A 21st-Century Struggle

I’m struggling with a social media addiction.

There, I said it.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is pick up my phone and check Facebook, Twitter, BBC News, and my emails. I make a cup of tea and get ready to work. Before opening Word on my laptop, I re-check all of the above sites, plus a few more. (A lot can happen in five minutes, right?)

I start working. Before long, the compulsion strikes again. I can’t go and check on my notifications, because I have my social-media-blocking app turned on, but the damage is done as soon as the thought pops into my head. I’ve lost my train of thought. It takes time to get into the right frame of mind to be productive, and precious time is wasted when all I can think about is whether my last Instagram post has had any new likes.

The problem extends to pretty much all aspects of my life. If I’m sat on a train, I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed. If I have 30 minutes to kill before a seminar, I spend them on Twitter. Things I do are constantly being filed away into the ‘material for Facebook/Twitter/Instagram posts’ box in my brain. It gets worse: I can’t even sit through a film or spend an hour reading without feeling the need to check my phone on multiple occasions.

This is not good.

I hate the thought that my concentration is being constantly stifled. How many books could I have read over the past year if I’d replaced Facebook with something more rewarding? How many epiphanies have I missed out on as a result of being busy thinking about my WordPress stats? It’s all well and good feeling inspired to bake a chocolate cake after spending ten minutes on Pinterest, but it’s probably not the best use of my brainpower at 3pm on a work day.

Why do I do it?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m getting out of social media. Do I enjoy reading about what other people are up to? (Sometimes.) Is it that I enjoy the feeling of getting likes and blog views? (That’s definitely a part of it.) Have a I reached a point where I truly believe I’d miss things if I wasn’t constantly available and online? Yup.

The truth is, it’s getting harder and harder to separate work and social media. Being active on Twitter can be very useful in building academic relationships, and upcoming events are usually advertised via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mailing lists. I worry that I wouldn’t just miss out on social updates if I went cold turkey on social media – I’d also lose touch with important happenings in my world of work.

How can I control it?

There’s definitely room for me to rethink my balance between being socially active and academically productive, and I have some ideas about how to kick back on my addiction. (Whether or not they’ll work is another question entirely, but ideas are a good place to start.) Here goes!

1. I could quit social media.

This feels like the go-to solution to limit the amount of time I waste online each day. It’d 100% solve the issue of spending too much time on social media sites, but it’d also mean I wouldn’t be able to be a part of online communities.

2. I could limit the amount of time I spend each day on social media.

This would involve completely avoiding Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram aside from perhaps one hour per day. The time I spend online could be limited by an app, and I could use the time as and when I choose.

3. I could ban social media from my workspace.

I have a desk at home where I (try to) spend a few hours working each day. Setting myself a no-social-media policy at my desk could help me to train my brain out of self-distraction. I’d leave my phone out of the room, and never visit social media sites while I’m in my workzone.

4. I could turn off all notifications on my laptop and phone.

This would prevent my social media accounts reaching out to me to visit them. Is it imperative that I reply to an email or Facebook comment within a few minutes of it being posted? Probably not.

5. I could delete social media apps from my phone.

Seeing the Facebook logo as soon as I unlock my phone leads to a lot of unnecessary scrolling while I’m out and about. It fills time that could otherwise be spent reading or thinking. Deleting these apps should dramatically reduce the amount I spend on my biggest weakness-sites without stopping me using them entirely.

6. I could track how much time I spend on social media and on my phone each day.

There are free apps that count how much time you spend on Facebook and/or your phone each day. Having easy access to this information could work as a deterrent.

What next? (Or, The Grand Plan)

I’m all set to implement some strategies to make better use of my time.

I’m not ready to quit social media just yet – I find it too valuable a tool to give up on completely – and forcibly limiting my time online to an hour per day seems like a solution for further down the line.

Instead, I’m going to find a way to make my workzone social-media-free, and start tracking the time I spend online and on my phone each day. If that doesn’t make a big difference, I’ll be waving goodbye to my apps.

Wish me luck, and do let me know if you’ve come across any other ideas worth trying!