In August of 2016 I came to a crossroads in my social media use. We were in the last few months of what is likely the most contentious presidential election in American history, families were dividing along party lines, it seemed like everyone in the entire world was mad and wanted to tell everyone else about it all the time. It even felt like I was being attacked by people whose views I agreed with. If someone posts a political or social meme on facebook, and you don’t like or share, do you even agree? I’d had enough, so I stepped away.
My internet usage has ebbed and flowed in the intervening years – I started a dog Instagram but found myself being increasingly sucked into the comparison machine amongst dog owners I’d never met. That seemed unhealthy. I run Instagram and Facebook accounts for my job and often found myself at the butt end of grievances as the nameless, faceless person behind the account. I’ve also been able to watch the children of my friends in Sweden grow up – kids I haven’t yet had the chance to meet but feel like I know, and a GoFundMe set up by a high school friend and shared amongst many networks on Social Media has helped my sister stay on her feet after she lost her job and her husband in the same six month period.
Social media is neither good, nor is it bad. It is, however, a bottomless pit of distraction that is engineered to suck away all of your free time if you let it. Because of a mix of murky marketing that suggests that social media use is as normal as breathing, and the “any benefit” approach of looking at it (if there is any benefit, that must be enough benefit to keep using the tool), I had forgotten that social media is just a thing – a group of tools that can help or hinder depending on how they’re used. We have the ability to decide how we want to live our lives and then see where, or even if, network tools fit into those plans.
The final project for my first graduate level course was a white paper and I chose to discuss how the rise of personal technology and our constant connection through network tools may be negatively affecting our ability to live a good life. I posit that the answer to reclaiming our lives is not to become digital puritans, swearing off all apps and network tools, but to make conscious decisions about how we decide to engage with technology, guided by the goals that we set for our lives.
So if your main goal in life is to be constantly angry about the government, only see one type of news curated by algorithms which decide what it thinks you’re interested in, fall victim to a catfishing scheme, and lose hours of your life to clickbait, go ahead and keep choosing convenience and connectivity. If you want to reclaim your time through practicing critical use of technology – read on.