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How The Social Dilemma Changed My View on Social Media

Netflix’s documentary, The Social Dilemma, encouraged me to lessen the time I spent on social media. Weeks later, the question is: did these changes stick or did I run straight back to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter? 

What is The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma is a documentary on Netflix that “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking.” Many of the people interviewed were once Big Tech bigwigs.

They include Facebook like co-creator Justin Rosenstein and ex-Pinterest president Tim Kendall. The documentary discussed social media’s effect on politics, mental health, conspiracy theories, and more. 

There was also a narrative section that featured the radicalization of a high-school-aged boy. During the documentary, the boy’s political views were slowly becoming more skewed by the content he consumed online.

The algorithms (personified by three actors) toyed with his social media to get as much of his attention as possible. I wondered if I was being manipulated by algorithms and didn’t even know it. 

My takeaway from The Social Dilemma was that my social media usage was hurting me more than it was helping me. I was vaguely aware of social media’s nefarious sides. But I had never had them spelled out to me like on The Social Dilemma

I took a step back, analyzed my history with social media, and realized I needed to make some changes before it was too late. 

My Love/Hate Relationship With Social Media

I have been on social media for over ten years. I began using it in early middle school, where I would chat on internet forums about my favorite celebrities.

As a Black kid living in a predominately white town, I struggled to find a sense of belonging. The strong sense of community I felt online amazed me. Once I got a Facebook account in high school, social media had become a concrete part of my life. 

Social media has been around throughout all my formative years. It has had an impact on the person I have grown up to be. But I am not aware of its impact because I don’t know life without it. 

In the decade I have been on social media, I have never taken a break for more than a few hours. I was so obsessed with the positives of social media that I had never looked at the negatives.

Watching The Social Dilemma made me look back and see the detrimental effects social media has had on me.

Below are a few changes I have made and whether they have worked long-term. 

1.) Reduce Notifications

It wasn’t until I watched The Social Dilemma that I realized how much notifications disrupt my day. I considered them a minor but necessary annoyance. But I have realized they take attention away from the people and activities I love the most. 

I got rid of all my notifications except my text messages and important emails. This worked for a while and I felt liberated…until I realized that I was missing messages from people I cared about.

Some of my friends can only contact me through Instagram. I chose to go into Instagram’s settings and change them so I would only get notifications about DMs.

With fewer notifications, I can focus without a rumble in my pocket interrupting me. 

2.) Get a Screen-Free Hobby

As a freelance writer, I spend most of my day staring at a screen. I decided it was time to find a hobby that took me away from electronics. 

Before watching The Social Dilemma, I had gotten back into reading books. But 90% of the books I read were through my Kindle. 

I figured enough was enough. I got up, put on my pink face mask, and drove over to my local secondhand bookstore to stock up on physical books. I had almost forgotten what it was like to read without confronting an ad about Prime Video’s latest show.

I have also been journaling. I try to capture each detail of my day even if I consider it insignificant. Recently, I have been reading through my childhood journal. I am amazed by the details like what I ate and what TV shows I was watching.

My journal is a time machine into the past where 106 and Park is still on TV and capri pants are cool. Over the past few weeks, I have been journaling and reading consistently. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. 

3.) Practice Healthier Coping Mechanisms

I have used social media to cope with my feelings for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to vent on Facebook or Twitter looking for some semblance of guidance. Thankfully I have gotten past that. But as an adult, I still use social media to find happiness

I usually seek instant gratification. I may scroll Twitter hoping for a funny video or post a picture on Instagram for the dopamine boost of a like. I have realized that putting my mental health in the hands of an algorithm was never a good idea. 

Now, I focus on getting to the root of the problem. I ask myself questions like: “Am I hungry?” “Am I thirsty?” “Do I need to talk to someone?” Depending on my answers, I cater to my needs IRL. When I don’t succumb to my first thought of, “Maybe I should get on social media” I usually don’t consider it as a viable coping mechanism.

It has taken practice to break out of those bad habits. But when I fall back to social media I don’t beat myself up about it. I just focus on doing better the next time I am not feeling my best.

4.) Do a 24-Hour Social Media Detox

I figured a social media detox could help me learn more about my own interests. I spent my detox watching movies, taking nature walks, and listening to forgotten albums. I even tried out new hobbies like painting and jewelry making. Turns out when you are not mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, your schedule opens up.

I decided to track what I did each hour to help me be more intentional. At the end of the day, I could look back at my list as proof I didn’t waste my day. 

The next day, I was eager to check a few social media apps. But after that initial anticipation, the urges soon subsided. Now, I am more focused on minimizing my social media usage each day than cutting it out completely.

But I have scheduled a monthly social media detox into my calendar. As time goes on, I hope to increase the number of days that I am without social media each month. 

Have you seen The Social Dilemma? 

If you haven’t seen Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, I recommend you watch it for yourself. It makes a lot of thought-provoking points about how social media not only affects you but your community.

I challenge you to question your social media usage. Ask yourself simple questions like: Why do you use social media? If it is an important part of your life, why is that? How does social media affect your mood? 

Answering these questions can help you tweak your social media usage and live a happier, healthier life. 

Have you ever tried to limit your social media usage? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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