Social Media Addiction And What we can do about it

After reading your insightful, interesting, and at times entertaining discussion posts this week (thanks to those of you who were so open and honest!), I felt the need to create an addendum to our content. Yeah, technically, we've moved on, and you won't be tested on this material, but if we were in a face-to-face class, I'd have this discussion with you.
If we aren't holding one of these, what do we do with our hands?

It sounds like many of you were surprised at just how difficult it was to complete these activities, which - let me point out - were not even a thing 10 years ago. We have grown so accustomed to being constantly, physically connected to our mobile devices, that we immediately feel lost, out of sorts, and even anxious when we don't have them within our reach.

I don't have to tell you that this is a major problem.

I mean, we can't even get on an elevator without checking our phones. We are missing out on networking and friendship opportunities literally right in front of us because our heads are down. We are becoming more anxious socially, and are fearful to start in-person conversations because we start them so infrequently and are forgetting how to have them.

I appreciate those of you who were honest enough to admit to using your phones while driving. I'm guilty of that behavior on occasion, too. But, not anymore. Not even at a red light. And the improvements in my life, and my ability to stay safe on the road, have been too many to really list here. Maybe it's the mama bear instinct I have to protect my child when he's in the car with me, or to keep myself alive to be there for him as long as possible. Maybe it's that I feel the need to look out for those on the road (including you!) who might not be as aware as I am. Whatever the reason, I'm not going to lecture you about why you shouldn't use your phone on the road. I'm just going to hope y'all all saw this video when it went viral on Facebook a while back, and hope that maybe you'll consider changing your ways.

With the most serious side effects of media addiction behind us, let's go through a few more reasons why you admitted you're using your phone so often. The uses & gratifications approach certainly offers some insight as to why we might turn to phones during our everyday life: we're bored. We need information about something. We are trying to stay connected to the people we love the most. Valid reasons. I feel you.

#Bridge #Nature #NoFilter #SurelyEveryoneCaresAboutMyTrailRun

You might think I'm going to use this space to tell you to just stop your social media use altogether. Nope. I teach social media. It's an important tool for us today for many reasons. And with all the crap & misinformation that's out there, I'm an eternal optimist that it can be used for more good than harm. And I'm not going to share the research I've read about how having a phone on the table during an interpersonal interaction decreases the overall quality of that interaction. Or the heartbreaking studies about small kids competing for their parents' attention because the parents are using their phones instead of interacting with their kids. (I think you can probably insert "adult kids" in that category and even replace "parents" with "friends," too...)

Instead, I'm going to offer some suggestions for those of you who want to change your habits, decrease your dependency on your mobile devices, and improve your in-person relationships: you know, the ones that matter most.

Our psychology friends tell us it takes 21 days to pick up a new habit or break an old one. They're right.

Try one - ONLY ONE - of these strategies for 21 days to see if it helps.

If you use your mobile device because you're bored, ask yourself if the social media postings you're reading are actually that interesting to you. If they aren't (I'm guessing they probably aren't that fascinating), consider one of these options.

I get bored during my metro Atlanta commutes, too. I spent a lot of time in Cindy Rae Vaughn, my beloved 10-year-old Honda CR-V. What's helped me pass time without the help of a phone are podcasts. There are about a gazillion (scientific estimate) of them on all things. My favorites are This American Life and The Moth (the story on Milli Vanilli is so, so, so good). I learn something every time I listen. If you haven't listened to Serial yet, what are you waiting for?! (The first season is the best.) All of these are available for easy download via iTunes. Load up your device, hit play before you hit I-75, and thank me later.

I wish I could sleep anywhere, like this dude

Many of you use your phones to help "calm you down" before bed. Some of you admitted to sleeping much better or falling asleep faster without your phone. Some of you admitted to getting more anxious without the distraction of other people's lives. If you felt greater anxiety without your phone, I'd recommend you do some soul searching. What is it you're trying to avoid thinking about? Are you stressed? Are you worried? Are you completely unsure what you are?

Consider journaling for 30 minutes instead of spending 2 hours on your device before bed. If nothing else, you'll have quite the entertaining reading material in 15 years, when you look back on your college life (I'm so thankful that I journaled during my time in Auburn and even more thankful there was no Facebook back then). And as communication students, the more writing you can do, the better - even if it's free writing full of grammatical errors and non-sensical statements. My early journaling habit led me to a lifetime love of writing. I am convinced that writing so often in a journal as a young child and young adult sparked my interest in writing today. I'll even be happy if you hammer out a long email to a friend telling him/her about your day, and what's going on. Not a Facebook message. An actual email. There's a difference. Hand-write a card to someone. Hand-write a letter. You get the point.

