Apr 17th, 2018, 01:30 PM

What I Learned from Limiting My Social Media Use

By Lauren Williams
Image Credits: Pixbay.com/jeshoots
Curious about my unconscious consumption of social media, I spent a week making an effort to live without it.

The Merriam Webster definition of consumption is: to use something up. In this post-modern world, do we really stop and think about what we are consuming? I don't believe so, at least not in the way that we think we do. I would say that I am an overall healthy person; I don’t eat meat, I exercise (occasionally), and I try to take care of my body and home. I don’t believe that I over-consume anything that is really bad for me. However, I found myself not noticing my consumption of social media. I wouldn’t say that I am addicted to social media, yet I would say that I am an active user. I update my Instagram stories and Snapchat daily, as well as check Twitter to see what's trending. I didn’t realize how deeply this was affecting my day-to-day life. I know how dramatic that sounds, but hear me out.

Social media has been crafted to create addictions. It’s run like any business, although it wears a nice mask of connecting us with our friends. The combination of the design of smartphones, with notifications and social platforms, creates an easy, attention-grabbing net that is extremely hard to reject. I decided to try and limit my social media usage for a week and see what happened. My GPA didn’t automatically jump to a 4.0, my skin didn’t clear up, and I didn’t suddenly lose ten pounds. However, the lack of distractions from push notifications did noticeably affect my clarity, focus, and level of attention with my friends.


Day One: I downloaded the Social Media reducing app In Moment. For the first day, I really wanted to see how much I used certain apps throughout my day. The number I saw made me feel pretty disappointed, as much of my day was spent looking at a little screen. I used Instagram that day for a whopping 34 minutes. It might not sound like much, but when you think about how quickly it takes to load someone's Instagram page or how quickly it takes to scroll through updates, 34 minutes truly is a long time (especially to be looking at other people smiling with their boyfriends and sorority sisters). It has been said that the pulling action you make with your thumb at the end of your Instagram feed releases the dopamine in the same way that a slot machine in a casino does. That keeps us hooked, which makes sense as I often catch myself mindlessly scrolling down my feed. Instagram was my most used app with Twitter in second place at around 30 minutes. Snapchat and Facebook came in much smaller numbers with a combined use of around 12 minutes. In all on an average Monday, I used social media for over an hour. I didn’t count Youtube or my texting, which definitely would add up to more numbers staring at my screen. These numbers show that I’m using these apps around 8.5 hours a week. That’s more sleep than I get most nights.


Day Two: I put blocks on my social media. I decided to start slowly, so I had the app block my use after 20 minutes of use on both my Twitter and Instagram and five minutes of use each on my Snapchat and Facebook. It wasn’t too challenging, but because I was conscious of my time limit I found myself strategically using my social media instead of using it as I would normally. Not much change was seen in my day, I pretty much used my apps as normal.

Day Three: I cut the time in half for my most frequent apps and cut the lesser-used-apps to three minutes each. I could definitely start to feel the effects this time. After the block hit my phone around mid-day, I had to say goodbye to creating Instagram and Snap stories. Because I didn’t have the ability to post anything going on in my life, I found myself plugging more into my surroundings and the people around me. Instead of wanting to post about funny or entertaining things that occurred, I just experienced the moment. I understand this could sound dramatic or even slightly obvious, but I truly didn’t realize how much my brain has become conditioned to posting the cool things I see. I began to wonder why I share certain special moments with people. These parts of my day, while sometimes fun to document, should be parts of my experience instead of thousands of other peoples'. I also found my work much easier to get done without getting a push notification that says someone had shared something with me or liked one of my posts, which would have tossed me back into the social media world when I should’ve been reading about the difference between social and scientific Marxism for class.


Day Four: I decided to cut out Snapchat and Facebook fully. I cut my Instagram and Twitter use in half again, coming in at five minutes each. I love scrolling through Twitter, especially in the moments when I can’t fall asleep, so I really felt it's absence when I cut the time down further. I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I’m writing this but it truly did "hurt". Instagram is one of the apps that, after this week, I really have a love-hate relationship with. I find myself comparing my life to others' when I am using it. Mainly it’s a feeling of not yet reaching my goals, especially when I see girls my age landing amazing internships or getting books published. “Comparison is the thief of joy” is a quote many have heard time and time again, and as a student living in France as well as going to a new school, I often look at girls in a more traditional school setting hanging out with their groups of friends and compare it to my less-settled situation. I realized through using Instagram less as the week went on, the less I thought about my situation and how it measured up to others and instead felt grateful for how unique my life is.

Day Five: I ended all social media use. I fully deleted the apps from my phone so that I wouldn’t cheat or just take a peek at what people were up to. I didn’t post anything, nor see what anyone else was posting and it was truly a great day. I don’t know if it was completely because of the apps or because the sun was shining, but I was able to spend a day with one of my dearest friends walking around in the sun and getting my homework done,  distraction-free. I knew the apps weren’t even there to use so I didn’t bother checking my phone. I believe that is extremely telling because it showed me that I am not necessarily talking to people all day; I am just looking at their lives. I felt carefree and didn't feel anxious about what I was accomplishing in comparison to others. I spent time with my friends and experiences moments that were to be shared purely between us. Of course, I sometimes found myself reaching for the phone to post something, my thumb going to the place my apps once were like phantom limb syndrome, only to find them missing. However, instead of dread, I was filled with comfort and a reminder that my life is for me and no one else. 

I decided to keep my apps deleted for the next two days, but redownloaded my Facebook when I was looking for concert tickets. This led to me redownloading all of my social media apps. Although they are there now, I have become almost hyper-aware of my use. When I wake up in the morning with an urge to check what happened on Instagram while I was asleep, I stop myself and let myself be alone for a moment. Social media creates a feeling that we aren’t ever alone and that we can constantly feel connected, but this experiment has shown me that there is nothing wrong with spending time with your own thoughts. We don't need to be constantly connected to everyone we know. I encourage everyone to try and limit their social media use, even just for a week, to see if it affects their attitude and productivity. I'd bet you that it does.