Social Media Addiction: The Millennial Cigarette

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My name is Sarah, and I am addicted to social media. I am 23 years old.

This article is going to be a cumulative post documenting the most dangerous habit I partake in- social media overuse.

I do not smoke, I do not drink alcohol, and I do not eat an excess of sugary foods. I do not have a sweet tooth, and I have never taken any drugs other than ones prescribed for me by a Doctor.

The one and only thing I am addicted to is scrolling through my f*cking phone.

Before I get into this foray, let’s properly define what an addiction really is.

Addiction is repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.”

For this experiment, I have spent 5 days tracking my social media usage by how many times I check my phone and the amount of total time per day I dedicate to it. I have tracked this by taking notes, but also by the ‘Usage’ feature on my iPhone. Both of these tools will help me understand how many hours per day I am on my phone looking at social media.

I check my phone on average, 9 times per hour and cycle through three applications: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I average 15 hours per week total on social media, with an average of 5 hours on Instagram alone. My daily average of social media usage was just over 2.5 hours. I picked my phone up to check it over 73 times a day on a seven day average. Occasionally I will slide through Pinterest, although I tend only to look there if I’m on a particular search for something, which isn’t all that often. To create a contrast, iMessage was only about 2 hours per week, which I expected to be the biggest contributor to my usage.

Acquiring Data:

Before I can go on to reduce my usage, I first needed to observe my behaviour. Since we’re focusing on social media, or as my phone politely calls it, Social Networking, I will not count things like text messages and emails. For this experiment and treatment, we are only focused on Social Networking- Twitter, Facebook, and the biggest culprit- Instagram.

My day with social media looks like this:

Wake up, immediately check Instagram and Twitter. Look at Facebook while going to the bathroom. Scroll through Instagram while I’m making my coffee. Get ready for work and school with some music in the background. Sit in car and scroll though Instagram while it’s heating up. Drive to work or school listening to music or an audiobook. Immediately check Instagram once I am parked. If I’m in a lecture I won’t check my phone, and if I’m at work I will periodically check my phone between tasks or on my breaks. Fast forward to home time, which is where things begin to get toxic. I will eat dinner, and then after dinner will find myself on the couch endlessly scrolling through my phone until I fall asleep there. I will sleep for two hours, then wake up to check my phone again. I get up, groggy with half my evening gone and start doing something. Then I will repeat the process of going between a task and checking my phone until bed. My boyfriend and I will watch one episode of a show of choice, and then before I finally fall asleep I will scroll through all my social media channels one last time before I finally close my eyes.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I’ve logged out of all my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. This is what happened.

Observations

I have placed my social media apps deep into my phone in the back of a folder filled with apps. I’ve logged out of everything. I’m going for it cold turkey, and making it as difficult as possible to access my apps. I decided not to delete them entirely because I wanted to try and exercise some form of self control in my experiment.

Day One:

Fresh start on day one had me feeling very motivated. I did however have to figure out what else to do with my spare time. That 15 odd hours a week is quite a lot, enough to be considered a part time job, so I needed to figure out how to prevent myself from failing in the future. I downloaded another audiobook, and started doing things that prevented me from looking at my phone (or even having it in my hand for that matter). Quickly, I noticed my anxiety begin to build, although I already had less feelings of darkness and doom.

Day Two:

I’m shocked that it’s taken less than 24 hours for me to feel like I’m missing something. I constantly feel like there’s something I need to be doing- something that I’ve forgotten perhaps. I kindly acknowledged those feelings and pushed on. After reading Marie Kondo’s book on the KonMari method, I’ve been using this new found surge of anxiety and boredom to reshape my life entirely. I’ve also noticed that I have more energy. I allowed myself a cumulative total of one hour doing things like checking email, perusing Twitter and looking for some new furniture on Wayfair. To my surprise, not only did I have more energy, but I was able to fall asleep at a reasonable hour. I’m no insomniac and can pretty much sleep on command, but I noticed that I fell into a much deeper sleep. Instead of my normal sleep time which is around 1:00 am, I found myself unable to keep my eyes open past 11:00 pm.

