The American Psychological Association reports that the use of social media has skyrocketed from seven percent of American adults in 2005 to 65 percent or more today. For those in the 18-29 age range, the increase is larger, from 12 percent to a whopping 90 percent. But while an increase in social media usage is hardly surprising, the number of people who just can’t tear themselves away is stark: Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say they are checking their emails, texts, or social media accounts every few minutes.
People tend to blame the medium. “If social media companies and smartphones didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have this problem.” But it’s human beings who created social media and choose to use it. And not everything about social media is automatically good or bad. It’s not the content of social media so much as the way we handle it that counts. Are you rational in the way you use your phone and computer, or are you constant and compulsive about it?
Note the emphasis on constant. The way you look at technology determines whether the technology runs you, or you run it. How do you think of your iPhone, iPad, or Android? Do you view it like a friend or family member calling you? Are these little machines like a person — a very needy one, by the way – constantly begging for your attention? When, whether and how much you check your phone and computer is your call. This has to be your operating premise if you’re to have a healthy relationship with your technology. In order to be effective, healthy habits must become subconscious as well as conscious. You accomplish that by working until it becomes a habit. Ask yourself, “What are the pros and cons of looking at my phone right now? What are the pros and cons of having my phone near me while, say, watching a movie or having dinner with friends?” The point is: You have choices. That might be obvious, but if you make your technology too accessible and too available, you’ll find that you often make the wrong choices. The spiral into constant, compulsive “checking” will be virtually inevitable.
People are always ready to pass the blame. Those who dislike social media companies or politicians will of course blame the persons they dislike. People who dislike technology will blame it on technology. The world is full of people who tend toward an anti-technology bias and have a compulsive desire to control others. I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point where laws will curtail smartphone use. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised, given that we have regulations controlling just about every other behavior imaginable.
The best advice I have to offer is to suggest that one learns to separate oneself from the phone, or the iPad, or the laptop or whatever. Back in the day when we only had personal computers, it was impossible to carry those heavy machines around with us. We waited until we were at home or in the office to log on. I’m not knocking the convenience of today’s smartphones, but I am saying we do have the choice to separate ourselves from them; to place them in a different room and to shift our consciousness – at least for a while – to other things.
The choice was and always will be ours. We exercise options and make choices subconsciously every moment of the day, and each and every one of those decisions will have consequences. Instead of trying to run away from that fact, embrace it right now and start making life better. Social media cannot make us crazy, but our failure to maintain perspective and focus on other values in life can. Don’t let that happen!
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