How to Scroll Responsibly (The Antidote to Social Media’s Negative Side Effects)

We all know that social media causes us to compare our actual life to everyone else’s highlight reel. (It’s just hard to remember that when doom-scrolling through Instagram and Tiktok while you’re supposed to be WFH.)

No one would ever admit (perhaps even to themselves) that they are trying to keep up with the Jones’s. (Yet, only a third of people under the age of 55 have at least 3 months worth of living expenses available in their savings account.)

Parents are encouraging of, and usually the masterminds behind, their children trying to become social media influencers. (Meanwhile, the suicide rate for high school and college students has almost doubled in the last 20 years.)

These are really regrettable trends. But I think what’s worse is that these issues seem remarkably avoidable with a little bit of knowledge of their root causes and preventive measures. But because there are no classes on happiness or money in school, we are left to our own devices (pun intended) to try and sort this stuff out in real-time as it’s affecting our brains and our bank accounts.

The connectivity of people and information is an amazing thing. It’s caused so much cross-pollination of ideas and socially beneficial innovation that I’d argue it is one of the most important developments in all of history, right after specialization and trade.

There is no version of our lifetimes that won’t include the internet as a central pillar. Whether it’s still accessed via a screen and browser in the future is debatable but the blending of virtual and physical space will continue. And being social creatures to our core, we will keep incorporating human connection into our technology.

Even when our avatars are all visiting each other in virtual reality (due to the pandemic or just the knock-on effects of it), you can be sure there will be a marketplace and companies willing to sell you the latest virtual mansion for just 99 cents per virtual square foot.

So the internet is here to stay and comparing ourselves to others will never go away. As long as these two facts remain true, the goal needs to be learning how to relate to social media, how to evaluate our own wants vs. needs, and how to view other people’s lifestyles in a healthier and more realistic way.

A Lack of Awareness On Social Media Will Keep You Dissatisfied

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Just because someone posts a photo of their new car, goes on a big, expensive vacation, or somehow manages to wear even less clothes in each new TikTok they post, doesn’t mean they have any more wealth, happiness, or love in their life than you. You can crunch the numbers any which way you want, but Morgan Housel said it best, “Wealth is what you don’t see.”

I’d like to add my own variation of that which is, “Health is what you don’t see.”

The problem with highlight reels and flashy influencer feeds isn’t that they exist. It’s that we forget what we are actually seeing. Social media doesn’t exist to showcase real, mundane or embarrassing moments. You’re getting just a small slice of the pie that is that person’s life.

That’s a good thing, too. I don’t want my friends posting Instagrams of their overdue credit card statements, updating their FB status about an argument concerning their partner’s drinking habit, or sharing a TikTok of them dancing to the latest Billie Eilish song while cleaning up their dog’s vomit.

When you see women posting photos of themselves in thong bikinis, friends showing off their view of the ocean from their AirBnB, or some guy in wrap around sunglasses leaning on the hood of his new sports car, remember they are simply seeking validation that what they are doing impresses other people. It says a lot more about how much love and attention their parents gave them as a child than the quality of their life.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with sharing actual personal wins, experiences, or achievements with friends and families on these platforms either. It’s probably a mark of insecurity or ill-will to view this as bragging or showing off. If they are truly your friend, be happy for their success. This is the core tenet of Metta Meditation.

Unless, of course, they are using a dreaded “humblebrag”:

Just remember, you’re never getting the full picture. Filters, the angle of the photo to crop out something undesirable, and even the way someone poses for a photo can do wonders for their online image while their personal life may be in shambles. And even if they are doing just fine, so are you.

Benchmarking your life against someone’s curated highlight reel is a sure-fire way to remain discontented.

Try these tips to scroll less (or at least more responsibly):

Practice healthy awareness while you scroll.

Go on a fasting diet from specific apps.

Practice gratitude for the life you have.

Don’t use social media or email right before going to sleep.

Turn off notifications for non-urgent apps.

Don’t get your news from social media sites.

Cultivate a sense of curiosity for why people are the way they are.

Un-follow divisive, exhibitionist, and click-bait accounts.

Resist the urge to check your phone while waiting in lines.

Review your Screen Time and look for patterns or trends.

Apply daily time limits for unproductive apps.

Limit your exposure to social media in general.

Remember that you are already, literally, the universe experiencing itself. Isn’t that enough?

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