11.07.21 – 9:36 am
Social media is simultaneously toxic and incredibly essential. At least from my perspective, as an independent artist, it is the gateway to a career and dedicated audience. For that reason alone, I spend time on 5+ social networks every day, uploading content and interacting with other users. But while it holds limitless potential for artistic growth, it is also endlessly draining. It’s become widely known that these apps are addictive; they trigger chemicals in our brains that lead to excessive scrolling and clicking. But I’ve also found that the sheer amount of content is mentally overwhelming.
Certain forms of entertainment, like books, comics, or photographs, can be enjoyed at a healthily slow pace, allowing consumers to process what they’re seeing. Television shows and films are more fast-paced, but still give viewers a moment to absorb every shot, all of which work in unison to build a narrative. But social media bombards users with over-the-top attention-grabbing videos and images, quickly leading them from one piece of content to the next. The current social media landscape is full of saturated color, popping text, clickbait headlines, and overused songs. It is designed to suck a person in, and therefore someone can spend hours clicking and scrolling without retaining anything they view.
Much like a crowded social setting in the physical world, there are hundreds of voices shouting over one another, debating countless topics, and exuding various energies (some of which are fine, while others are unpleasant.) Layer on the visually strenuous glowing screen, and the separation from reality which allows users to display their lives inauthentically, and some true toxicity is created.
But let’s circle back. I have witnessed incredible occurrences on social media. Outpourings of support for those suffering loss, powerful movements enacting genuine change, and amazing opportunities for independent artists such as myself. If social media companies could find a way to decrease the addictive nature of these apps, perhaps by creating a less overwhelming interface, doing away with certain annoying features, and prioritizing authentic art over clickbaity content, then users could enjoy the perks of social media without any concerns. But that is not the stage we’re in.
The powers-that-be are making these apps more addictive, and the competition for attention is leading to posts that feel like cheesy advertisements rather than creative expression or meaningful documentation. So when I am uploading my own art to social media, or interacting with other users in the interest of growing my community, I inevitably get pulled into a chain of content in which I honestly have little interest. I’ve had to develop strategies and rules for myself to combat the negative aspects of social media.
Firstly, I only allow myself to open these apps when I am posting. I no longer let myself check Instagram or Twitter as a means of passing time, or during moments when I have a break from my activities. This rule helps me avoid harmful habits, and increases my productivity. Sometimes, I still feel drained by simply looking at a small screen for long periods of time, but it’s a significant improvement from routinely scrolling without any intention.
Secondly, I have a 45-minute daily limit for social media apps on my phone (which is now password-protected), and the apps are grouped in a folder labeled “USE WISELY.” Putting these barriers in place is not foolproof, but it reminds me of social media’s time-wasting nature, and helps me use the apps more meaningfully. I also have all notifications turned off on my phone, aside from calls and texts.
And finally, I try to stay conscious of exactly when and for how long I use my phone. I am still developing a structure to this practice, but I have deduced a few certain truths. Looking at my phone (even if not for social media) immediately after waking up or directly before falling asleep is unhealthy. Checking my phone during times of reading, writing, walking, or resting is usually unnecessary. And placing my phone in another room or completely out of my sight during certain points in the day can be quite beneficial. As I’m writing this paragraph, I’m reminded of an artist who said he and his wife place their phones in a bowl upon entering their home, and refrain from using them until they have a genuine need. Perhaps I should designate a specific place for my phone within my living space, rather than keeping it an arm’s length away most of the time. I could leave the ringer on for moments when close friends or family need to reach me, but otherwise I would only utilize my phone when I need to post a creation or contact someone. I’ll give that a try today!
Ultimately, the more aware I become of the issues with social media and smartphones, I develop more distaste for the products. But the more aware I become, I also devise new means of using the products effectively and healthily. As long as I continue in that direction, I believe these tools will still hold a usage in my life, and become decreasingly draining on my mental health. I encourage everyone to stay cognisant of social media’s subtle and not-so-subtle effects on the brain. If my career was not linked to social media, I would probably delete my accounts entirely. So to anyone using social media for non-creative purposes, remember there are always other ways to entertain yourself and stay connected. There always have been and always will be.