In spite of my best efforts, I kill a lot of time on social media. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and though I’ve managed to stay strong and avoid Tumblr, I assume it’s only a matter of time before I succumb to that, as well. I’ve always been a person who is vulnerable to the siren’s call of the Internet. I remember those AOL CD-roms and spending money on an hourly basis in the 8th and 9th grades to sit in a chat room, generally about Star Trek, and engage in typed conversations with 10-15 strangers. We shared deep moments of communication, including: Age/Sex/Location check and “Data or Spock?” I spent hours doing this every day, just for the thrill of knowing that I was talking with someone all of the way in Oklahoma, which as far as I was concerned might as well have been as far away as Mars and certainly a weirder place to live.
I think in part it’s because since I was a kid, reading sci-fi stories and watching movies with future technology my iPhone now puts to shame, I’ve been waiting for a world where I can hold a computer in my pocket. I’m an oddball among my writer friends. Not only do I love eBooks, I’m also happily sending my paperbacks (and even many of my precious hardcovers) to the used bookstore in favor of my digital library. eBooks truly saved my literary butt when I lived in Japan, allowing me to keep up with new books by my favorite authors and read new books too just like I was living in the States. In fact, the Internet was my main way of keeping up with events and family at home, and I was grateful for social media for allowing me to maintain my relationships in an easy and fun way.
Now though, after close to a year back home, I’ve noticed that the Internet, specifically social media, is taking over my life. And not in a good way. The inter-connectivity I’ve always craved is actually getting too invasive, what with the push notifications (even my flashlight wants to send them to me) and the feeling that I really should respond to this post or that message/tweet RIGHT NOW! And this issue is being exacerbated by the fact that I am now doing most of my professional work in front of a computer screen, a new experience for me. I’m living my dream, making my living through my pen (mostly writing to spec and some editing, but hey…it pays the bills), and as such the distraction of the Internet is always front and center. So managing my internet social media addiction is increasingly vital to my happiness and creative life. And I’m betting I’m not alone, hence this post.
Other creative professionals approach this issue in varying ways:
Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock fame, has taken the hands off approach and chooses not to participate at all: http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/sherlock-actor-benedict-cumberbatch-admits-3143719
Laudable, but as I’m managing all of my professional social media marketing (and my brain would probably explode if I didn’t look at least one adorable kitten video daily) that’s not going to work for me.
For most of us, personally and professionally, life requires some degree of social media engagement. These are the tools we use to keep in touch with family, friends, professional contacts and eventually fans. Facebook allows me to keep up with my friends overseas and coordinate visits as well as other business. It also is allowing me to build my personal mailing list so that I can send notification of new releases and book specials to my readership. It reminds me of my friends’ birthdays (I suck at that) and lets me know when events are happening in my city.
WikiHow (http://www.wikihow.com/Defeat-a-Social-Networking-Addiction) suggests that the first step towards dealing with social media addiction is to admit you have a problem. Probably, if you’re still reading this, you know you have a problem. I think it’s more important to determine how severe a problem you truly have with social media. You may be perfectly happy with your social media usage, even if it is a couple of hours a day that you could be doing something else. Until recently, mine has actually been manageable, in large part because I had too much else going on in my life to spend hours and hours online. Now though, my life has settled down, and this gives me more time to kill…literally. Hence, I’m feeling like it’s time to make a change.
So here’s my six step trial program
Step 1: Admit you want to make a change in your relationship to social media. As I said above, until recently, I was perfectly happy with my social media usage, though, for other people, it might have seemed a bit much. Lots of people complain about using Facebook too much, but actually they really aren’t bothered by it. They keep rocking on with their goals and it’s just not a big deal. That might be you, and that’s cool. But if you are feeling like your social media usage is detracting from other important areas of your life, and you think that’s a problem, then it’s time to make a change. Also, if your family/friends think it’s enough of a problem to express this to you, that’s also a clue that you want to make a change, for example: you’re too busy checking your Facebook to interact with people at parties or are more concerned with your hotel WIFI in Beijing than seeing the Great Wall.
Step 2: So you’ve decided you want to make a change. One piece of obvious advice is to ask yourself how many minutes to hours daily you want to spend on social media, and then stick to that plan. So, you want to spend a half hour a day on social media. Okay, set a timer for 30 minutes and turn off the social media when it goes off. Even better, do this at the end of the day when you’re done working (instead of in the morning when you wake up and then at lunch, and again midafternoon and etc.)
