This past month, for one of my communications classes, I have been tracking my use of social media and looking at how much it has affected me/my daily routine. I would track my daily use of all media (including social network sites, mobile apps, TV, etc.) every other week, for 4 straight days. Here’s a log of one of my last weeks tracking my day and night media use:
(Yeah, I was embarrassed too.)
Tracking my daily media use was definitely an eye-opener. It was almost mortifying, actually, having to pull out my phone every 5 minutes and then log what I was doing and how long I was on. I had never been that conscious before about my social media activity. I guess it doesn’t help when you have a smart-phone basically glued to you, as I do. Admittedly, sometimes I think I’m in a relationship with my iPhone. I’m constantly texting, tweeting, scrolling through Instagram, playing little games wherever I go—whether it’s on the long walk to University Hall, in some of my classes, and even at the dinner table. Nowadays, Apple technology is so widespread; I even have the ability to text through my Macbook laptop. (So I don’t even have to pick up my phone!) The technology is insane, and it’s only going to get more and more advanced with time. Adding up the numbers, though, I was really surprised to see just how much time I was spending on my top favorite sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Even worse was my TV and Netflix-watching habits. It’s surprising to see how fast 10 minutes can turn into 20, and 20 into 40, etc. And suddenly you’ve been on the Internet for—what, two hours already?! Where did the time go?
Researcher Shelly Turkle puts it best in her study of people and their phone habits; using examples of adolescents and adults who are, basically, glued to their phones. In her book, Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, she writes:
“Beyond all of this, connectivity offers new possibilities for experimenting with identity and, particularly in adolescence, the sense of a free space…Real life does not always provide this kind of space, but the Internet does. The Internet provides new spaces in which we can do this, no matter how imperfectly, throughout our lives. So, adults as well as adolescents use it to explore identity. When part of your life is lived in virtual places—it can be Second Life, a computer game, a social networking site—a vexed relationship develops between what is ‘true here,’ true in simulation…People talk about digital life as the ‘place for hope,’ the place where something new will come to them.” (Turkle; Alone Together)
It’s true. People, myself included, have often used the Internet/technology as a sort of getaway, to take themselves out of awkward situations, to distract themselves from the ugliness of reality. While social media serves its first purpose in connecting people, it also comes with a price: distancing us. We claim to have all of our big ideas and inspirations off of some web article we read or something we grabbed from the Internet. We constantly use social media to present a “pretty” picture of our lives, one with filters and red-eye remover and anti-blemish lighting and lengthy captions about how much this thing/person/whatever means to us. We choose not to show the ugly, the bad, the meaninglessness. We simply use the Web as a way to market ourselves, and to escape. That’s why I binge-watch Scandal and Breaking Bad and all of those addictive TV series on Netflix. That’s why I put up a pretty photo of myself on Facebook.
Something that I have learned from this assignment was how much of an impact social media has on today’s generation, and how often we are “escaping” our reality. Two weeks ago I went with LMU’s Center for Service and Action on the November De Colores trip to Tijuana, Mexico. That whole weekend I spent not blindly scrolling through my phone, but actually interacting with the people I met and sharing in their real life stories, not what they posted on Instagram. It was such a liberating, genuine feeling, and I would do it again if I could. It’s insane to think of how much modern media is basically an addiction in our lives, something we dedicate hours for and slave away to, and we’re not even aware of how much this “drug” truly affects us until it is taken away.