing political issues that were constantly being circulated on Facebook and other social media sites. Though I am certainly up for reading other people’s points of view, politics and social media typically don’t mix well. It becomes less about discussion and more about putting the people who disagree with you down.
One main thing that I found concerning when analyzing my social media usage was that I would pick up my phone out of habit, click on the Facebook app, start scrolling, and then forget how I even got there in the first place. This shows just how addictive and habit-forming social media can be. I was curious to see how this would play out on my first day. Even though I set limits on my screen time that gave a warning when I tried to open a social media app, I still wondered if I would be able to stay away.
There was only one time on the first day that I found myself scrolling through my Facebook feed. I went there out of habit and clicked out of the app as soon as I recognized my mistake. The rest of the time, I was able to stay away. However, I found that pointless scrolling through social media was soon replaced by consistently checking my emails, Blackboard (an app for school), and ESPN. This made me think that my worst habit was checking my phone habitually for any reason, not specifically social media. Even with this alarming revelation, my screen time was down nearly two hours on the first day of my experiment and I felt that I was a bit more productive than when I was using social media. I also found that I was less distracted and more able to focus on the tasks I had to complete that day.
The second day of my social media hiatus was a bit of a cheat day, as I was going to be pretty busy and unlikely to use social media much anyways. It was nice, however, that I was able to fill the bit of free time I had with something other than social media. To be fair, it’s not like I’m a full blown social media fiend who spends every second of spare time on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. But still, it was a nice change to have absolutely none of my time wasted on these apps.
Once again though, I found myself making up for lost screen time by checking my email and ESPN for absolutely no reason. It happened at times where I knew nothing important was going on. I hadn’t gotten any notifications about an important email. And many times when I checked ESPN, there wasn’t even a game being played. Even knowing this, I continued to check out of habit. It’s this kind of behavior that I really need to change.
On the third and final day, I almost caved a few times after work. But I knew that I had just a few more hours until I could make my return to the world of social media and be connected once again. When I got home, I watched some TV. Football was on, so I can always count on at least a few hours of screen time on a Sunday afternoon.
I was still awake after midnight and I had technically completed my goal of no social media for three days but I was surprised to find that even though I could go on, I didn’t really feel the need to. I’m certainly not out of the woods yet though, as old habits can die pretty hard. I have gone on social media over the past few days, but much more infrequently and without staying on for too long at one time.
The use of social media over time can form habits that are tough to break. It comes on slowly, but eventually you may find yourself using it far too often and without purpose. Social media can be a nice way to stay connected with friends and family that you don’t often see, but you have to be careful to make sure your usage doesn’t get out of control.
I found that a number of positive things happened for me while I was off of social media. First, I was not being bombarded with inaccurate information. Many people share extremely biased information on social media that’s disguised as news. This makes it tough to see who is right and who is wrong. Instead, I chose to get my information over the past three days only from unbiased news sources. This added some much-needed clarity to my life and cut down on all the noise that comes along with using social media.
Second, I found that I was much more productive when I was trying to do my work for school. Typically, I go on social media far too often when I’m writing papers. I use the excuse that I’m just taking a break, but oftentimes the “breaks” I take are longer than the time I actually spend writing. I was able to get much more done in one sitting, while still finding time to relax.
Third, my screen time went down significantly without the use of social media. This had a nice ripple effect for me. At times, I would get headaches and eye strain from staring at screens too often. In particular, my small phone screen. Cutting down on my screen time helped with this significantly and I found that I didn’t have lingering headaches as often.
Because of what I’ve learned over the past few days, I have decided to make a change to limit my usage. I have set all my screen time limits on social media apps to one minute per day. This way, it does not show that I have notifications and I won’t be as tempted to go on. I also made it so that my phone gives me a reminder if I’ve been on an app for longer than 15 minutes without a break. This way I don’t find myself scrolling for a seemingly endless amount of time.
Though social media can definitely be a useful tool, it can also be a major waste of time. I’m glad I took a few days off from it entirely so I could remember what life was like without daily social media use. I would encourage everyone to give it a shot and see how it changes their habits and perspective.