Do we use social media or does it use us? Student Safiyah goes looking for answers

17 Feb 2020
By Safiyah O., Student at University of Westminster

Like many people, I often find myself glued to my phone screen, scrolling into oblivion, wondering what it is I’m actually looking for.

I’ll double and triple check for new notifications, and eventually find myself somewhere so far from where I started, I wonder how I got there.

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m actually missing out on is real life.

That quick five minute round of the apps very rarely actually lasts five minutes, as the second I open up any one of my social media apps I am sucked right in with an abundance of content.

Sure, some of it’s interesting, funny, intriguing, repulsive and occasionally boring. But each new post leaves me wanting more, deeply curious as to what the next might be and hoping it will be bigger and better than the last.

The hard truth

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m actually missing out on is real life.

It’s a simple case of internet FOMO (fear of missing out) that keeps me hooked. I’m always hoping to find the next great meme, video or ‘insightful’ post that’ll keep me entertained for all of 10 seconds until I crave the same rush again.

The problem is, I always crave it again and infinite scroll is happy to oblige, giving me an endless stream of often useless but entertaining content that won’t quit until I do.

While I take steps in my life to minimise my dependence on social media, I often find it very strange when meeting someone my age who doesn’t use social media. To me, not having social media is to be excluded to a certain extent.

Like it or not, it’s one of the main ways we participate in social life, tagging friends in a meme in order to perpetuate an inside joke, finding out about news through open discussion, discovering exciting new events in our area, even expressing ourselves.

However, there’s always a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to log back in after all of five minutes, just in case I’m ‘missing out’ on something. Sometimes I wonder if what I’m actually missing out on is real life.

Social media is designed to be addictive. Speaking to the BBC, Aza Raskin, former Mozilla employee and designer of infinite scrolling, said: "It's as if they're taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that's the thing that keeps you like [sic] coming back and back and back.

"Behind every screen on your phone, there are generally, like, literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to try to make it maximally addicting," he added.

What’s the solution?

Essentially, highly trained tech experts are using every psychological trick in the book to keep us hooked on this digital hyper reality. So how do we fight it and stop it from draining us of hours from our lives?

For me it’s been a testing mix of willpower and forming new habits. Keeping a clear goal in mind about when I’ll be using social media and what I need (not want) to use it for has been helpful in fighting what has at some points been a bit of a thorn in my side.

I started setting specific times throughout the day to check my social media and made sure I stuck to them. Over time, this became a normal part of my daily routine and has played a huge role in keeping my use of social media in check.

Another important change I’ve made is considering how we view social media platforms, shifting perspectives from seeing them as a tool to pass the time, to logging in with purpose. By this I mean messaging someone you haven’t seen in a while about meeting up, checking out any local events at the weekend or sharing a particularly interesting photo you took while out. And then simply stop once that particular purpose has been fulfilled.

Of course relying on sheer willpower to force a change of habit is always easier said than done, and is a process that takes time and determination. Those of us who simply don’t have the patience, but are in dire need of a detox, can turn to social media blocking apps to enforce discipline.

The apps that will help you through a digital detox

Flipd

Once you set up Flipd for a set amount of time there’s no going back. There’s no room for broken promises on your social media detox here. You choose the apps you want to lock and how long you want them locked for and Flipd will keep them sealed until the time’s up.

SelfControl

SelfControl allows you to create a blacklist of websites that distract you most, blocking them for an amount of time set by you. Even restarting your computer or deleting the app won’t unblock anything, so you’ll have no choice but to stay committed to your detox.

OFFTIME

OFFTIME allows you to block anything on your phone that’s distracting you. It also shows you how long you spend using your apps, so you can make an informed decision on what you may be in need of a break from.

While the hours you spend scrolling bring in the big bucks for social media execs, we are paying with our time whenever we fall into the infamous infinite scroll, which ultimately leads nowhere. That rush of dopamine might feel good in the moment, but the experts know full well that we’ll be back for more minutes later.

Social media is an important tool for all of us in the 21st century, helping us stay connected with the rest of the world, but remember: it’s there for us to use, not to use us!

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I’m a final year languages student based in London. at University of Westminster