Erica Barker

The word addiction can mean different things to many people but one thing is for certain — addiction can cause harm regardless if it is a substance or an activity.  

Social media has taken the world by storm and whether people choose to admit it or not, it can be one of the most damaging addictions out there. People aren’t connecting face to face anymore. It is through a computer screen, a tablet or the latest and greatest cellular device.  

Social media has its place if used correctly. It is an amazing network and marketing tool for business and organizations. It is a fast way to disseminate a lot of information quickly to special groups and contact lists. Get real-time news instantly and connect with long-distance friends and relatives whom you don’t get to see on a regular basis by sending family photos and digital event invitations.  

It is a wonderful tool to connect with friends and keep in touch with relatives, but can be used as a platform for bullying, exploitation, cyberstalking and a false sense of reality. Social media is also a gathering place for spineless minds that think that they can change the world by sitting behind a keyboard spouting their opinions. I’ve gotten “bullied” multiple times on public pages and in private messages. Sometimes it is not a nice place to spend your time.

Fakebook … I mean, FACEbook. How many people do you know (I mean really know) actually live the life they portray on Facebook or any social media platform for that matter? You see the photos of the house renovations, the brand new cars, the happy family pictures and the lavish vacations, but take off the rose-colored glasses and you have illness, family feuds, depression, insecurity, jealousy, and skewed perceptions.  Let’s be real here, thanks to Snapchat filters everyone looks good when they get up in the morning.  

The average person spends two hours on social media per day, according to some studies.

Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram take up space in my phone as social media platforms that I have used to connect to family, friends and acquaintances from all over the world. I recognize that I have a social media addiction and probably spend more time on it than I need to. I got sucked into the negative drama of other people. I was spending too much time mindlessly scrolling, watching videos, reading articles, and getting physically upset and mentally drained by what was showing up on my newsfeed. I wouldn’t hear conversations around me. The world was passing me by and I had my eyeballs stuck to my phone. Because of this, I deactivated my Facebook page out of frustration, which turned into a brief experiment just to see how I would cope. So, with one click, all 1,400-some “friends” of mine went to Facebook heaven. For a while, at least.

What did I learn? 

The most important thing I learned was that I quickly understood who the people were that wanted to still be connected to me on a more human level. “Do you want to meet for lunch?” “Hey, call me when you get a free moment.” “How was your day?” Those are the types of people that I need in my life. The people who call, text or stop by to ask me how I am doing are the ones who bring me joy and apparently I bring joy to them in return. 

I learned that I don’t miss the complainers, the energy suckers, and the attention seekers. I get more done at home. I sleep better. I spend more quality time with family. I have more face-to-face time with the people that matter the most to me. I like being out of the loop on the latest gossip. The old saying rings true here: Ignorance is bliss.

Through this experiment, I have come to understand that I have the power to choose how I will use social media and other forms of digital communication and the effect that it has on my life. I am on a constant journey of simplifying my life, so here are some ways I plan to put myself on a “social media diet.” 

First of all, I wanted to find out how much time I was actually spending on my phone each day. I downloaded an app called YourHour which tracks my digital usage every time I unlock my phone. It tracks what apps I open and how long I spend on them. I can set limits and get notifications of how much time I have spent on my phone which is time away from more important things.  

Second, I will choose to use social media for three things only. My posts and comments will be positive in nature and surround my work, my family/friends, and my community.  

Lastly, I will be the “gatekeeper” of my social media world, allowing only people, groups and pages that give me joy and purge anything else that creates stress, anxiety or anger.  

After three weeks, I am back on Facebook, but look forward to taking a digital diet every now and then.

One thing is for certain — social media isn’t “social.” What is social about sitting on your couch alone scrolling and sharing cat videos? We all should strive for more face-to-face human interaction with intellectual conversations. 

This quote from the artist Hans Hofmann explains it perfectly: “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”  

Put the phone down and listen to who is speaking to you. 

– Erica Barker is director of health and wellness for the Maquoketa Area Family YMCA, an ACE-certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist. Her email is ebarker@scottcountyfamilyy.org.