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Social Media: the ultimate in rat race escapism

Checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram numbs the daily grind – but it comes at a cost

Written and researched by Monica C

Social networking sites are really popular these days. Although they have proven to be effective in connecting people and giving them a safe place to interact with each other online, social networking sites are known to result in addiction.

This has as much to do with the “programming” of these social networking sites as with the natural tendency of people to want to interact with other people. Users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other similar networks are finding it harder and harder to resist the lure of the interactions, events, and entertainment offered by these sites. 

A recent study shows that while a lot of people want to quit Facebook, not many actually succeed in doing so. In this study, participants were challenged to stop using Facebook for 90 days. Most participants were unable to get by without logging into Facebook for a few days. Unfortunately, they could not help but become active users again. 

Here are some of the negative effects that can happen when people are addicted to social media networking sites: 

  • FOMO – experts identify the problem as the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). People post and share information on Facebook and other social networking sites all the time. Conversations happen 24/7. This is what many would not want to miss out on. They think that being away from social media for several days or even just a few hours would leave them out-of-touch with the latest news or happenings. 
  • Depression – this psychosocial problem develops when people react with envy towards the posts that they see in the social networking sites. It is not unusual for people to put up “brag posts” with pictures and videos showing their latest travels, most delicious dishes from their kitchens, hip bars they visited, restaurants with the most scrumptious food, and other things that they want to show the world. Unfortunately, not everyone tends to be happy about these posts. 

Social media can make some people feel inferior. It can distort their perspective on reality as they try to keep up with the Joneses. When they cannot meet these self imposed standards, they become depressed.  

  • Source of Validation – it makes people happier when they get more likes and shares on social media. It validates that what they posted was worthy of the space on social media and the time and attention of their audience. It’s actually not their popular post but the number of likes and shares that they become happy about. 
  • The Network Effect – this refers to the idea that networks become more valuable and influential as more and more people join them. The same name was used in a web experience project created by computer scientist Jonathan Harris. The project involves exposing subjects to audio-visual materials triggered by any one or several of the 100 behaviors. 

The study reflected what happens when you surf and use social media and experience a sensory overload. Furthermore, a time limit was set to the information that was presented to them. 

The experience illustrated how the sense of urgency the networks create compels people to want to be on social media and explore their content.

The more members there are in the network, the more people want to be in it. Facebook, the most popular social network today, is one example of a site that people just cannot bear to be away from. 

I do not believe social media was originally intended to so addictive. The owners and developers wanted people to join their networks so they can connect with their family, friends, and other people who are far from their location.

As the number of social media sites increased, so did the number of people who are actively joining and participating in them and owners realized how profitable it is to keep users on their platforms all day, consuming content, clicking on ads and revealing more and more personal information about themselves which can be mined and sold on to advertisers.

Soon enough, the power of social media in terms of influencing consumer behavior was discovered. It became the usual practice for programmers, designers and marketers to craft messages and content to draw people into the network and to keep them in the network for as long as possible. This has, evidently, led to social media addiction. 

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Social Media Tricks: Notifications Numbers and Algorithms

Most social media networks trick you with the same method: notifications. You would often notice a number that’s conspicuously displayed on your notifications bar. This notifications number shows you how many people recently watched your videos, checked out your posts, liked your images, or wrote comments on your page.

A higher number, of course, draws you in and makes you curious about who visited your page, what feedback they have, and which content they specifically Liked or Shared among others. 

That number icon works much like those links used for “clickbait” strategies. In internet marketing, online businessmen would use catchy phrases that lure potential customers into clicking the link to get more information or to see more content.

It excites you enough to compel you to click the link. The same is true with the notifications numbers. You are intrigued to know more about who your visitors were and what they have to say to or about you. 

To illustrate how the notifications numbers work, take a look at these two statements:

News: “Elisha lost weight in 30 days by following a strict diet and rigid exercise.”

Clickbait Version: “You wouldn’t believe how Elisha lost weight in 30 days!”

The notification icon works like that. The number “10” you see on the notification is like a clickbait that says, “You can’t believe how many people loved your posts!” or “See what people are saying about your great vacation pictures!”

As you are constantly drawn to the notifications numbers and feel compelled to click them, your addiction to social media grows stronger. 

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Constantly refreshing the endless feed…

Tweaking Algorithms

Social media sites strategically filter their algorithms from time to time to take a closer look at user behaviour. When they tweak their algorithms, they monitor and track how their users respond to their changes.

They see which changes resulted in more engagement and which ones made the users stay in the sites longer. The goal, of course, is to do more tweaks that keep more users in the site for longer periods of time. 

While it has been established that social media was not meant to be addictive when the various networks were launched, there are indications that deliberate strategies to make social media more addictive are now being used. Fortunately, users do not have to fall prey to these strategies. 

