This question has been going around in my head for quite a while now, and of course the articles that discuss social media or SM abound on most of our timelines at the moment. The latest being this one that talks about how even the folks who created a lot of the currently popular features on Facebook and Twitter and the like, didn't see the far-reaching impacts they might have.
Here are my 2 cents on how I make the best of things, as they are today.
Can Social Media be a waste of time and keep us away from other important tasks? Yes.
Can it lead to mood-shifts and disenchantment with the way things are? Yes.
Can it sometimes mean a dangerous level of over-sharing details of our lives? Yes, very much so.
Does it offer quite a few positives including getting and staying in touch with friends and family, and learning about the joys and triumphs in others' lives? Also a yes.
Does it give me a chance to share my happiness? Yes it absolutely does!
The challenge is about how to balance those scary first few questions with the latter more positive impacts that SM has had in most of our lives. I think the answer is a simple one. Self-regulation. Knowing when to indulge and when to stop. Sounds like most "vices" doesn't it? And that's how I see it. Maybe it affects some others much more strongly than it does me, and in that case, my thoughts below might not connect, but to the others, do read on and let me know what you think.
The world around is us constantly changing.
Do my children have an easier time with their schoolwork, and the required research, thanks to the Internet? Yes.
Does that give me more responsibility to keep them safe in the big bad online world? Yes!!
What is it that works?
A total ban except for when I can look over their shoulder? Obviously not!
It needs to be a balance of regulating time spent online and using controls (and open communication with them, which is vastly underrated as far as I'm concerned) to keep them safe.
In the same way, I try to look at social media as something that's here to stay. It's been too much of a success for it to be eliminated from our lives anytime soon. We just have to figure out how to make the best of it. Here are some strategies that have helped me stay connected, and still stay (reasonably) untouched and sane.
1. Unplug regularly: To me, this means being mindful in my present task, and not checking SM notifications every few minutes. It helps if I'm enjoying that task of course ;)... such as reading a book or cooking something interesting or working out. You can, of course, also set your notifications in a way that make them useful and not intrusive. I usually remove the group post notifications from my timeline, except for small groups where I am active. I dislike typing on my phone (guess that makes me OLD ;)), and this is a huge help in regulating my time spent online as well as what and when I share something.
2. Try to keep an open mind: Do I have political viewpoints? Yes, of course! But SM algorithms tend to throw up articles of "interest" to you, and this depends on what you click on/like etc. So I consciously decided a few months ago, to consume not just views that I'm aligned with, but counter-views as well. Trying to confuse the SM algorithms you might say ;). Of course, I needed to filter out offensive content along the way (including unfollow/unfriend in some cases) but there are a lot of sane articles on all sides, if you take the time to find them. I think this has gone a long way in reducing the doomsday scenario in my mind and made SM a source of News rather than just Controversy.
3. Adapt as needed: It's not like I just instinctively figured out how to handle SM. There were days when I wondered why every article I saw was affecting me so much more than usual. I learnt the hard way to watch out for signs of feeling low (due to health, stress or so many other reasons) and stay away from SM at such times. On the positive side: At times, I know that sharing a picture or article, will bring forth appreciation from friends, which acts as a wonderful pick-me-up and I shamelessly use this aspect of social media as well!
4. Consume more than Share: I don't know if this would work for everyone, but lately I have reduced what I share on SM quite a lot. I also prefer to share more in smaller, closed groups than on my timeline. I consume, read, and process, also trying to access a range of viewpoints as I mentioned above. I rarely (close to never) share my views on public posts by other people or entities, call this cowardly, but it works for me. Very occasionally, when I feel my voice would make a difference, I might venture out of this comfort zone, but it will be only if I'm prepared to engage wholeheartedly with like-minded folks and naysayers too. My friends who are able to fearlessly share your views, kudos to you and I don't know how you do it!!
5. Videos, Videos and more Videos: Most parents (including me) are very careful of what we would let our children view, but we don't apply the same regulation to our own eyes! I think videos are one big reason that people end up spending more time online and here's how I regulate:
- I rarely click on videos on Whatsapp, as I prefer to know what I'm going to view and spend my time on. As those who forward rarely include a preface or description, this helps me stay away from random consumption.
- On Facebook, I disabled the auto play feature nearly as soon as it was offered, partly to do with wasting bandwidth (a habit from the days when we had to pay a fortune for it) and also to do with the same reason of preferring to know what I'm going to view. Not to mention, this helps me stay away from disturbing ones (Side-note: Why do folks share these randomly?!!)
- The suggested videos feature: Do I resist it all the time? No, of course not ;). But I set a time limit, say 10 mins, and try to stop random viewing when that's done.
- Videos with disturbing content - such as accidents for e.g. - I usually pass them by as I know that the visual impact of these is huge and I prefer to read rather than view.
- I don't follow pages that post general video content, however touching or heart-rending these might be. I prefer to watch these when they appear on my timeline anyway due to shares from friends, limiting the temptation to "just click".
Phew.. ok that went on for longer than I thought ;). I guess it's a wee bit scary that a lot of that was off the top of my head :O.
If you're still with me, thanks for reading! Do let me know what you think, and also share about what works for you.