A strategy for mindful utilization

Writing this article, at the age of 28, I have a foot in two epochs that are split down the middle by the upsurge and development of social media. I created my first social media account at the age of 16, and it fundamentally reshaped the social world I occupied. It suddenly became impossible to contain the happenings of the social world to school hours and extracurricular activities.

Consequently, I faced a choice between freedom from and participation in this virtual extension of high school life, and neither choice agreed with me. Fail to participate and risk being out of the loop or socially alienated. Fail to abstain and betray my own desire for a healthy reprise from social life.

Little did I know how much dilemmas such as these would become the law of the land. Our attention is constantly hijacked by stimulating content that is typically devoid of substance. The measure of the content’s value, moreover, is not in its practical utility or the virtues it espouses, but in its ability to capture and keep our attention.

Matters are only exacerbated by the fact that social media applications are now wedded to our cell phones, which we need in order to stay in touch with others in the ever-globalizing world. The smartphone has become a veritable battleground for our values. Do we use it as an extension of and aid to projects and activities that are of personal significance to ourselves and those in our lives, or do we surrender our attention and allow it to be pulled in many directions?

Admittedly, I hope you choose the former. I do not like aspects of social media. I do not like the pressure of keeping up with popular culture, especially when it moves so quickly. Nor do I like wasting my time. In the long run, putting things off is not good for our mental health.

With all that said, this article is not a slam against people who engage in escapism through social media and their smartphones. We all do it. And sometimes we need to do mindless things—they help us unwind and give our brains an opportunity to process things in the background.

Furthermore, it would also be unhealthy to demonize smartphones and social media. Neither are going anywhere, we use and engage with them because we like them, and they are incredible tools for connecting with others and getting things done. What I would suggest, rather, is that we haven’t learned how to use them properly. And it’s no wonder; the capabilities of our smartphones have evolved rapidly, and they continue to grow exponentially.

In the spirit of using our smartphones mindfully, here’s a strategy that has had, at least some positive returns:

Define personal terms of use and misuse

The next time you find yourself unconsciously or automatically reaching for your cell phone, be it to acquiesce boredom or anxiety, notice what comes up. Don’t intervene or judge. Watch. For me, I often feel divided. My fingers keep scrolling through my YouTube feed while my mind wrestles with internal conflict.

The avoidant side of my personality wants to forget about life for a while, due to feeling helpless or overwhelmed by some problem. My rational side knows that stress is bad for me, but avoidance tends to exchange a momentary reprise from it for more down the line. As such, it is often critical of any form of avoidance behaviour.

There is no manual for using our smartphones and social media accounts mindfully. These are new, complex and sophisticated technologies we’re dealing with.

While it is tempting to lean into this conflict and mediate, I find it helpful to let it play out. Our heads are filled with all kinds of ideas, personalities and philosophies about how to lead our lives and solve our problems. And we all have biases. I tend to agree more with what seems rational than what seems emotional.

In trying to mediate too soon, we run the risk of letting our biases decide. Identify the voices in your head, and then let them each have time under the spotlight. For me, the voices are often anxiety, self-loathing, fear and hope. Give them the stage, hear them out.

Being mindful of the ways we use our smartphones and social media unreflexively and the emotions that lie below the surface is integral to defining personal conditions for their use and misuse. It is easy to engage with them to avoid our problems; it is equally as easy to pass judgment on ourselves for doing so. But let’s cut ourselves some slack.

There is no manual for using our smartphones and social media accounts mindfully. These are new, complex and sophisticated technologies we’re dealing with. What’s more, they are designed to appeal to our fast and automatic decision-making circuitry. But by defining better or worse uses for ourselves, be it for an hour, an afternoon, a day or more, we can regain a sense of control. But that control should not come by force.

Guilt is a wonderful motivator in the short-term, but a healthier alternative is giving our feelings their due before deciding “what’s best.”

«RELATED READ» How to Control YouTube Addiction»

image 1 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay 2 image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay 

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