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Algorithms are designed to keep us hooked

Self-Assessment: Acknowledge Your Addiction to Social Media 

In the previous chapter, you learned how social media can be addictive. You also found out what social media developers do to keep it that way. In the next chapter, you will find helpful tips to fight this addiction. But before you can overcome this problem, you need to acknowledge your addiction first.

I Am an Addict 

Admit that you are addicted to social media. Think of the times when people made constant remarks on how often you are seen online. Think of the times when you were unable to attend to your responsibilities because you were stuck in social networking sites.

When all these instances happen frequently, it is time to admit that you have a serious problem and that you have to do something about it. 

  • Review your previous posts. How many times did you post something online this past week or month? Write down the number of times you posted in a day, a week, and a month. This should make you see exactly how often you post online. 
  • Determine whether each post is necessary to share. For example, if you posted something about what you ate for lunch or where you had your haircut done, think about whether or not it offered any benefit to you and others on your social media network. 
  • Track the time you spend on social media. You can always say that you do not spend that much time on social media, but are you sure that’s really the case? It could be a case of denial. To give you a more accurate measure, track the time you spend online using a timer. Write it down on a notebook or sheet of paper. There are also apps that you can download to track your time use more accurately. 
  • Consider the importance of social media in your life. People use social media in different ways and for different purposes. Think about why you are on social media and what you gain out of your social media activities. Some people spend their extra time in social media because they do not have other things to do. Sometimes, people use social media to gain attention or to meet new people. Understand how you use social media. Have a clearer view of why you use it excessively or why you are addicted to it. 

When you know the causes of your addiction to social media, it will be easier for you to find ways to address the issue. Be honest in your self-assessment. Once you’re done, it is time to move forward and take a step to fight your addiction to social media. 

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Ways to Stop Your Social Media Addiction

As we discussed in the previous chapter, it is easy to fall into the trap of social media addiction but I believe that we can break habits and get our lives back. Falling into dependency on these new platforms is what the developers want. They want you clicking all day and constantly coming back.

While social media networks can help you to connect with your loved ones who are living on the other side of the globe, they can also negatively affect your personal relationships with the people who are near to you. However, it is possible that you can stop your addiction and avoid all of the negative effects. 

Try these tips to start gaining control of your social media usage:

  • Turn off your pop-up notifications. Stop your instant notifications from disturbing your daily routine. The notification beeps you hear will only remind you that something is happening online and will make you feel that you are missing out on something. Turn off your notifications to fight your FOMO. If it will help, just think that when you don’t frequently check your social media accounts, the notification number will increase. By the time you check your social media accounts again, it will become a more exciting experience as you see the increase in number.
  • Limit the time you spend online. After assessing the amount of time you spend online, you will have an idea of how much time you waste every day by mindlessly scrolling down your newsfeed. Knowing this information can help you fight back the urge to stay online. Depending on the severity of your addiction, choose a time limit that would work for you: an hour per working day and a couple of hours during the weekend could be a great way to start. 
  • Be strong enough to fight the urge to add extra time once you reach your personal time limit. This is a good test on your willpower. It might be difficult at first, but it will be rewarding in the end. 
  • Find a new hobby. If the reason for your social media addiction is boredom, then it’s time to find a new hobby. Now that you are able to limit your time online, you can use the extra time to do something else that you love. Or perhaps, there is something that you have always wanted to do but didn’t have enough time for in the past. Read a book, hike with a friend, learn a new skill or a new language, or start your own garden. When you are craving to check your social media accounts, your newfound hobby will keep you occupied and help you fight back the urge to go online.
  • Spend more time with people in real life. Instead of simply sending online messages to your friends and family, pick up the phone and call them up. Set up a date with them instead of simply connecting with them in the virtual world. By doing so, you can create more memories with them in the real world. Don’t feel the need to capture or document every moment you spend together. Just being there with them will give you more satisfaction as opposed to only seeing their faces online. 
  • Use social media like a special treat. Some people who go on a strict diet have “cheat days” when they can allow themselves to eat whatever they want. It is one day in a week when they treat themselves to a cup of ice cream or a slice of sweet pie. Some people would do something special, like go to a movie or get their nails done, as a reward after they did something productive. 
  • You can treat your social media usage in the same way. Reward yourself with extra time in social media after you have achieved a goal or after you have finished a project. This is a great act of self-discipline that could help you prioritize your responsibilities effectively without straining yourself too much. 
  • Go out to meet people in real life. Instead of browsing through strangers’ accounts or stalking celebrities online, find some ways to meet people in your neighborhood. Join local clubs or attend seminars. If you are single, set-up a singles’ night with your friends and ask them to bring a friend, too. If you are married, open your home to another family in your area and have dinner together. 
  • Making connections with people in real life will help you realize that face-to-face encounter is still more fun and exciting than just talking through instant messaging apps.
  • Delete your social media apps. Seeing the apps on the screen of your mobile phone or digital device can be tempting. They make it too easy for you to go online and glance at your social media feeds. Soon enough, you will have wasted precious minutes just mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed. You can avoid this by deleting your apps. You can still log into your social media accounts the old-fashioned way through your internet browser on your desktop computer or laptop. 

