Every day I read another article that reaffirms my gut sense that something is rotten in today’s digital and social media landscape.
- Our political discourse and news coverage is becoming more polarized, sensationalized, and even violent.
- People are increasingly using their devices as tools to dissociate from the cumulative trauma of two years of a pandemic.
- Misinformation and disinformation are spreading like wildfire.
- People are struggling to find meaning and purpose, turning to conspiracy theories, new age spiritualism, magic, and propaganda.
- Today’s children, (who are both experimental guinea pigs and the forgotten grievers of the pandemic) have gone further down the Internet rabbit hole than any generation in history, DOUBLING their screen time.
“Our social dilemma has deepened, not lessened, as the plague has dragged on. The fitfulness and distraction and addiction of online life have metastasized just as actual living-in-real-life has evaporated. What else has there been to do? Where else to go but into the virtual chambers of mass distraction, rage and dislocation?…
The core activities that help us become functional citizens and happy humans — the daily physical interaction with the actual faces and bodies of other people, dialogue and conversation, laughter and surprise and the practice of self-restraint — have been winnowed. We have less sex and watch more porn; we have more “friends” but fewer friendships; we marry less and have fewer children. We turn inward before we turn outward in every spare moment we have, gazing into the black mirror, alone together.”
It almost makes one a little nostalgic for the days when our biggest concern was Blackberry thumb.
Even if you don’t believe things are quite that bad, you have to admit things aren’t exactly great right now. Most people I talk to admit that their current relationship with digital/social media is a little rotten, interfering in some way with their health and happiness.
This is a complex problem to solve, (even Sullivan isn’t sure of the answer.) But there ARE things you can do today to start improving the situation…
1. Respect the moment
Even if you are not, or have not, been affected by the pandemic or politics the last few years, the fact remains that we are currently in a history-making moment, a time of great shifting, change, upheaval, death, and yes, trauma.
Many people who would normally be O.K. are, with good reason, struggling right now and acting out in unhealthy ways. We see evidence of that in…
- More people freaking out or becoming violent in public
- An increase in crime, domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse
- An increase in people using chemicals like alcohol or opioids to dissociate from reality
- An increase in people using screen time (i.e. binging TV, online porn, gaming, etc.) to dissociate from reality
If things feel crazy right now, that’s because they ARE crazy. This is not a typical time, so don’t be alarmed if you or someone you know is behaving atypically. That doesn’t signal we’re entering a dystopia, but it does signal that we’re in a unique situation that deserves to be recognized, honored, and handled tenderly.
2. Give Yourself a Break
If you are struggling with your relationship with digital or social media right now, recognize that this is not a personal failing on your part.
The second we went into lockdown, media companies queued up content for you to binge. New orgs capitalized on your fear and confusion with fast and furious (sensationalized) headlines. You were likely suddenly forced to work, socialize and be productive on the very same devices you’ve historically used to mindlessly numb yourself out.
This was not a great setup for establishing healthy boundaries.
It’s important to remember that tech companies’ goals for your tech use are likely at odds with your own. They want you to continue to lose time in their tools. (For example, according to the Facebook Papers, Instagram’s goal for your kids is to spend 3-4 hours of their day on their platform.)
Can you imagine how hard it would be to stop smoking if cigarettes sent you notifications on your phone all day on top of rewiring your brain for that addiction? So if change feels hard right now, that’s normal and to be expected.
3. Start Small and Gentle
Changing your relationship with digital media or social media is not an all or nothing proposition. No one is asking you to improve the tone of the Internet, bring opposing sides together in a big hug, and get us down to zero carbon emissions worldwide.
Just start with making a single micro change that empowers you to be more mindful, present, and in the driver’s seat. Maybe that means…
- Not looking at your phone while driving, eating, or on the toilet
- Giving yourself a time allowance for nighttime Internet scrolling (and installing an app to help you police it)
- Turning off any annoying or unhelpful notifications
Remember, once upon a time we smoked everywhere. Then, one day someone said, “Hey, maybe let’s not smoke in hospitals. Would that be cool?” And some people were very much NOT cool with that idea. But, over time, society shifted its stance on that issue and many others.
I believe the same thing will happen with some of our unhealthiest tech habits.
4. Buckle Up
Changing habits, making boundaries, and reclaiming your time from tools that are backed by billions of dollars will not happen overnight. You’re playing the long game here. But, you know what? It’s worth it.
Being this disassociated from reality, this polarized, this fearful and angry is not sustainable. Something has to give, and it shouldn’t be your sanity, health, and wellness.
You cannot predict or prevent what happens next, but you can control how you respond to it. Start by making small choices that…
- Orient yourself toward truth and kindness
- Help you remain emotionally present for your friends and family
- Reclaim your time and peace of mind
A time of great change can also be a time for transformation. This is your moment.