Over the past year, I have started to become more deliberate about my tech usage, such as being on my phone, logging onto my computer, and watching TV. The global pandemic has put a lot of restraints on the way we can interact and connect with other people. As a result, some people are upping their social media usage, others are connecting with friends and family over video chats, and some are enjoying diving into other people’s lives via reality TV.
Back in June, I decided to let go of social media altogether, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made for my mental health. Right before I made the switch, I was starting to realize how terrible I felt after being on social media. Scrolling through my feeds, I would find myself deep in comparison or curating pictures of things that didn’t feel true to who I was. It was time to move on.
Why I’m changing my tech habits
In the past, I had taken a few social media breaks or put some boundaries on when and how long I watched TV, and I felt better afterward. But every time, I inevitably went back to social media or my regular TV viewing schedule only to find myself with the same negative feelings a few months later.
Now that I’m many months into truly letting go of social media, it’s prompted me to take a look at the other ways in which I’m using tech in my life. I want to feel present in as many moments as possible. Or I at least want to be in control of when I’m present and when I’m not. I no longer want to mindlessly scroll through social media, shopping sites, or passively let the next Netflix episode play. I want to be intentional about when I use technology and be OK with putting it away or leaving it behind for a few hours, days, or weeks.
I want to be intentional about when I use technology and be OK with putting it away or leaving it behind for a few hours, days, or weeks.
I also find that when I’m using technology way more, I’m more stressed or anxious. I feel like I’m not doing enough, my house isn’t clean enough, or I’m not cooking or working hard enough. All from these seemingly small tech devices.
Tristan Harris, a prior design ethicist at Google, said during his Ted Talk “How a Handful of Tech Companies Control Billions of Minds Every Day,” “every news site, TED, elections, politicians, games, even meditation apps have to compete for one thing, which is our attention, and there’s only so much of it.” The feeling of dividing our attention between several different sites, apps, and notifications can often show up as stress and anxiety.
Here are a few tips that have helped reduce the stress and anxiety I sometimes feel surrounding my social media and tech usage.
1. Let go of the mindlessness
Use social media and all tech with a bit more intention. Rather than checking your phone every five minutes, set aside time to check your notifications and text messages. Or set boundaries on your social media use by saying, for example, that you’ll check social media for 20 minutes while you drink coffee in the morning and while your partner puts the kids to bed.
If you’ve ever found yourself scrolling through Instagram after a while and don’t even remember picking up your phone—that’s OK, we’ve all been there! But letting go of the mindless activity and replacing it with a bit of intentionality may feel good for you.
2. Examine your usage and your feelings
One of the things that brought me to quit social media altogether was realizing that I had stayed on social media for so long just because it was what everyone else was doing. For a while, I hadn’t even examined my own feelings about being on social media that much, texting back and forth so often, or responding to work emails and Slack messages as soon as they came in.
I’ve also been in countless conversations with friends or family where one of us has wished we had what someone else shared on social media or TV. Constant comparisons can steal the fun out of social media, your favorite TV show, or other ways you stay connected. As the quote says, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and that continues to be true in many parts of life. If you notice that you’re feeling worse after using tech in a certain way, that’s a great time to reassess what’s working for you and what no longer is.
Constant comparisons can steal the fun out of social media, your favorite TV show, or other ways you stay connected. … If you notice that you’re feeling worse after using tech in a certain way, that’s a great time to reassess what’s working for you and what no longer is.
Once I started asking myself “How do I feel about … ?” I started to notice a change. I was able to start taking smaller steps towards using tech in a way that did feel right for me. Also, this shift allowed me to release the guilt or pressure I often felt when emails were sitting in my inbox that I couldn’t get to at that moment or my phone was filled with notifications. It may feel good to use social media, frequently engage in group texts, or watch TV after a long day, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if it doesn’t feel right for you, consider making some changes that do.
3. Think about setting an example
The biggest eye-opener for me was when my 18-month-old son picked up my phone, pressed the home button, and started to pretend to swipe. He only learned that from seeing my husband and me doing that a billion times throughout our day on our phones. I’m still learning exactly how I want tech to be used in his life, and I don’t have all the answers, but I know that moment with him and my phone didn’t sit well with me.
We live in a tech-heavy world, and I’m grateful that technology exists so that, for example, kids today can continue their education even amid a global pandemic. There are amazing positives from using technology, but I don’t want my child to rely so heavily on it from such a young age. The only way I can truly put that value in place though is to be an example for him. I have started doing this by putting my phone down, turning off the TV, or closing my computer more often. Instead, I’m trying to read a book, go outside, or just be more present with my family and hope it rubs off on him.
I know technology will be a part of all of our lives likely forever—I’m writing this very article on a computer! My biggest hope though is that we can be more intentional about how often we use tech so that it can enhance our lives in a better, more positive way.