When Facebook catapulted into the world in 2004, we had a new way of connecting and university students on campus were buzzing. By the end of 2004, the social networking site had amassed 1 million users. By 2010, the number was around 600 million; fast-forward to 2020, the platform now boasts 1.6 billion active users. A figure that barely raises eyebrows given the central role that social networking plays in the daily lives of users and businesses globally.  So, is social media addictive?

I personally have a love-hate relationship with social media. Fifteen years ago, it felt like such a refreshing way to connect with people. Sure, it had its pitfalls, but today, it is a different beast altogether. I wonder, do we even call them social networking sites anymore? Afterall, they are advertising platforms and every piece of content served is controlled by algorithms that have taken on a life of their own. 

The Social Dilemma

I recently watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix (for many, a paradox in itself), a documentary-drama that explores the impact of social media on humanity.  In short, tech experts from the likes of Facebook, Google and Pinterest talk about the early design principles and extensive data mining that tech companies carry out in order to keep audiences engaged. Engaged, addicted… Perhaps one and the same. 

Sounding the alarm on their own creations, they call out the productisation of users and how every action we take online is monetised. From serving ads to businesses that know more about their users than ever before, to keeping us constantly on our phones; in one app and straight to another, responding to notifications at a rate that’s hard to keep up with. 

Shaping our social fabric

We post, we like, and we share, but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media? The documentary-drama hybrid reveals how social media is reprogramming civilization.

It’s nothing new. We know the role that social networking sites and the broader media landscape occupy in society. From technology (phones) to the Internet and TV, through to radio and print; addictive triggers are everywhere, turning us into a society that relies on having access to things and information immediately. Nevertheless, it got us thinking about where all of this is going? As technology gets smarter, we’re switching off our ability to think and create boundaries. Are we social media addicts? In one of our recent Instagram posts, we showed how 60% of Twitter users share posts/articles without actually reading the content. Sounds crazy, right? But we have all done it. We’re all guilty of fast consumption and mindless scrolling. 

There are 3 core problems that we need to pay attention to:

1. The mental health dilemma

A 5,000-person study found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health and life satisfaction. 

2. The democracy dilemma 

From the left all the way to the right, the number# of countries with political disinformation campaigns on social media doubled in the past two years.

3. The discrimination dilemma 

64% of the people who joined extremist groups on Facebook did so because the algorithms steered them there.

Facebook’s rebuttal:

If you, like me, read Facebook’s response and are quite happy to call them out on it, then we can agree on this: There is a problem across the board in technology and media. Whilst we can continue to try and hold corporations accountable, we will never be able to stop our reliance on them unless we take charge of our own behaviour. If we are waiting for a social media blackout or all-new shiny policies that will govern consumption, we are kidding ourselves. 

Our reliance, our incessant scrolling, swiping, tweeting, tagging, checking, liking – and the list goes on – should not be in the hands of tech and media corporations that benefit from our engagement. We, as users, need to get back into the driving seat. 

Time to write a new script

It’s not all doom and gloom… Well, I don’t believe it has to be. But the conversation is firmly on the table and with good reason.

So, what can we do to reframe the way we think when we’re so used to simply refreshing our newsfeeds? I believe education is key and we all need to understand this through digital wellness. 

Digital wellness & education

What does digital wellness mean? In short, it is the optimum state of well-being that we can achieve using technology. This requires a more mindful approach to digital technology usage that supports our thriving in different areas of life.

With such a huge amount of unlearning and relearning to do in this space, there are a few practical things that we can do to help us better navigate technology usage. We’re educating ourselves on digital wellness. We’re looking at our routines and habits and are being open with our usage. 

Education is key and there are resources available online to help us, including: Center for Humane Technology and the Digital Wellness Institute.

Apps & activity 

We’re considering the apps that we use in our personal life as well as those that we run our business on. We found that removing unused apps is a great way to declutter. We have used the newly-updated IOS app library to arrange our apps, so that we’re purposely searching for something when we need it, as opposed to opening it because it’s there.

Access & screen time limits

Given that we have so many apps on our phone that we are in and out of on a daily basis, these apps are countering our social media addiction. The irony of using an app to manage this is not lost on us! Some of our team favourites are: Moment, Breakfree and Flipd

Phones stay downstairs

We’re back to good, old-fashioned alarm clocks. Well, maybe not so old-fashioned. This alarm clock by Loftie is a wonderful way to encourage us to not use our phones as alarms in the bedroom. 

Mix it up 

Lastly, in a world where algorithms aren’t just taking over social networking, they are ever-present. Everything we consume – from Netflix to news channels – is a conscious effort to educate ourselves in new ways by absorbing information from different mediums. In the context of social, I am starting to follow people that I don’t (or I thought I didn’t) agree with. I think twice about my status updates and before sharing posts, so I don’t fall into the look-a-like audiences.

Tech culture needs an upgrade and I, for one, am down with it. It’s time to start taking action on our mental health and challenge digital democracy and discrimination. Let’s be proactive in how we think and talk about our relationship with the technology we use every day while taking advantage of tools and conversations with our communities. What are you doing today to support yourself tomorrow?