Many of you replaced your 2-hours-before-bed-phone-use with binge watching tv. I'm definitely not here to judge that (although if I could be candid, for this tired mama, binge watching means two 30-minute shows in a row before passing out on my couch). But you realize you're just replacing one digital media with another, right? Consider reading a book instead.

Yeah, yeah, books are technically media too, but hang with me on this one.

I'm horrified when my students tell me they have made it through college without reading a single book. I know your counterargument: I read all the time, just shorter pieces. Reading short articles is great, too - but books are better, and we treat them differently (and learn differently from) long- and short-form works. In fact, some research I've read suggests that if we stop reading long-form (like books), we lose our ability to process information in that way - making it more difficult to read entirely. Scary thought. The Cobb County library has an excellent online book selection, and combined with the Kindle app, you can actually cheat on this rule by using your phone to relax with a book. Making this one small change in my life helped my nighttime routine tremendously. I now always have a book, and I rarely pay for my books now. I also fall asleep way easier without the intrusion of information overload I find on social media. Win/win/win.

If you are still having trouble breaking the addiction, here are a few random helpful tips to reduce the amount of time you're on social media.
Lock Yourself Out

Get a trusted friend or family member to change the password for the platform on which you waste the most time, and ask them not to give you that password for the next 21 days. I have no self control, so this is the only way I could break my total Facebook addiction. My husband changed the password on my account and stored it in a safe place, and didn't give it back to me until I had to start doing research for a new publication I'm writing. That was over 30 days ago. I now am *easily* able to limit my Facebook time to about 3 minutes per day, once in the mornings, as a "check-in" of sorts to make sure everything is okay in my friends' worlds. Amazingly, once you get out of the habit of mindless scrolling, you don't want to go back to it. Once my news feed starts pushing people who are not close ties or anxiety-fueled political posts, I log out. It's pretty easy, and I only get the high points of life that way. (I keep up with politics & news on Twitter from a carefully cultivated list of professional news outlets).

Challenge Yourself! (I hope there's a trampoline underneath him...)

Remind yourself that you grow and learn the most when you are uncomfortable. I did a lot of leadership training in my earlier days. And the one lesson I got out of every trust fall or ice breaker or ridiculous goal setting session was this: if we're going to grow, we have to break out of our comfort zones. Cliche, but true. So while at first we may feel totally awkward standing in that horrid Starbucks line in the Social Sciences building with no phone in hand, after a few attempts, you'll feel quite normal about what you're doing and realize you have a few minutes of calm, all to yourself. You are freeing up your head to just think. You might get a brilliant idea for your next paper. You might remember something you needed to pick up from the grocery store. You might strike up a conversation with your future long-term partner. The possibilities are endless, and soon, everyone else will look strange for being so self-centered and focused on their devices.

Not my family, but mine is just as awkward.

Those of you who use phones to escape time with your family: boy, do I feel you on that one. I love my family but have to keep my distance from them. We tend to disagree about pretty much everything (I'm definitely the black sheep that no one really understands; everyone else lives within a 10 minute drive of each other and never left home, while I moved 3.5 hours away). But I still find value in listening to their (often misguided) opinions, learning to politely disagree with them, and am getting better at stating my perspective on things that differ than theirs. You can't do that if you bail on the convo for your phone. My friend & colleague Chris Bruno had a lot to say about this issue in his Ted Talk he did here at KSU a couple years back.

Treat your time with your family, and your friends, as some of the most important time you have on this planet. Our loved ones aren't with us forever. Barring the most horrible family situations (which I know, sadly, exist), commit to being present with your family and friends (which, for a lot of us, are our family) in every interaction, and only look at your phone every hour or so, only for a minute or two each time, and only when you're alone. That'll get your fix, while still leaving you free to be physically, emotionally, and mentally present with the people you care the most about. If someone sends you a funny Snapchat, screen shot that pic and share it with grandma. That's okay, right?

Okay, hope this de-briefing offered some insights to support what we discussed this week. I really did enjoy the conversation there, and hope this document was helpful to a few of you. Let me know if you try any of these strategies, and how they work for you!

Credits:

Created with images by hitchinssamson - "The Digital #7" • seanpanderson - "Asleep" • DariuszSankowski - "old retro antique" • krossbow - "ThanksgivingDogShow" • jill111 - "stack of books vintage books book" • pixelcreatures - "heart castle love" • Steveorini - "jumping off diving fly" • Wetmount - "grandma sony dslr"

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