As I said, this is obvious, and it doesn’t work very well in my experience for two reasons:
- You have to pick a goal that is actually something you will do. If you’re spending 3-4 hours on social media throughout your day, trying to cut down to 15 minutes/day is not going to work unless you have incredible self-discipline. Which, face it, you probably don’t because otherwise you wouldn’t be spending 3-4 hours on Facebook daily. I personally don’t have incredible self-discipline, so I’m aiming for 30 minutes, 2x/day for Facebook and 10 minutes daily for Twitter. After I get my work done. (And remember to set that timer. There’s one in your smartphone. It’s smart like that.)And after you’ve turned off your push notifications (or whatever they’re called on your phone, and if you manage Facebook pages, turn off the notifications on your Pages app as well), the next step is to let your close friends know that you aren’t going to get on Facebook and Twitter until the evening, so if they really want to contact you, send a text message. Or make a phone call. Weird, I know.
- You probably have a smartphone, and it LOVES to let you know about any changes to your social media accounts. For example, I have an iPhone that sends me PUSH notifications whenever anything happens on my Facebook and Twitter. I don’t even think about them. Most of us don’t. Did you know you can turn these off? It’s in your phone settings. After you’ve decided how long you want to spend on social media, go to your settings and turn off your notifications (if you manage Facebook pages, turn off the notifications on your Pages app as well). It will feel like a kick in the gut when you do this. You’ll glance at your phone, wondering if someone has sent you a message that is eagerly awaiting your response. Remind yourself that a few hours won’t make a difference. Unless you’re a freelance bomb disarming specialist whose clients contact you through Facebook and Twitter, in which case, keep those notifications on.
Step 3: Stick to your plan for a minimum of 28 days (or 1 month if that’s easier to remember). It takes 28 days to make/break a habit. Saying you’ll stop something for a week is easy, but after the week is done, you’ll just go back to your old ways. Pick a month when you are not having major life changes like moving, major house construction or traveling, because that’s not your norm, and you are trying to reset your norm. Also, if you can, start in the spring. The weather is nice so you’ll want to go outside. For example, as I’m going to be traveling for the next month, I’ll start resetting my relationship with social media after I get back from my trip. As a bonus, it will be spring. I did turn off those push notifications though.
Step 4: Clear your cookies and any remembered passwords for your Facebook and Twitter on your computer. It’s easy to just click okay if you go to the page, which you will do automatically for the first few days, but if you have to type it in you’ll at least have to pay attention to what you’re doing.
Step 5: Find something else to do. This is the time to take that art class or start that exercise regime or dance class or do ANYTHING that will keep you out of the face of temptation. I can also say, a major reason why I waste time (there’s a difference between spending time and wasting time) on social media is because I have some spare time. Then that free moment turns into an hour where I really did want to get something else done (like writing,) but the social media just got out of hand. So sign up for a class. Volunteer. Get out of the house. Or give yourself a writing goal, and turn off your web browser while you’re working on it. There’s software you can get to help with this, if you don’t trust yourself, or you can always go to a café and not ask for their WIFI password.
BONUS: Keep your social media posts/shares away from subjects that inspire intense debate that you then have to moderate. For example, in the past week, I’ve made the mistake of sharing a post that inspired a debate on religion in science education and another that inspired a debate on gay activism and religion. I have deep, passionate stances on these subjects. So do all of my friends. They don’t all agree, and once the sparks start flying, everyone has to express themselves. I have never met anyone who has changed her political or religious views based on a Facebook or Twitter thread, but such conversations will take you hours into the night before all parties just agree to disagree. Or stalks off in a virtual huff. So if you’re trying to limit your time on social media, don’t start the conversation. And don’t jump in on someone else’s controversial thread, no matter how much you disagree with the other parties involved. This is incredibly difficult if you are an activist type, but if your goal is actual change, quit shouting into the echo-box and instead take 5 minutes and give $5 to an organization that supports your views. That will save you hours of useless social media debate and maybe even accomplish something. In the words of the famous rap artist, DMX, “Don’t start nothing, it won’t be nothing. You wanna start something, it’s gon be something.”
Like with any addiction, you are going to suffer stress and withdrawal symptoms from kicking your social media addiction. You might fall off of the wagon. Forgive yourself and try again. You can get yourself to the level of social media usage that fits ideally into your life. Or at least to a point where social media isn’t controlling your life. Trust me, if you don’t pick up these skills now, how are you going to handle your internet brain-node in the future?