Day Three:

I’ve gone through all my books, clothes and komono (miscellany) and detoxed any and all possessions that do not bring me joy, per the KonMari method. My relationship has improved, I still have a massive surge of energy and I’m sleeping better. At this point I’ve read one and a half books, wrote one article, finished writing a song and created a ton of art. I’m up to date on my readings, had time to watch an episode or two of Modern Family in-between tasks and I’ve completely reorganized my kitchen and pantry. I have no idea how long this surge is going to last. I’m trying not to think about it, but I can’t help but wonder when I’m going to lose motivation and crash again. I’m trying to keep those thoughts out of my head. I’ve been bored between tasks but I’ve just tried to do one small thing at a time like folding laundry, taking the dog outside for a bit, or reading articles here on Medium.

Seven Days Later

I tried to find a Spongebob Squarepants time elapsing blurb saying “seven days later” but I couldn’t find it so there goes my nostalgic reference…

I have done more in the last seven days to better my life than I’ve done in the last three years. I am not kidding here. At day seven, I’ve slowly integrated Twitter and Facebook back into my routine with a strict 15 min daily limit set from my phone. I caved and signed into Instagram once because a fan of my music sent me a kind direct message I wanted to answer promptly, but then I logged out immediately after responding. I feel brighter, more focused and happier. I’m not focused on how many people liked my photo or comparing myself to other people and many aspects of my pre-instagram life have returned.

One: I have inspiration again. The real world is beautiful once more.

I used to be lost in such a daze over likes, and aesthetics and what everyone else was doing that I completely tuned out the beauty of the world. I lost inspiration, couldn’t write and felt like the world was lacklustre. Colours are brighter, the sun feels warmer and I feel excited when I wake up in the morning.

Two: My attention span for conversation has increased tenfold.

I’m a talker, but during the depths of my Instagram addiction, I struggled to converse with people. In all honesty, I was just waiting for it to be over so I could go back to my endless scrolling and liking. I would even go as far as scroll and tap while I was having a conversation, which is totally rude and disrespectful to the person I’m talking to. But I needed that fix… I needed to see the likes and whether or not people liked what I was doing. I needed to be plugged in. Now I enjoy my conversations so much more. I listen more deeply. I engage in asking more thoughtful questions.

Three: The person I wished I was and the person I am today are becoming one

Six months ago I was in a huge rut, wishing I was this super organized and enthusiastic about life. There was the person I wanted to be in my imagination that I longed to be, and the shell of the person I was. I wanted so badly to reach my potential and even have the will to try and get there, but instead of taking steps every day, I would retreat to my bed or the couch to scroll through Instagram some more to numb my sense of emptiness.

Now my thoughts are clear again. I can set reasonable goals outside of the internet in a way that makes me feel proud of even the smallest steps I take. I want to organize, work harder and read more. I’m excited about life again.

What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Social Media:

Now the magical question: Sarah, what the hell have you been doing in the last seven days instead of scrolling for 16 hours a day?

One: The Konmari Method

I read the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it changed my entire outlook on material objects in my life. I won’t ramble on about that here. You can read more about that experience here where I documented my experience.

Two: Books books books

I’ve rekindled my love for books and I’ve been reading constantly. Whether that be here on Medium, articles, books and my more recent love of Audiobooks, I have sparked my joy for reading once again.

Three: TALKING

WOW! Groundbreaking, Sarah. You’ve been talking more. How wonderful. Seriously though, I’ve been engaging in more thoughtful conversations with people around me. Granted some of my friends live at a distance so it’s text message or messenger, but even at home I want to talk more with my Boyfriend and my Mom.

Four: Music and Art

As a musician, I’ve been blossoming. Ideas are coming at me in all directions, unlike the normal blank I would draw on a daily basis. I want to immerse myself into new music and new styles. I’m brainstorming and creating makeup looks (that I haven’t been posting to Instagram) that are making me feel really accomplished. I can focus in on my technique without giving a crap how many people will double tap. I have better, deeper concepts for music and art that are making me even more passionate. It’s as if the switch clicked back on again and I can create.
Side note: The book by Elizabeth Gilbert titled “Big Magic” helped a lot with this.

Five: Studying

This one was happening regardless of how I spent my free time, but I’ve been studying. I’m a student in a degree program so I have more than enough readings and projects that have been filling my time adequately.

What Happens Next?

Honestly, I have no idea. I’m just focusing on the here and now. I’m not at that phase of careful reintegration yet, but once I do that I’m sure I will find a way to write about it.

Challenge:

I challenge you to check your usage. On iPhone you can look at it through your settings. You’ll be shocked at how much you pickup your phone every day. What did your results say?

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Sarah Saccomanno

Sarah Saccomanno

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UX & UI Designer. Musings about design and life. Twitter: @sarahsaccomanno