I am addicted to my phone. And I think I speak for most people around my age when I say that. It’s quite debilitating. I am always looking at it or wanting to look at it. If I’m doing a task other than looking at my phone, it doesn’t take long before that little thought creeps into my head to pick it up. My screen time isn’t that high (I hover at around four hours per day), and I know many other people who spend much more time on their phone, but it still bothers me that this is one of the only things in my life I can’t control.
As I look deeper into my addiction, I realize that the worst parts of it come solely from social media. My thirty minute New York Times newsletter reading each morning isn’t what’s rotting my brain, and it’s certainly not the 16 minutes I spent figuring out the Wordle that’s altering my attention span (and as much as I’m ashamed to admit, many Wordles have taken me much longer).
We all know by now the very outward negative effects of social media. It’s not good to constantly be comparing yourself to others. It affects young people’s mental health and has been related to higher levels of anxiety and depression. Not to mention actual screen time itself is physically bad for us. But I have a feeling that society’s constant use of social media has other subconscious effects that we don’t know about yet. Obviously, the realm of social media is still so new in the grand scheme of things, and it almost feels like our generation is its guinea pig.
So, let me run through what a day on social media looks like for me. I wake up and immediately check my messages. Before reading my news for the day, I quickly check some other social media platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter), especially if I have some notifications. Then maybe after class I scroll through TikTok for a little bit. My 30 minute app limit comes up — I ignore it. Then later on in the day I go to Instagram and look through a bunch of stories, a bunch of posts and of course my explore page. Maybe later I take a scroll through Twitter, and have a few laughs. If I’m bored I hop back on TikTok. Back to Instagram. Let’s try some Snapchat. Back to TikTok. And by nightfall, I’ve accumulated a screen time of close to four hours.
Not only does going back and forth all day between apps exhaust me, but the content I’m consuming is — for lack of better words — mind-numbing. I’m literally not consuming anything meaningful. If you were to ask me at the end of the day something I saw on Instagram or TikTok, I probably couldn’t come up with one thing. The actual action of scrolling through TikTok is, in itself, frightening. I challenge you to one day just scroll really fast through your TikTok and notice all the different sounds, different people and different messages. It’s extremely chaotic and actually not okay. “Saturday Night Live” actually did a skit riffing on this, and instead of being funny, it just kind of made me sick.
Some people like that reality about social media. They like being able to unwind with scrolling. In the moment, I think I’m one of those people, but after the fact, I realize I’m most definitely not. I wrote in a recent “Editor’s Picks” the following sentence:
“We, as humans, should not be seeing all of the things that we do. With social media, we can literally see thousands of people, thousands of things and worst of all, thousands of different takes/opinions on a daily basis.”
This is exactly what I think is the unseen curse of social media consumption. And it’s staring at us directly in the face. We see far too much. We know far too much about far too many things. I’m risking sounding hyperbolic, but we should go back to being a little bit ignorant about things. Or, and hear me out, it might be better if we act more seriously about educating ourselves on a small number of topics rather than taking in little bits of information online about a large number of topics.
Humans were not built to know everything, all the time. We just weren’t. But in this digital world, so much is being thrown at us that we feel obligated to know it all. We feel obligated to simultaneously watch discourse on the male gaze, and then a video of a random girl picking out an outfit and then watch a person tell a hyper-specific story about their life and then try to generalize it by giving you their therapist's hyper-specific advice. Do you see what I mean? I could’ve lived my life just as pleasantly— if not better— without seeing those videos.
And it’s not just TikTok. Twitter users feel high and mighty and want to share their every opinion all the time. Instagram is all fake, but we knew that (and don’t believe the casual posters who do photo dumps— I’m one of those people and there’s nothing casual about anything I’ve done online). Before social media, people would interact with others that they saw in person, and that was it. They would have their circle and that’s it. They wouldn’t be constantly inundated with the lives of people they don’t know. And they certainly wouldn’t choose to do that, like we do.
I’m not sure what the answer is to this predicament. I’d like to say it’s getting off your phone, but we all know that’s unrealistic. I wrote this whole article and will probably doom scroll afterwards. The only thing that gives me some sort of peace is that I recognize this, and always keep it in the back of my mind when I use social media. Everytime I go on my phone I try to remember that everything I’m about to look at is not natural for a human to see and know. It’s a losing battle, honestly, but I’m making progress one minute less of screen time at a time.