Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
As an inhabitant of this ever developing, technology ridden world, nearly everyone I know seems to have an online presence. My parents are in the midst of understanding how to use Instagram and my little sister could teach a Masterclass on the artistic use of Snapchat filters. Wherever I turn, the beacon that is social media seems to shine brighter than ever. Small, family owned businesses are encouraging their customers to connect with them via the internet, and at any moment my phone can tell me what the rich and famous are up to. Up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t bothered by any of this. I went about my days regularly checking my social media and engaging with friends. Until, for reasons I have yet to understand, I felt sick every time I opened my phone. I realized that every second I wasn’t busy, I turned to the ever present comfort of scrolling through Instagram. An overwhelming wave of frustration and anxiety began washing over me when I’d pick up my phone and check my social. In hopes of remedying my bizarre feelings, I did what any rational individual would do: I deleted Instagram.
After I defied the teenage norm and put my social media presence on pause, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the benefits. First, and most importantly, I found myself deep in thought on a much more regular basis. No longer did I turn to my phone when I had downtime. When I wasn’t occupied, I was able to settle into my own mind and do some exploring. This increased level of introspection led to mental clarity that had grown foreign to me. My observational skills seemed to improve, I was able to focus on a given task without the distraction of Instagram, and I was more creative. These factors alone provided me with plenty of reason to extend my absence from social media, but the benefits kept piling up.
I used to think that I didn’t spend much time staring at my phone. It was something I was proud of. I would look around and see my peers focused purely on their social media feeds and not on the world around them, and I didn’t think I was a member of that club. Then, Apple decided to create a new feature called “screen time” which tracks the amount of time you spend looking at your phone every day. The feature breaks down your phone usage by the style of application. For example, Social Networking, Reading, and Productivity are commonly used categories. When I first discovered this neat little component, I was absolutely shocked by how much time I was spending on my phone. My iPhone told me that, on average, I spend 3 hours and 50 minutes staring at my phone per day. Nearly 60% of that time was spent using Social Networking apps, namely, Instagram. Unbelievable. When I decided to remove Instagram from my phone, my daily screen time plummeted by well over 50%. That’s roughly 2 hours worth of productive time I gained by simply removing an app from my device. Much to my surprise, I actually felt the extra time I had during the day. I was able to utilize those 2 hours for homework, exercise time, and even some more sleep. I still can’t believe how much precious time I was wasting by scrolling through my Instagram feed.
As social media users, we get a lot of our daily information from our feeds. That information may be current events, what our friends and family are up to, or the occasional laugh at someone’s post. By removing this information gathering tool from your life, it’s fair to be concerned about what you may be missing out on. What I determined, however, is that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a damn thing! Not once was I concerned with what someone was posting and whether or not I was going to see it. I found myself seeking information from more established sources such as news outlets and the educated individuals surrounding me, rather than my phone. I began to understand that a lot of the media and content I was consuming wasn’t actually positively influencing my life. Which, for me, was a big discovery.
Although I experienced some tremendous benefits from removing Instagram from my life temporarily, I still feel as though it is a positive force in our society. As users of the platform, we have the ability to stay connected to the entire world with ease. In addition, we have a way to use our voices the way we see fit. Although that is a privilege that gets misused, it’s a privilege nonetheless. So, what’s my recommendation, you may ask? Well, I advise keeping your social media applications close by, but consider severely limiting your usage. Who knows, your life may change for the better like mine.
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