The average person spends three hours per day on social media alone according to social media usage app Pyxsee and that doesn’t include texting, calling or emailing. That figure is simply time spent stalking strangers, commenting on ex-colleagues' statuses, watching celebrity IG stories and other similarly ‘riveting’ activity. If three hours a day is the norm, what is the obsessive? Six hours a day? Ten hours a day? Is more even possible? “Three hours a day equates to around six years a lifetime for the average person.” says Pyxsee founder Dayne Rush, “People spend so much time on social media simply because it's addicting. What I mean by that is these large organisations are developing their API's to keep the users staying on apps longer.”
Between 2015 and 2016 I categorised myself as a social media addict; a requirement since I was the Social Media Manager at a major television station. I managed a grand total of 12 social media accounts across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, meaning I engaged in social media almost 24/7.
The social media storm
A year prior, social media played a relatively small part in my life. I was one of the last to get Instagram, and Facebook was just a handy way to remember birthdays and share holiday snaps. Things changed dramatically in 2015 when a company handed me the Social Media Manager baton and one phone became two, and a couple of social media apps became an endless stream of updates and notifications. I was live tweeting, buying sponsored posts, engaging in influencers and creating GIFs and memes. The reality was this; get more likes and followers and you’re in the clear come weekly marketing meeting.
So much of it is fake
Insta-star Essena O’Neill famously quit social media the same year I started working in it. As a social media influencer with over half a million Instagram followers, she admitted to receiving around SGD2,000 per post, spending hours perfecting images of herself in order to retain followers, and subtly promoting products she didn’t even use. As a digital marketer, I was paying influencers like Essena to promote our TV shows, drafting captions like,“I’m going to be watching [show] tonight at 8pm, who’s going to join me?”, their followers unaware that the person influencing would surely not be watching the show with them, that night or ever.
As a digital marketer, I was paying influencers like Essena to promote our TV shows, drafting captions like,“I’m going to be watching [show] tonight at 8pm, who’s going to join me?”, their followers unaware that the person influencing would surely not be watching the show with them, that night or ever.
It got personal
Hosting social media events and featuring on the station’s feeds meant my own personal social media received a dramatic uptake and for many weeks I found myself waking up to over 100 new followers per day till I was up to around 2,000—by no means influencer status but enough to flirt with the idea of becoming one. But what skill is there really in becoming a so-called ‘Insta-star’, and how much time do people like Joey Heng and Edwin Hung spend on their apps? Is there any point in knowing and wouldn’t it just be better to stop entertaining this contrived industry?
Michael Serwa counts some of Singapore’s most successful CEOs as his clients, and is regarded as the Ferrari of life coaches across the world. He tells me that, “Anyone can get sucked into social media. Their attention is taken away from what’s really important to them—be that family, business, health and so on. When focus is taken from these priorities, they feel like, and actually do, lose time. Time is the most important commodity we have, especially to the kind of people I work with. Social media is a time thief, and it steals time from everywhere—often most importantly from time with loved ones and doing the things you love.”
Deciding to step away
Just one short year of social media chaos and I was done. Social media was no longer a leisurely check-in; it was now a force of habit, an addiction. I met a Singaporean social media influencer who ended up becoming a good friend of mine during the stint. His 20,000 plus fans ate up daily offerings of the ultimate life he was living; full of luxury travel, exclusive parties and gorgeous girls. In reality, he was in therapy, had few genuine connections in his life, and the pictures he had were just that—two-dimensional pictures. “Depression rates in the youth have increased 60% from 2011 and anxiety rates are following closely simply due to the inability to separate this social media glamour from the real world,” adds Rush, and coaching my influencer pal through tough times echoed the warning and reality that what you see on social media isn’t real nor fulfilling. In the fall of 2016, I handed in my notice and quit this 2D world to reclaim the 3D world I once lived in.
How to manage social media in your life
I’m grateful for my stint in social media marketing, for it opened my eyes to the realities of posts and obsession with followers and likes, and I managed to escape it unscathed. Today I have social media and use it just like I used to. I use Facebook to wish people a happy birthday, Instagram to share snaps of my travels, and LinkedIn to share my work. I don’t check any of them more than once or twice a day and Pyxsee tells me my social media usage is around 30 minutes a day—way below the global average. When I’m bored I pick up a book, go for a walk outdoors or come up with Huel-based recipes, and when I’m around friends I’m a lot more present.
Serwa shares the five tips he offers clients in managing social media addiction:
1. Switch off the screen and sound notifications. This way you actually have to choose to go into the apps.
2. Put the apps in a slightly more difficult place on your phone. Consider placing your social apps in a folder or on the second or third page. Make yourself have to work and think about what you’re doing before you do it.
3. Use voice notes. When you look at your phone, you’re more likely to be tempted to check social media. If you’re using voice notes, you will not only be looking at your phone less, but you’ll actually be more efficient.
4. Remind yourself of your priorities by changing your screensaver. Consider using a note that says “get off your phone, go do something useful/fun/productive”, or a photo of your higher priorities (i.e. your kids, hobbies, travels and so on).
5. Delete the apps. Even if it’s just for two weeks. Test out what happens to your life when you’re not using them. Use the inevitably great results as motivation to go on less, and focus more on what you want to do,
He concludes, “Social media is part of our day-to-day lives, but it doesn’t have to be as big as it is right now. Just like everything in your life, you choose it. Choose where your attention goes—are you really choosing your phone over real life?” With that said, I think everyone can enjoy a better online and offline balance, just make sure the offline takes bigger priority every time.
Read more from James Wong on www.boxojames.com