Connection or Crack?

Tips on how to take a social media break.

If you didn't immediately turn off your phone and fear for your brain after watching the 'The Social Dilemma' on Netflix, then maybe it's too late for you.

The film talked us through complex algorithms - purposely designed to keep you hooked on your phone. It walked us through the devastating effects on teenagers in relation to social skills and mental tools for resilience, and it explored how the world is becoming desensitised to humanity, through fake news and the power of swayed elections.

In 2007, when phones first became smart, (remember the good old days of black & white screens, playing snake and the height of sophistication was a cool flip up phone?) we felt guilty and apologised for having mobiles on dining tables. Now though, it seems it's socially acceptable to be directly talking to someone face-to-face, and for them to automatically pick up their phone and begin swiping left or right, when you're bang in the middle of telling the story of how your grandmother recently died!

Now there are definitely benefits of social media. We can create awareness and social media campaigns for change and we can connect multiple people across the globe, a lot faster. Though as we know, this comes with a double edged sword. As you start connecting people for 'Black Lives Matter' you also start connecting 'White Supremacy' believers. The same promotional tools on social media that help fight for 'equal rights for gay marriage,' are the same tools that promote 'sign the no-gay adoptive parents petition.' We know from Mark Zuckerberg's testimonial at the Senate Hearing, there is no governing body monitoring the line between free speech and free hate on Facebook.

Now, if we put human rights and politics on hold, and strip social media back down to its very basic intention, it could look a little like this. Social media allows us to stay connected to our friends and family. It gives us endorphin hits when we get a certain amount of likes or comments. It leads to work opportunities, and we may even get a like from our favourite influencer. Suddenly everyone, even celebrities, seem human and normal.

Let's break this down.

  1. Connection to friends and family - When we're actually with our friends and family in person, are we connected to them, or are we spending that time on social media trying to connect to strangers, staring at our phone?

  2. Endorphin hits - When a photo doesn't get enough comments or likes, the opposite occurs and negative emotions are released, such as shame or embarrassment. And when it is a positive response, what part of us is actually made happy? Our true self, or our ego? Our true self would post the picture regardless of reactions - in all honesty, our true self probably wouldn't need to post a picture at all.

  3. Work opportunities - This is a big yes, especially for freelancers. You can find out who has job opportunities, you can publicise your work and you don't have to join recruitment companies! However, social media can also show those drunken nights out, hide your self promotional post because they want you to pay for it, and when you should be job hunting or outreaching, is YouTube sending you notifications about Charlie biting his brother again?

  4. Celebrity influencers - Most of the time they have someone managing their account responding to you, as them. And instead of celebrities seeming normal, we have now polished and faked our own accounts to make us seem happy and care-free, like a celebrity, when in reality we're going through a very rough time. We're not feeding off each others happiness, we're feeding our own insecurities through comparing and judgements.

If you can see and feel past all that. Well done, that's pretty hard work. Maybe you're great at limiting yourself to 30 minutes a day and you collect the right information and post stories at the right time, for maximum effect with minimum effort. Maybe social media is purely connection for you, and you haven't become a phone crack addict - a slave to the scroll!

Or maybe you're like me, and you can feel when the phone is making you feel claustrophobic and giving you a headache. Suddenly the 30-minute limitation has turned into 2-hours. Watching the stories of dear friends, has gone from bringing you joy, to bringing you anxiety. And that time you could have spent being productive or creative on a passion project, has been spent on, well - you can't really remember a single bit of pointless information you just failed to process.

This may be an indication that it's time to take a social media break. I often do a month at a time when I'm not promoting my podcast, and honestly? I feel so happy and content. Instead of being in a brain fog of pouty selfies, another engagement and dog videos, I am in a space of creativity. I am fully present and I have way more energy and time. As my friend Jerry says, taking a break before you fall into a dark hole, is far more productive, then trying to pull yourself out of one.

Here are some tricks for taking a break:

  1. Create a post informing people why you're taking a break and be real specific on time lines, sometimes feeling embarrassment for not sticking to your word is great motivation. Not only does posting about it inform people to contact you on a different channel, but it can also be inspiration for them to take a break for their own mental health too.

  2. If you really (and I mean really) need to get information from a certain account, such as work updates, or inspiring motivation, then use a friends account. Simply say, hey I'm off social media can you check something for me? Or create a fake account where you only follow inspiring people for work and don't post yourself. I am not suggesting this to stalk an ex-lover.

  3. Create goals for your social media break that feel like an accomplishment. Maybe it's to start learning another language, how to cook or to finally sit down and paint. You're going to have a lot more free time, in a friends case - 16 more hours of her day. I'm not shitting you. This will help you stay focused and motivated.

  4. Use that fifteen minutes at the bus stop way more productively. Read a book, listen to a podcast or do maths equations to strengthen your brain, instead of destroying its neurones.

  5. Scarred of missing that connection? Now this going to be an old trick that blows your mind. Call them! I know the generation below 30 find this concept terrifying. But it's a great way to connect properly. 'I have 15-minutes to chat, I wanted to see how you are!' Limits the phone time with a perfect excuse with little time commitment. And if someone is really important, they will already have your number or email address, or know how to get it...

If you're reading this, and right now social media is your only form of connection to the outside world, please do not feel judged or attacked. When I'm in a good headspace social media is great, I laugh, I engage and I share beautiful moments. It's when I can notice negative thoughts repeating themselves, for example 'oh that didn't get enough responses - maybe that episode wasn't good enough?' Even though I loved making it, is when I know I have to check in with myself, and take a social media break.

Quarter life advice, secrets to tell and cheeky tips for cheeky things?

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