Social Media: Push Away To Draw Closer

By Daniel Bobinski

Any more, you look around and you see people looking down. Not emotionally down, but physically looking down. They’re looking down at electronic devices. And these days it’s not just teens, but every age group. They’re checking their Instagram. Or Qzone or Facebook. Or LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, or Google+. Sorry if I missed your favorite social network, but you get the idea. Too many people are missing out on real life in exchange for a virtual life.

Connecting with others on social media certainly has its benefits. But recent studies are showing that reducing (or eliminating) social media use also has significant benefits, such as improved interpersonal relationships, better sleep, and — imagine this — more exercise. There’s even evidence showing that reducing or eliminating social media use correlates to reduced anxiety levels.

I’d like you to consider the unique perspective of Jason Zook. Writing on his blog, Wandering Aimfully, Zook says that after six years of heavy social media use, he knew he needed a break. Zook took a radical step: he went on a self-imposed cold-turkey social media “detox.” And, for our benefit, kept a journal of his thoughts and experiences. Here’s some excerpts from day one:

All notifications were turned off. All apps were removed. And I felt an immediate feeling of freedom living without social media …. I had spent 30 minutes answering emails. One of my first realizations was just how much time can be wasted browsing social networks without knowing it. I could feel myself wanting to sneak a peek at Facebook, so I decided to get up from my desk and run an errand ….

You’d think getting in a car would be an escape from social media and technology, but most of us don’t even realize how much we’re checking things while driving. I probably glanced down at my phone 20 times during the course of an eight-minute drive. Then I hit a stoplight. Like a drug addict reaching for his/her fix, I scooped my phone up from the cupholder and swiped it open. It wasn’t until I was staring at a barren Home screen, devoid of red notification icons, that I realized what I was doing. I closed the phone and put it back in the cupholder. As I moved my gaze from the center console to the front windshield I took notice of how beautiful a day it was. Not a single cloud in the sky and the trees on the sides of the road slowly swaying back and forth in a cool Florida breeze. I rolled down the windows and took the moment of beauty in, completely understanding how often I take for granted amazing weather and a moment of stillness.

As Zook had to re-learn, there’s virtual life, and there’s real life.

One common phrase that’s now associated with social media is “the fear of missing out,” or FOMO. It’s what drives people to check their device during face-to-face conversations if a message alert sounds. To the person checking the alert, it’s not an interruption, it’s the possibility for a more interesting “a-ha” piece of news — but there’s no way of knowing until they check.

Or maybe there is no alert. Maybe the conversation around us is just in a lull, so we pick up our device and start scrolling, thinking that we’ll find a more interesting, more exciting piece of news going on somewhere else. After all, there’s a whole world of exciting events and people out there and if we just keep scrolling, perhaps we will feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.

Except we won’t be.

Our family and friends are sitting right there, wishing we would be talking with them. They are longing for us to be focusing on their thoughts and feelings. They are wanting us to hear them talk about their day. They are part of the reality that is right in front of us. They are the people who are truly connected to us. They are part of our real life.

Dr. Daria Kuss is a Chartered Psychologist, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and a member of the Cyberpsychology Group at Nottingham Trent University in England. Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Kuss says there are six simple questions to ask yourself to see if you are at risk of developing an addiction to social media. They are:

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?

Do you feel urges to use social media more and more?

Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?

Do you often try to reduce your use of social media without success?

Do you become restless or troubled if you are unable to use social media?

Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job or studies?

Dr. Kuss goes on to say that if you answer yes to all six questions, then you may have, or may be developing, an addiction to social media.

In my own life, I found myself influenced more and more by the “fear of missing out.” The big, exciting world had so many events that seemed more exciting than the people and events going on 30 feet around me.

Except they weren’t.

They were only virtual. It is my family and friends in the room with me who are real. I found I had to push the devices away. Only then could I draw closer again to people around me.

Social media has its place, but the research is coming in. Push the devices away more often, and you’ll draw closer to the people around you.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a certified behavioral analyst, a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. He loves teaching teams and individuals how to use Emotional Intelligence, and his videos and blogs on that topic appear regularly at www.eqfactor.net. Reach him at daniel@eqfactor.net or (208) 375-7606.

Idaho Family Magazine