It’s Time for a Social Media Break

It’s hard to do but we need to avoid getting trapped in the virtual world. Right back to when Second Life or World of Warcraft was introduced, it’s been imperative at regular intervals to get your face off the screen and enjoy the pleasures of the real world.

If your social media addiction is extreme, you can take a complete clean break from it to help clear your mind and help get rid of your addiction. Some people are even considering counselling to rid themselves of the problem.

In extreme circumstances deactivate your accounts in Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter and other networking sites. This will help you to keep yourself from subconsciously logging into your account automatically.

If you want to keep your accounts active while you’re away, change your passwords. Ask someone you trust to change the passwords for you so you cannot access your accounts even if you want to. Tell that person to give you the passwords after a week or two, or however long you think is necessary.

Keep in mind that handing over your account to someone can be dangerous if it falls on the wrong hands. Make sure to ask someone you can truly trust with this sensitive information. 

When you get back from your social media break, do the following: 

  • Delete some people from your list of friends or unfollow some people you don’t really care about. The more people you are connected with in social media, the more things will show up in your newsfeed. As a result, you will spend so much time scrolling through your newsfeed for the fear of missing out on what’s happening in other people’s lives. If possible, keep your list limited to just your family, relatives, and close friends. 
  • Prioritize the important things in your life. You do not have to be on every social network that’s accessible to you. Check out which ones are most useful and where you can connect with your family and friends more effectively. Stick to at least two sites and delete other accounts that are not beneficial to you. 
  • Don’t post everything that is happening in your life. If you find that you have been posting more than twice in a day, try to limit yourself to just posting once a day. Later on, try to post every other day until you don’t feel the need to post something every single day at all. 

Many studies prove how addiction to social media has greatly affected relationships among families and friends. The good news is that you can do something about it. If you follow the guidelines you’ve learned from this chapter, you will notice that your engagements with people in real life will improve in no time.

The less time you spend on social media, the more time you can spend in nurturing the personal relationships that you have taken for granted due to addiction. 

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Alternative Applications

Gadgets and social media have one thing in common: they are all created to make connecting with people easier and convenient. They are designed to allow people to get in touch with their family and colleagues right away and can be great when used in that way. In addition, the entertainment provided by iOS and Android applications can be beneficial if used appropriately. 

Instead of using addictive social media apps, there are other great applications that you can make use of: 

  • Forest – this is an app that allows you to virtually grow plants in an empty land. In this game, you have to plant seeds that will grow into trees. The more seeds you plant, the more trees will grow until the empty land becomes a forest. The clincher is that you have to keep the app open and the plants will wither and die if you use other apps. 
  • StepLock – this is an app designed to select and block an application until you finish taking a certain number of steps every day. You can select the app that you are trying to stay away from and set the number of steps you need to take before you can open the app again. 
  • StepLock will track the number of steps you take and will block you from opening your selected app, a social media app in this case, if you are unable to reach your target number of steps. This app is free and available to Android users. 
  • Dinner Mode – this is a more limiting app than StepLock in a way that it doesn’t only block you from using a single app but it prohibits you from using your phone completely. This iOS app allows you to set a timer for how long you plan not to use your phone: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or one hour. 
  • After setting the timer, a prompt will appear telling you to put your phone face-down. If you check your phone before the time you set, a red screen will appear telling you you’ve failed the challenge and asking you if you want to try again.
  • Onward – this is the best tool to use to track your app usage. The app sends automatic reports that provide information on the amount of time you spent on apps within an hour, a day, a week, or a month. It is open to people from different ages all over the world. 
  • The free use of this app will provide you with the basic reports, privacy assurance, accountability tracker, and tools to help you become less addicted to using your phone and certain applications. The paid premium Onward account will give you priority support as well as coping skills and personal coaching from artificial intelligent robot coach Al.

Start changing your online habits by downloading these apps. According to reviews, most people who used these apps were able to combat their addiction to social media and smartphones.

Sloane Davidson, the developer of the Dinner Mode app, shared how many parents are already using the app during their family dinners. 

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Conclusion

Mobile phones and digital devices are supposed to be beneficial to you. The same goes with social media. When using them starts to be detrimental to your psychosocial health, you have to take a stand. You can take positive steps to stop your addiction to digital devices and social media, TODAY. 

A bad habit is difficult to break, but by using the help and tips contained within this book, you will be able to fight your addiction. Share the lessons with your family and friends who are also suffering from the same problem. Overcome your addiction and live happier with your friends and loved ones. 

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