By Sierra Aceto

We’ve heard it all before: our phones are addicting, social media is addicting, the repititious “liking” of photos and posts and comments and what-have-you is, yes, addicting.

But is it all really just a self-destructive escape from whatever stresses we’re avoiding in the “real” world? Is there a line between a safe and toxic amount of scrolling, and if so, where exactly is that line?

No matter the wide array of effects social media has on our lives, it will most likely continue to be an indispensable tool to connect people from all around the world.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that it can be a detrimental and unhealthy habit to retreat behind the screen rather than stay present.

Time ticking away

Adults in the United States were predicted to be spending around 3 hours and 35 minutes on their phones every day in 2018, according to eMarketer. That’s an annual increase of more than 11 minutes.

That extra time is spent consuming, scrolling, searching and distracting ourselves on our devices. Yet, we often wish we had more time left in the day to “get stuff done.” In reality, that extra time we wish for is often in that parallel universe where we spend a little less time mindlessly scrolling and a little more time pursuing our goals, passions and dreams.

But still, there seems to be an ever-growing pressure to remain connected, updated and involved with our online worlds. Has FOMO transitioned from the fear of missing out on real-life experiences to the fear of missing out on online interactions?

Maybe our compulsion to comment is overriding our desperation to be invited out into experiences we’ve been told we should enjoy.

The dreaded highlight reel

Everyone knows that editing happens. It started with filters. Then shifting the brightness or the saturation became the norm. Now, anything resembling Photoshop and its many, many editing functions probably has an app of its own.

We ask our friends to take tens, even hundreds of pictures, so we can keep adjusting for the perfect “candid” photo to post (not without going through its own operation of editing, of course). The #nofilter posts have become increasingly sparse, limited to the occasional sunset photo from a far-off vacation.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to live up to the perfect social media lives of celebrities and so-called “influencers.” Yet, we continue to scroll, to infatuate ourselves with these lives that aren’t ours, ultimately resulting in hours of torment and self-criticism every day. And somehow we still try to call it relaxing, taking a break or winding down.

The truth is, these online interactions, even with those users trying to break up the overly curated posts with some semblance of reality, are nothing like the genuinity of human interaction. Sharing a smile, a hug or a conversation with someone, with steady bouts of uninterrupted attention at that, has no comparison.

And this is coming from a person who has had her fair share of struggles with social anxiety. Nothing makes me feel quite more at ease than an authentic, in-person interaction lacking the pressures of performing through a social media platform.

If you want to reel back

What did you do before you had a device readily available to provide you with entertainment? Did you read? Run? Paint? Build? Cook? If you can’t remember the last time you spent some downtime doing a hobby you actually enjoy (without your phone), it might be time to take a break.

But being surrounded by other people on their phones all the time can make us itch to reconnect. So, maybe don’t delete all your social apps right away. Instead, take breaks.

If you have a smartphone, try out the “Do Not Disturb” and “Screen Time” functions. While it’s common knowledge that Do Not Disturb comes in handy while in class or a meeting, you can also set it to begin and end during certain time intervals (say, while you’re falling asleep and don’t need to be interrupted by a lit up screen every other minute).

In addition to tracking your screen time and alerting you of your averages each week, it also allows you to set time limits on specific apps and will remind you when your allotted time is up.

By implementing small steps like these, you can become more aware of the immense block of time social media can detract from your day. While it may feel like a minute here and a second there, all that time adds up.

Whether or not you’ve found excessive social media consumption to be detrimental to your mental health or not, we could all use a break. Think of all the things you could be doing with that time. Instead of redundantly double-tapping on someone’s else’s life, why not try living your own?

Hopefully you’ll find it’s pretty damn neat, no filter needed.