We all know the feeling.
We all know the terror.
The worst thing has happened: You’ve lost your cell phone. That feeling, the crippling feeling that you’ve lost not only your cell phone, but your connection to everything in your life–your friends, your family, your accounts, your money…
But we’re not addicted to our cell phones. It’s just that the world makes it impossible to live without them. Right?
Want a job? Apply online. Want a sandwich? Don’t forget to download our app! Join a new social club? Cool, join our Facebook page (that’s the only place we ever plan anything, haha).
Everywhere you go, you need access to the Internet. Most of our money exists theoretically, not in physical cash but in ones and zeroes in bank accounts. Smartphones are, more or less, the only portal we have to access everything we need to survive in modern society.
This is not an inherently bad thing. We’re more connected than we’ve ever been before. We have more access to information than any generation before us in the history of the planet. More than ever before, we’re realizing that we’re one tiny community of humans on this speck in the Universe that we call Earth. People are organizing and coming together from across the globe to solve some of our biggest problems.
So… it’s fine that we can’t go a few hours without checking social. It’s a fair trade-off. Right? Give a little, get a lot.
I’m the first to admit, I never thought I had a cell phone addiction. I never thought I had a social media addiction. I didn’t think I used it very much. “I just check it a few times a day,” I thought. “I’m just responding to this one post.” It didn’t matter that I was doing it at stop lights. It didn’t matter that I did it while waiting in line. It didn’t matter that any time I was feeling a little anxious, I’d open up my cell phone and get a tiny little fix of endorphins to tide me over again.
It also didn’t matter that the content I was consuming was making me angry, or scared, or heartbroken. It didn’t matter that all day, I was reading stories of atrocities being committed around the world: by terrorists, by white supremacists, by foreign powers, by our own government… It didn’t matter that most of these problems were things I couldn’t actually do anything about.
It’s hard to care. It hard to feel the feelings of everyone who is suffering, and then remember that caring doesn’t stop the pain, that feeling the feelings of those in pain doesn’t do anything to alleviate that pain.
I struggled for a long time, not sure what to do. How can I help? And if I can’t help, then why am I so sad, all the time? At a certain point in therapy you realize the importance of prioritizing your own happiness about the happiness of others (which doesn’t mean, “stop caring about other people,” which is how I always interpreted it before I really “got it”), so I had to take a hard look at what was really causing my unhappiness.
I’d read all the studies about social media addiction leading to increased FOMO, leading to increased feelings of comparisons to others, leading to people feeling overwhelmed by how much work there still is to do for equality. “Yeah, but that’s not me, I barely use it!”
Until I stopped using it. The first change was that I permanently deleted my Facebook account. People thought I was crazy. Hell, I thought I was crazy. I thought I was going to lose track of everything in my life–my friends, my connection to reality, my ability to know what’s happening in the world… But I didn’t.
And I got happier.
Now that I wasn’t consuming news, facts, information, likes, reactions, and opinions all day, even in small doses, I was feeling more positive about my life. About the future. About our species. The bad things were still happening, of course, and I’d hear about it in podcasts or in conversations with friends (because I started seeing friends more!), but it didn’t affect me as heavily. It didn’t cause me to stop working, it didn’t make me feel like a failure or a bad person for not doing EVERYTHING I CAN POSSIBLY DO RIGHT NOW to help solve every problem the world could throw at me.
Then I limited my Instagram and Twitter usage to select periods of time in the mornings and evenings. Perhaps I could have gone further, but I use those accounts to grow my business and grow an audience as part of my digital ecosystem.
(Even then, I think I was still a social media addict. In denial, of course. Because I’d taken steps to limit my usage. I’d deleted accounts. I was feeling better. I was on an upward trend. “I couldn’t possibly be addicted now,” I told myself, somehow ignoring the fact that this was an admission that I had been addicted prior to this moment.)
The scariest moment was when I beta-tested the (above) Triple-M Digital Detox. Part of the program involves moving your social media apps to a folder in a separate section of your phone for a week. One day, in mid-conversation, I looked down at my phone and realized that I had unknowingly done the series of clicks that would have taken me to Instagram, but instead had opened my bank’s app.
I stared at the screen, confused, until I realized what happened. My fingers had been opening social media apps without me even knowing it. And if the app had still been there, I might have stopped to look at Instagram in that moment. I might have taken five minutes of time out of my day to look at pictures, check notifications, and respond to comments. How often did that happen? How many times did this exact situation occur before now, without me even being aware?
This isn’t the part where I get all preachy and tell you to get rid of social media before it “dEsTrOyS CiViLiZaTiOn!!1!
I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think social media and the Internet have provided more good for our society than evil, but I also think we need to learn to manage it, because it’s unquestionably an addiction.
How do we do that? It’s still nearly impossible to survive the world today without having some form of social media. Now that they’ve monetized it, “Social Media” is a legitimate career path. Influencers are the hottest new way to market your businesses and products, and that’s not changing anytime soon. The Influencer craze has only just begun, and as technology advances we’ll keep finding more and more ways to monetize and advertise our daily lives. So I’m still on social media. In fact, I even have a Facebook again (which may be how you found this article!) because in 2019, starting an online business without a Facebook account is like starting a horse and buggy business in 1819 without owning a horse.
Did you know that Facebook has almost 1 and a half billion daily users? Did you know that over 40% of Facebook users only access Facebook on their phones? Or that 78% of Americans have purchased something they saw on Facebook?
I didn’t. Not before I deleted my account. So I’m back. And I’m back with a business that creates digital content, but also encourages healthy social media and cell phone habits, utilizing all the ridiculous but true information I learned on my 8 month hiatus.
Am I still addicted? I don’t know. I know I spend a lot less time on the apps than I used to. I know I plan my posts a week or so in advance, so when I open the apps it’s all business. I know that I’m having less “fun” doing it, so maybe that’s a sign that I’m doing it the right way. I’ve also noticed that I think less about it. I care less about the numbers than I used to. I’m posting things that I like and care about, and it seems to be having an effect, at least in terms of the amount of interaction I’ve been having.
I’ve been more comfortable being myself. Expressing myself. And maybe you can argue that that has more to do with the other changes I’ve made in my life, going to therapy, cutting out toxic people, but I’d also argue that some of those things might not have happened if I were still as active on social media. When you’re happier, you notice the things in your life that don’t make you happy.
So, I’m actually proud to say that I’m not a social media addict. But I definitely was. And I’m constantly aware that it could always happen again.
Justin Xavier, 6/22/2019
To listen to the A New Perspective podcast episode about Social Media addiction, follow the link below.