I teach college students for a living, which means I have contact every day with young people who have literally grown up with social media.
Many of today’s college juniors and seniors report opening their first social media account (usually on Facebook, with a parent’s help) when they were around 10 years old. That means they’ve spent half of their lifetimes on the app!
Since that first Facebook account, they’ve undoubtedly signed up for more apps – Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, the list goes on.
And it’s not just the 20-somethings. It’s all of us.
A survey included in Hootsuite’s latest annual Digital Global Overview report shows people age 16-64 were on social media an average of 2 hours, 27 minutes per day in 2021, up two minutes from the year before and up 50 minutes from 2013.
Research indicates the negative emotional and physical effects of spending too much time on social media are real. Research from Pew also shows people who get their news from social media are less informed compared to people who get their news from more traditional ways, like news websites and cable news.
Would it help to take a little break from it all?
This week in my Introduction to Mass Media course, we discussed the history and effects of social media. I topped off the discussion with an assignment – take a 24-hour break from social media and write a 400-word report reflecting on the experience.
After recovering from the initial shock of living without their favorite social media apps for one day, the students actually find some peace and productivity. Here are a few quotations from my students who completed this assignment last year:
- “I have found that detoxing from social media is very beneficial for me. I feel as if we get so caught up in what is happening in our virtual lives that we forget we have a tangible life right in front of us at all times. In my opinion, social media keeps people from being present.”
- My production and critical thinking went up. I was more appreciative because I wasn’t comparing myself to others. I wasn’t wishing I had those shoes but enjoying the ones I had. I felt more grounded and self-aware. I would also say it improved my eye contact with people.”
- “I honestly enjoyed (the break) because sometimes I get sucked into my phone and waste hours of my day without realizing it, and then I get upset afterwards that I’ve wasted so much time, especially because I have such a busy schedule. I work two jobs, end up driving about 10 hours a week total for them, and I’m a student athlete so I practically have no social life.… It’s kind of crazy how the hours add up, and by the end of your life you will have potentially wasted literal years staring at screens, and that is something I do not want to do.”
- “To make sure I did not accidentally log into any social media apps, I deleted them off my phone for the 24 hours. … After the 24 hours, I redownloaded my apps and realized that I did not miss anything important, which I honestly expected. To me, social media is a filler when I do not have anything better to do. I know if my family or friends really need me, they will text message or call me.”
- “My social media break began from the moment I woke up. Who knew you could get out of bed without scrolling through multiple apps first? A terrible habit of mine that got worse during the pandemic is wasting an hour of my morning engaging with posts and watching videos. Initially I felt good about starting my day without disruptions, but I soon started “withdrawing.” Within the second hour of my break I felt anxious. I was consumed with anxiety about the ‘unknown’ of what was happening on social media. It seems silly to me to be so worried about people’s lives I rarely interact with in person, but yet my mind’s craving for content was real.”
What could you accomplish if you took a regular, intentional break from social media? Put your phone away for a few hours or even a few days to find out.
Jason Piscia is an assistant professor and director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield. He came to UIS following a 21-year career at The State Journal-Register.