By Heidi Osaki, Oregon Children’s Theatre Young Professional
In 2017, everyone is on social media. I see people glued to their phones walking down the block, coffee shops quiet, phone screens lighting up customers’ faces and people posing for countless photos in hopes of posting the perfect one. Social media has clearly captured our attention, and as a high school student, I see myself, my friends, and my classmates wrapped up in it constantly.
Social media affects our state of mind and mental health, so it’s important to find a healthy balance between the digital world and the real world around us. This means analyzing how and when we use social media and the relationship we each have with it.
My favorite thing about social media is being able to connect with friends who live far away. However, I most often look to social media to fill any blank spot in my life, whether it’s the 20 seconds I’m waiting for my computer to turn on, or for an hour when I’m feeling unmotivated. Most of the time I spend on social media is not to communicate and stay connected with distant friends, but to distract and entertain myself temporarily. I could use that time to make art, read a book, or clean my room. Any of these things would make me feel better, more at peace, and more productive instead of frazzled and distracted from scrolling through my feed. But reaching for social media is a hard habit to break.
I talked to two Grant High School students who both consider themselves to be, in some ways, addicted to social media. Samantha, a senior, estimates she spends three and a half hours a day on social media, saying “I just use it to waste time, it’s not useful or productive.” Samantha’s friend Momoko uses social media similarly, saying “every time when I’m not doing anything or even when I’m doing stuff, I just go to social media and its very bad.” We all recognized how social media constantly begs for our attention, and the impulse to reach for it in any situation has become a habit.
However, not all high school students feel the constant pull of social media. Another senior at Grant, Sophia, guesses she spends two hours a day on social media, and does not care about it much. She says “I feel like [social media] is bad ‘cause it's a waste of time. I don’t really use it that much.” Spending minimal time on Instagram and Snapchat allows her to feel good about her social media usage.
Annica (senior) also uses Instagram and Snapchat, but unlike Sophia, she uses them frequently. Annica estimates she spends about eight hours a day on social media, using it to communicate all the time. She admits that her relationship with social media improved when she cut back on her time. “I’ve been trying to stay off my phone much more,” she explains. “I’ve been trying to have face-to-face conversations rather than over Snapchat or Instagram or text or any other app. I would say [my relationship] is healthy but I could definitely do better in areas. I’m definitely not addicted to it, I can live a day without it. The other day I came to school without my phone on purpose ‘cause I just wanted to test myself. It went pretty well.” For Annica, staying aware of how much she uses it, and confirming that she can go a day without it, allows her to feel comfortable with her relationship to social media.
From Annica and Sophia we see that time is not the only factor in determining a healthy relationship. Your relationship with social media is not only defined by how much you use it, but also how you use it. Annica’s time on social media is mainly devoted to communicating with friends. I find that when I use social media to communicate, it is less distracting and draining than when I use it to scroll through countless posts and watch meaningless videos. Annica says social media can also be used “as a form to share negative ideas and concepts,” which causes it to quickly become an unsafe and unsupportive environment. The type of messages we put on social media and the activities we choose to use it for are defining parts of our relationship with it.
Social media can easily become addictive and a tool of procrastination. It can be an excuse to avoid interacting with your environment and the people around you. Using social media for unproductive purposes at unproductive lengths of time leads to unhealthy relationships, like Samantha’s, Momoko’s, and even mine.
In spite of this, social media can also be used as a platform to spread positive messages and inspiration. It remains a good way to stay connected with friends who are close as well as far away and communicate with people you care about. Using social media for these purposes leads to healthy relationships, like Sophia’s and Annica’s.
To truly appreciate the good parts of social media, it is important to engage with it mindfully and become less reliant on it. For those looking to shift their current relationship, Annica had a few thoughts: “I would say find other hobbies that make you happy and give you the same satisfaction as social media would.” Replacing the impulse to reach for social media with doing something else reduces time wasted and makes the time you do spend on it more meaningful and useful. Additionally, it gives you chances to learn new skills and interact with new people and new communities, contributing to a healthy state of mind and a healthier relationship with social media.
I want to use this holiday season as an opportunity to put down my phone and spend time wrapping presents with my friends and family, rather than wrapped up in social media. I encourage you to do the same!