Monday, March 14, 2016

Social media and mindfulness

We've landed in a peculiar place when it comes to our engagement with each other through social media.  The same technology that bring us together instantaneously can also keep us from direct social interactions, if only by sucking up our free time.

I experienced a Facebook "time suck" this weekend.  On Sunday, after having a blissful weekend spending time with friends and loved ones, cooking, enjoying the outdoors, and feeling elated, I felt a strange tugging sensation in my pocket.  My phone suddenly became very heavy, I could feel my brain yearning for a fix.  A quick check-in on Facebook or Instagram would help, I thought.  And then nearly 2-hours later I realized that I was feeling simultaneously angry, happy, informed, and perplexed as a result of a "quick check-in."  Why did I allow myself to spend so much time flipping through a feed when there are so many more things I truly wanted to do?

Most of all, I wished I had the time back.  We set our clocks forward for Spring the same day so the time flashing through feeds on my phone felt particularly wasted.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think social media is a bad thing.  It can be a powerful planning tool, useful for marketing, connecting ideas, discovering news about the world and friends, and more.  Yet as I reflect on my recent engagement with Facebook in particular, I started to wonder whether feasting on my social feed was a nurturing habit or one that left me feeling more empty and distant from the people and things I really want to engage with.

Somewhat ironically I started to think about an article I discovered a long time ago in my social feed, an article from Fast Company magazine.  It was about how thinking like a scientist can be one of the most powerful tools for self-improvement.  So I came up with a hypothesis:  What if I take regular sabbaticals from social media?  Could I still use social media in a healthy way but disconnect from the negative?  I am usually pretty good about putting away when phone when it clearly would be a distraction from being in the moment.  Many of us have been here before, exemplified by this video.  Having been on the receiving end of trying to be with people who are not fully there, I make it a point to turn off devices regularly.  So maybe I could try a new tactic to prevent the feeling that I need to check-in after short breaks.  How could I replace the need for getting a "fix" from my feed.

Setting rules to dictate behaviors would not be an effective strategy for me.  But I do want to design some experiments to figure out how I can reclaim my identity and purpose with the way I interact with social media.  If my purpose is to catch up on news, I can try avoiding the "news feed."  Over time the news feed has morphed from a fun cornucopia of thoughts from friends into a corporate sponsored advertisement for selling images and political ideas.  Probably not the healthiest thing to indulge in.  What if I were to curate my feed to only reliable sources of topics?  

Better yet, what if I stop relying on Facebook to be informed of my friends' lives.  I could purposefully unfollow people that are close to me.  That would mean if I want to check in...guess what, I'd have to actually interact with THEM rather than my feed.  Thank you Ayami Yamamichi for the mindfulness tip.

Another way to take back control, suggested by my Ayami, is to limit personal sharing on social media if the purpose is to feed the ego.  At first I thought that would be pretty much every personal post, almost by definition, it's going to come from wanting to share who I am.  But I think it's a powerful tactic to limit oversharing.  If I'm going to share something, the purpose should be something greater than to stoke my ego.  If the post is of service to others, is truly about sharing without regard to the ego, perhaps those are the posts worth sharing.

What are some ways that you stay empowered and keep a healthy relationship with social media?