I love social media. I really do.
And yet, despite all of the positive aspects – both personally and professionally – I often wonder if social media is making us fat, lazy and dumb.
In a lot of ways, social media is a lot like junk food – it’s incredibly addicting and much of the content lacks any real value.
As a result, it’s hard to break the habit.
So, we remain fat and happy as we gorge on cat memes, celebrity gossip or the latest viral video.
We snap endless selfies and photos to share with our networks – perfecting our hair and makeup for maximum “likes” – instead of taking in the moment or the people we’re sharing it with.
Instead of reading articles to be informed about the world around us, we violently debate the merits of an issue solely based on the headline.
We’ve lost patience for long form journalism and desire snack-sized content that we can easily devour.
We’re obsessed with Zimbio quizzes that reveal which Avenger, XMen or Harry Potter character we most resemble.
And, the list goes on and on.
Social Media is Actually Making us Dumber
According to a recent study by the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, spending time on social media is actually making us stupid because it supplies an endless stream of answers and insights that don’t require us to think.
This means we’re losing our analytic reasoning skills because we’re reaching a conclusion without having to process the information ourselves. Essentially, we’ve just learned to copy others.
Sure, we could blame smart phones or social media.
But, it’s not the technology.
We’ve conditioned ourselves to fill every moment with noise because we can’t bear time alone with our thoughts or engaging with the people and the world around us.
And, in our efforts to be more connected in the digital world, we’re less connected in the physical one.
Social media and technology CAN be a force for good. I’ve made outstanding friends and business connections thanks to social networks.
It helps me stay in touch with my family and friends who are scattered across the globe.
But, we have to learn to curb our appetite for the junk so we can be better leaders, creators, entrepreneurs, friends and family members.
We have to stop consuming and start creating.
Curb Your Social Media Appetite
I certainly don’t have all of the answers. And, for marketers who spend much of their day on social media like I do, coping with this dilemma is that much harder.
That said, here are some ideas to overcome our addiction to create a healthy, balanced social media diet:
- Turn off notifications. Part of our consumption problem is the endless notifications and dinging on our smart phones. Turn off social media notifications so you’re not tempted to constantly reach for your phone to see what all the fuss is about.
- Quit reaching for your smart phone. Even if you turn off notifications, it’s tempting to constantly reach for your phone to fill the time. This is one I struggle with, but I’m working on getting better about leaving my smart phone in my pocket or purse instead of pulling it out at stoplights or in line at the coffee shop. And, by all means, don’t use your phone in meetings or constantly stare at your phone during events. Instead, use these times to connect with the people around you or observe your surroundings. Be present in the moment. You might be surprised what you learn.
- Limit your use. I’m still working on determining the right mix, but I give myself a few times a day to jump on social channels. And, when I do, I often use timers to prevent it from consuming hours of my day. This helps me be more effective and focused when I use social media.
- Hide the junk. A number of my friends and colleagues have been talking about how they regularly hide content from Buzzfeed or Zimbio from Facebook. That’s one easy way to rid your feed from unwanted stuff. Here’s a guide to help you do that. And, if there are negative people polluting your feed, feel free to hide them too.
- Unplug regularly. A digital cleanse can help you come back refreshed and focused. Author Baratunde Thurston famously left the Internet for 25 days after his book tour and uber-connected life left him feeling frazzled. Even if you can’t go on vacation or a digital sabbatical, you can make it a regular habit to unplug. For instance, I make it a practice to unplug (mostly) on Saturdays. I don’t jump on my computer and I limit how much I use my phone so I can be present with my friends and family.
- Get information offline. As a journalism grad, I might be a bit romantic about paper. But, I think there’s some value from picking up a newspaper or magazine. Instead of worrying about skimming and sharing on social networks, you can actually focus on digesting the information without distractions.
- Swap quantity for quality. Swap books for blog posts. In-depth articles for status updates. Instead of reading everything that comes your way, focus on the articles, videos and books that really matter and will make a difference for you.
I don’t think social media or technology is bad. Far from it, in fact.
But, it turns out you can have too much of a good thing.
What do you think? Will you go on a social media diet?