Newsmax reports that the use of social media has skyrocketed from 7 percent of American adults in 2005 to 65 percent in 2015. For those in the 18-29 age range, the increase is larger, from 12 percent to a whopping 90 percent. But while an increase in social media usage is hardly surprising, the number of people who just can’t tear themselves away is stark: Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say they are checking their emails, texts, or social media accounts constantly.
The majority of articles I have read on the subject, particularly at psychologytoday.com (no surprise, of course), take it for granted that Donald Trump is responsible for the social media insanity. “If the President of the United States didn’t tweet, would we all be in such a tizzy?” they sniff. Such political bias — under the guise of “psychology” no less — is neither objective nor scientific. It’s not the content of social media so much as the way you handle social media that counts. Are you rational in the way you utilize your phone and computer, or are you constant and compulsive about it?
Note the emphasis on constant checkers. The way you look at technology determines whether your technology runs you, or you run it. How do you think of your iPhone, iPad, or Android? Do you view it like a friend or family member calling you? Are these little machines like a person — a very needy one, constantly inviting you to give it your attention?
When, whether and how much to check your computer is your call. This has to be your operating premise if you’re to have a healthy relationship with your technology. In order to stick, healthy habits must become subconscious as well as conscious. You do that by working at it until it becomes a habit. Ask yourself, “What are the pros and cons of looking at my phone right now? What are the pros and cons of having my phone near me while, say, watching a movie or having a conversation with friends?” The point is: You have choices. That might be obvious, but if you make your technology too accessible and too available, you’ll find you often make the wrong choices. The spiral down into constant, compulsive “checking” will be almost inevitable.
People are always ready to pass the blame. People who hate Donald Trump blame social media toxicity on him. It's just more of the same political bias. People who dislike technology will blame it on technology. It's an anti-technology bias. The world is full (or more accurately, perhaps, about half full) of people who detest freedom and have a compulsive desire to control others. I wonder if we’ll get to the point where laws curtail smartphone use? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised, given that we have regulations controlling just about every other behavior imaginable.
The best advice I have to offer you? Learn to separate yourself from your phone. When we only had personal computers, it was impossible to carry those heavy machines around with us. We waited until we were at home or in the office to log on. I’m not knocking the convenience of today’s smartphones, but I am saying you do have the choice to separate yourself from them; to place them in a different room and to shift your consciousness to other things.
The choice always was and always will be yours. You exercise options subconsciously every moment of the day, and each and every one of those decisions has consequences. Instead of trying to run away from that fact, embrace it and start making your life better — right now. Social media cannot make you crazy, but your failure to maintain perspective and focus on other values in life can. Don’t let that happen!
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author with a private practice in coastal Delaware. He is the author of “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (and How to Tell the Difference).” For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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