We’ve all heard the phrase ‘keep an even keel.’ It comes from the 19th-century British and American shipbuilding practice of designing ships with a keel, the long piece of wood or steel along the bottom of a ship, on which the frame is built. The keel helped the ship stay in a vertical position in the water. If your keel was not even, then, it meant you were leaning too far to the right or left—in danger of tipping and sinking.
What does this have to do with social media? I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that all the various social media companies strive to keep us engaged in using their apps as much as we can—it’s how they make money. Their goal is not primarily our good—it’s increasing their wealth. Therefore, we ought to be careful when we plan on taking part in companies that monetarily benefit from our being overly involved—some might say addicted—in what they’re selling.
But more than just the reasonableness of using caution when it comes to social media practices, many psychological study results speak to the potential dangers of social media over usage. Here are a few things to consider as you evaluate how you, yourself, use social media.
PROBLEMS THAT SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE CAN CAUSE
- Being Blind to the Moment. How many times do we miss what is going on in real life because we’re seeing what others are doing on social media? Many exciting things happen around us all the time amidst the otherwise boring stuff. And when in an attempt to stave off boredom we pick up our phone and start swiping through social media posts, we often will miss the amazing real-life going on around us—not to mention all of the deep thoughts we could be having if we took time to get past the uncomfortableness that boredom can sometimes bring.
- Being Others Focused—In a Bad Way. Social media pushes you to look at the lives of others through a lens that is both unreal and skewed. You usually only see their accomplishments and rarely their failures. So you get a vision, through their photos, videos, and messages, that everyone else is successful and having a great life. But even though you know that you do the same thing and that your own life isn’t great, you buy the lie that you need to be better, accomplish more, succeed, and thus you currently aren’t good and are unworthy. Psychologists have even given it a name—Social Media Anxiety Disorder. The strange part is that most of the people we follow on social media could barely even be called acquaintances—so if we don’t know them IRL (‘in real life’), then why do we care when they show up on our 3×5 phone screen?
- Being Others Dependant—In a Bad Way. How many times have you posted a photo to Instagram or Facebook, and though you wouldn’t want to admit it, you checked back to see how many people (and who) liked or commented on it? Whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve become too dependant on the reaction of others. And when we don’t get the reaction we want, we begin to read into the intentions of others who didn’t interact with what we posted. We read into the silence an unfriendliness that IRL just isn’t there. It’s entirely a situation brought about by a misuse of social media—using it to get emotional validation.
- Being Others Averse. Having a large group of followers (or following a large group of people) on social media may convince you that you have a healthy social life, thus leading you to stop socializing in the real world in ways that would be healthy for you. Sending and receiving Happy Birthday posts are a great way to urge along a relationship that you don’t care that much about—but would you have a strong marriage if you just told your spouse Happy Birthday once a year and never talked to them otherwise? Social media can convince us that we are having relationships when really it is teaching us to not engage deeply with others—to our own, and their, harm.
SOLUTIONS TO POOR SOCIAL MEDIA HABITS
When you come to the point that you’re willing to examine and admit that you might have damaging social media habits, here are a few ways to get your keel even.
- Keep track. Take a few days to a week and keep track of how much time you’re spending on various social media platforms. You need to be aware of how much time you’re using before you can fully see how much time you could be using elsewhere.
- Take a break. You need to set some boundaries for yourself, and the best way to start that process is by taking a social media break. Set a span for how long you will take that break and mark it on your calendar.
- Remove. Delete social media apps from your phone, tablet, and close the tabs on your computer browser. You may also need to remove or block any notifications you might get from them via text or email.
- Replace. Instead of picking up your phone when you feel the urge coming on, plan ahead of time some things you can do instead—rehearse something you’ve memorized (bible verses, poetry, Hamilton lyrics?), take a moment to do some deep breathing, and experience the now, or even use your phone for what it was meant for—to actually call someone and hear their voice talking to you to deepen a real relationship you have with them.
- Ask for help. Reach out to real-life friends and make a plan to help each other. You’re not the only one who needs to evaluate their social media usage and who likely needs to tweak how you relate to others when using it. You need real people around you who can remind you of what is true and who will build a real relationship with you (that can be enhanced by social media when the relationship is already there and you all know the real-life struggles you all have).
We all need a keel reset every once in a while. It can be easy to get carried away by the currents of the world around us only to realize too late that we were leaning too far and are in danger. Can we help you right your boat? Give us a call at (888) 272-7102. We’re your IRL helpers!