I think I’m depressed. I think it’s due to my smart phone and the way it has me constantly connected to social media and the Internet. In that I am a 67-year-old, level-headed woman with lots of experience and coping skills in place, I am wondering this: If I am having trouble with this device, what is it doing to the teenagers of today? But here is the good news: Once you know you have a problem, you can solve it. So let’s have a look at this one.
Here’s the needed background for my internet use: I’m sure I use social media more than most people my age because I use it to promote myself professionally. In 2017 I launched a website in anticipation of publishing a new book. With the goal of getting my name “out there,” I began to write this blog twice a month and to post motivational messages on five different social media platforms six days a week. In February 2019 I published the new book to underwhelming response from the many followers I had worked so hard to collect. Suffice it to say I was disappointed. I was also depressed, but not just over book sales. I think depression is a byproduct of being online so much. Here are some reasons why…
The dopamine rush of having someone interact with my work has me constantly searching for my next fix. When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is reach for my phone. I immediately look at email and text messages and then I check for interactions with my followers on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. There are three websites that sometimes publish my work. I click into each of those too. Then I check Kindle Direct Publishing to see if anyone actually bought a book. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, after checking all those places, I sit numb on my bed. Certainly, there must be something more to check? No? Well then, what should I do with myself? I actually consider checking everything one more time but instead remind myself to go live life.
I’m thinking teenagers don’t have as many places to check as I do, but even if they just check Instagram and Snapchat – and refresh the screen a few times – do their brains feel like mine does, empty and full at the same time? And is that a stupor? And if they/I do this once a day maybe that would be ok, but how many times a day do we get lost in the mesmerizing scroll of social media? Which leads to the next issue…
The 24/7/365 nature of social media is problematic. Remember when you waited for a snail mail letter? When it did not come, you could be disappointed once a day, six days a week, but never on Sunday. As we wait for people to send us email, text messages, or to “like” our social media post, the responses can roll in at any time. There are 86,400 seconds in every day. That’s a lot of opportunity for disappointment for anyone’s nervous system.
The reality of all this connectedness is disconnectedness aka loneliness – Between my various social media platforms I have about 9000 followers. On my personal Facebook account, I can boast of 416 friends. There! I have an actual headcount attached to my popularity! However, this does not equal book sales on the business side nor does it equal people to spend time with on the social side. It is said that loneliness is the “epidemic disease of modern life” and I can see why. There is always one more thing I can check online, as I sit – alone – at home, feeding my addiction 24/7/365. I have succeeded in getting my name “out there” at the expense of getting myself out there.
And finally, the internet diminishes the significant moments of my life – A post on social media has about a 24-hour shelf life. This is ok if I am posting a motivational image with pithy quote, or on the personal side, a photo of the great dessert I’m eating. But when I post a new blog that I worked on for a full week, the briefly-here-and-then-gone nature of the Internet is demoralizing. I think of a teen posting some great news like receiving a full scholarship to their dream college. When their HUGE news gets this same treatment online, how do they feel? Does their generation have a song equivalent to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”
It is easy to have an addiction to a smart phone because there are so many valid reasons to pick it up. I need to answer the phone, respond to text messages, take photographs, put a date on my calendar, check the spelling of a word, etc. The trick is to do those specific tasks with intention and then put the device down. It’s kind of like my kitchen pantry when I am on a diet. I can open it to get a napkin, a tea bag, or a can of beans without also getting into my stash of chocolate, alluring though it may be.
As I likewise try to resist my smart phone, remedies are easy to see:
- I can decide how often I will check social media – and stick to it.
- I can keep the device out of hand as much as possible by reading real books instead of eBooks; playing sudoku in the newspaper, not online; and resisting all new game apps friends mention.
- I can get away from the solitude of home by making plans to see my actual friends as opposed to their virtual counterparts.
- I can continue to write because I enjoy it and put my work “out there” with no expectations.
- I can recognize that my success is in having written, not in its reception online.
As for those teenagers I was worrying about? Open communication is the key. I have one grandchild who has reached this age. I plan to tell her of my struggles. If she confesses to some too, we can discuss. If not, my story is still there to guide her and to remind both of us of the simple fact that there is a whole wide world out there beyond the world wide web.
A note from Lorie: Regarding that book I mentioned in paragraph #2? I hope you’ll read it! Here’s the link: Love, Loss, and Moving On.