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Social Media Addiction: Breaking My Behaviour

The word “addiction” shows up a lot these days in the wrong context, but a social media addiction is entirely real—and I think I have one. Social media addiction isn’t quite the same as a substance addiction, because it’s an addictive behaviour; it’s something that’s rewarding but also damaging, kind of like popping your zits for the satisfaction and relief, despite the fact that breaking the skin like that can lead to problems.

I struggle to believe that I have a social media addiction because I don’t post a lot or engage in the interactive aspects of social media. Instead, I consume. And that’s the problem.

My social media addiction consists of doomscrolling, checking in more than necessary, and prioritizing viewing social media content more than interacting. I use social media passively. And it has eaten up all my time.

My phone tracks certain app usage as part of its Digital Wellbeing function, and I have a Premium subscription to RescueTime that tracks my software and website use.

These tools show me that I spend a lot of time on social media. A lot. To the point where I don’t participate in any of my hobbies much anymore.

So I want to break my social media addiction. I want to look at why it’s so hard for me to cut back, retain a healthy use of these online tools, and live my life without the urge to check in or post. Originally, social media was helpful in promoting my blog, freelance services, and creative work. But now? Not so much.

What has a social media addiction done to me?

Social media sucks my time away from myself and my work.

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten depressed over the last year, but I haven’t been creative in a long, long time. All of my social media profiles lack posts. Sometimes I’ll reply to people or comment on posts, but the truth is I’ve forgotten a lot of the people I previously connected with. I’m not part of a community anymore.

I tweet something maybe a few times a day, not at all like I used to (but really, that wasn’t useful either) and I honestly can’t remember the last time I posted a photo to Instagram that wasn’t of my cat, or on the account dedicated to him. I backdrop my daily activities with thoughts like, “I should post this to Twitter; that will help me connect with people,” or “I should take a picture for Instagram; that will keep me motivated and accountable.”

But connection, motivation, and accountability are non-existent. I don’t care. No fucks given whatsoever if I post content, and then I feel like I shouldn’t do anything. After all, if it isn’t Instagram-worthy, is it worth doing at all? (Sarcasm.)

In fact, this past weekend, I archived all of my Instagram posts except for three. I had content from January 2016 to November 2020, and I put it all away. While I browsed, I mentally bookmarked some as useless crap I could delete because the photos were bad quality or just the faux-pas (and prior trend…) of posting my food.

But the captions struck me the most.

I don’t remember who I am anymore, and reading my old social media posts showed me that who I was on social media was much more authentic than I thought. My posts showed my personality and creativity. They expressed some part of myself that I don’t think I feel anymore. Social media used to be a place I could create content and express myself.

The numbness of consumption without creation kills me.

Social media addiction’s viscious cycle

My mornings normally look like this:

  • wake up, sometime between 6am and 8am
  • use bathroom
  • grab my phone
  • feed and play with the cat if he hasn’t already been tended to
  • get coffee and sit on the couch or lie back in bed
  • grab my phone
  • scroll Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter again
  • eat something, at some point

My work routine looks like this:

  • check emails, respond to action items if necessary
  • open Twitter, Reddit, browse
  • load up software to start working
  • check Twitter and Reddit again
  • set timers and focus modes
  • work for 60 minutes
  • take a break, which also includes social media on my computer or phone

Downtime and evenings look like this:

  • mindlessly scroll and consume social media in between talking with room mates, seeing what’s on Netflix, planning the next day

Instead of being creative, doing the things I love, or taking good care of myself, I resort to mindlessly consuming social media.

I’m tired

I’m tired of reading social media. The chaos, the negativity, the constant stream of American politics, the fear, the misogyny, the queerphobia, the recycled discourse in the book community.

I’m sick of having a social media addiction, where I feel the urge to log in instead of have a thought or a breath. A social media addiction where I scroll for 60 seconds, then return to what I was doing, only to re-open the medium and scroll through the same fucking thing I just saw.

The pressure weighs on me constantly. Check in. Stay informed up to the hour, the minute, the second, or I’ll miss it. Speak out about injustice. Share my opinion on queerphobia, since I’m queer, or ableism, since I’m mentally ill. Talk about my creative projects. Pitch my services. Be present. Be available. Reply ASAP or else they’ll think I hate them.

We all need a break. We all have the right to check out. Social media is not the only place to make a difference in the world.

Habitual. Detrimental. Reward-centre activation. Interfering with normal parts of life, like sleep, nourishment, and hobbies. A social media addiction that resulted in unhealthy, addictive behaviour.

How I will break my social media addiction

I’ve looked at a bunch of articles that boil down to the same principles of limiting time through literal time limits, turning off notifications, and blocking apps or websites. The only other option is deleting the account, and I don’t think I’m ready for that.

I don’t want to screw myself in the future if I find that I can get more work through social media, or if I find that I want to engage in online communities. I like my current usernames, too, and I don’t want to need to hunt down the people I wanted to stay in touch with.

But I yearn for a fresher start if I ever come back. Right now, I want to live a smaller, more private life—not something Instagram-worthy, not something for upvotes on Reddit, not something for a 30-part Twitter thread.

Steps to change my behaviour

I know myself and I know quitting cold-turkey doesn’t work. I also know that I’ve made genuine connections through social media. So I think a gradual approach to reclaim my time will help.

  1. Turn off notifications (already done!)
  2. Track usage (already doing!)
  3. Curate accounts I’m following (this should take a few days)
  4. Limit time on the apps and websites to less than 30 minutes per day (I’ll try this for a week and see what happens)
  5. Delete the apps and take a sabbatical for an indeterminate amount of time

Regarding step 5… I know I’ve done that before. My last sabbatical from social media was in June 2019, and I read my post on that sabbatical with pity. It wasn’t successful. Maybe this one will be.

These sites and apps aren’t all bad, but I’ve given them more priority in my life than they deserve.

I can always come back

I’ve told myself this week that, if I quit social media, I can always come back again and use it as a tool to help my online work. I’ll hold onto the usernames to make sure of that.

I don’t need it right now anyway because I’m not using it the way I want to: a way to connect with others, to market my editorial services, and to share my creative work. Maybe in the future, the media will be better. There may be fewer white supremacists, fewer bots, and fewer misogynist men sliding into my DMs to fetishize markings on my body.

So here’s to a more offline life. More privacy and creating. Writing stories and poetry. Drawing for myself. Painting. Playing games. Enjoying nature. Exercising without showing the world.

I can use my time better.

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