How Do You Use Social Media (Mindfully)?
There are different kinds of social media users. While some people are Instagram or Snapchat creatures, others prefer Twitter. Then there are the Facebook and LinkedIn aficionados. Other people are more likely to be found on Pinterest. A surprising number of people still use forum-style social networks like Reddit, as well. And of course, there’s the rare bird who is on—and uses—everything.
I’ve always enjoyed social media, and in the past I was one of those who wanted to try everything—although I’m now nearly 85 percent Instagram, 15 percent Twitter. Social networking can be a great way for people and businesses to connect with like-minded people, share ideas, build networks (pun intended), and influence others.
Lately, though, many people have been re-evaluating their relationship with social media. Most in my online community are deciding to pursue “digital minimalism,” a concept developed by author Cal Newport. While some have gone on digital detoxes, a few others have been working to create a long-term, sustainable way of using social media that is mindful and productive (I lean toward the latter).
Personally, it’s hard to be surprised at this seismic shift. As someone who in the past was addicted to checking my phone, refreshing (my gazillion) social media apps and posting just as much as I was getting, taking a step back a couple of years ago was eye-opening. In the throes of my excessive usage, I noticed so many disturbing changes.
The first and most prominent effect of overindulging in social media is the performative spin it puts on life. Every activity or personality quirk can quickly become performative when people get patted on the back for it. If you enjoy reading, posting funny memes, being witty, sassy, clever, or even outspoken on social media, chances are you’ll find yourself trying harder to be all those things once people start validating your skills. What was once natural may become a clamor for praise, validation, and the constant dopamine rush of approval in the form of likes and retweets.
Even relationships can become things on display as couples get caught up in seeming perfect for their following. Then, of course, there’s the trap of needing to always be “on”—never sad or discouraged—for social media.
I’ve watched friends’ social media personas change, tilting like stems to sunlight as they molded themselves to be what their audience enjoys. Unsurprisingly, social media often supports a (sometimes) toxic bandwagon mentality as people unwittingly copy each other’s terminologies and opinions, absorbing their thought patterns. On the other hand, a select few begin on thrive on what I like to call contrarian culture—living to disagree (loudly) with other people, which of course also leads to likes and retweets.
Obviously, not everyone who disagrees is unintentionally part of contrarian culture and it is okay to learn from other people, but overusing social media never produces these results in moderation.
A lot changed when I started using social media purposefully a couple of years ago. I could hear my thoughts clearly, for one. I also cleanly separated my life from my online life. What this did for me was provide a much-needed measure of clarity. I could identify what I liked, agreed with, wanted to do, share, and say without being bombarded by other people’s opinions. It also helped me learn to use social media effectively. I figured out what I needed social media for and how to harness it without spending half my lifetime online.
It also helped to stop paying attention to “growing my following,” because now I can follow only those whose posts I care about. This is a luxury many who work on digital media may not be able to afford, but oh, how I treasure not caring. I’ve used my mute button generously on Twitter and Instagram for people I still want in my network, but whose posts I’m better off not seeing.
What does using social media mindfully mean for me?
Not opening social media before 7 am. I sleep with all electronics on airplane mode. I’ve worried about people not being able to reach me before 7, but the peace is worth it.
Deleting all social media apps (except Instagram) from my phone. Yes, all. I only use Twitter on my computer.
Turning off notifications for Instagram. I turned them off over a year ago and now I don’t even remember what it feels like to have social media notifications.
Never having data on my phone and only using Instagram with wiFi. So, I can’t check or post on Instagram when I’m out with friends.
Never being afraid to mute or unfollow anyone.
Interrogating myself before sharing information that is not the internet’s business to quell oversharing.
There are rare days when I break one of my rules for work reasons, but it’s something I stay vigilant about.
I love social media, but honestly, the internet is a beast that eats its children. Social media can make a person one day and ruin them the next. So, I will always advocate for putting your real life first. Fortunately, sometimes we do make friends who cross over from social media to real life. Friends whose phone numbers you have and who care about the things in your real life.
Still, as with every other choice, how you use social media is personal. One thing I know to be true though, is that often, the more noise you let into your head, the less of your voice you’ll hear.
What about you? How do you use social media? Are you a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram person? Bloggers, would you ditch social media if you didn’t work on the internet? Do you think the internet is always a good thing? What mindful internet boundaries have you set for yourself? I’d love to know!