Why Off-Screen Time is Important

By ena ganguly

Like most all people with a smartphone, I have my fair share of social media accounts and apps. Admittedly, although I enjoy connecting with others and staying up to date on their lives, the memes, funny videos and Twitter screenshots on social media is also one of the main reasons I enjoy getting on a social media app. 

I feel immense joy in saving posts about cats, unusual animal friendships, a satisfying tell-off, and the like. And I have no shame in admitting that! I want to believe that many of us are like that. In the age where relatability and humor is built off of memes and witty tweets, it makes sense why we want to stay keyed in to social media.  

Recently, I’ve realized that I feel drawn to social media apps, in a way that a kid is drawn to something sweet or shiny. It’s just immediate and undeniable. I have noticed myself instinctively, and unknowingly, getting on social media apps whenever I’m on my phone. It’s almost an automatic move when I unlock my phone, even though I may have intended to get on the phone for a specific task, sometimes, it will completely escape me when I see that shiny social media app icon beckoning me to check its notifications! 

The truth is, social media is meant to be addicting. Features such as infinite scroll enables users to mindlessly consume social media content without ever having to click to continue — or to stop. More than the tech features of social media apps are the feelings of satisfaction and validation we feel when we click on our notifications to see how many likes, comments and shares our posts have gotten. Not to mention the feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) we feel when we haven’t been on social media in a while. It’s understandable, then, that so many of us are drawn to creating and staying updated on our social media accounts. 

All that being said, I do think having deliberate off screen time is valuable for me, and possibly for others, because it may often keep us from creating meaningful relationships and serve more as distractions than tools to move us to where we want to go. For example, we may be on our phones at night, and go to sleep way later than what we wanted to as a result or check other people’s stories and posts but never actually see them in person.

Though social media is interested in connecting us to people, and of course screen time is one way to connect with others, especially for folks who are in long distance relationships or living far away from their loved ones, it may not feed us the way that an in person meeting or a phone call may be able to do. No matter what, we can’t get that same level of connection from a text, an email or through social media apps. 

Now there is a pervasive culture that deems our popularity and self-value through how many friends or followers we may have. That’s a way to prove that we are well connected. But at the same time, there are more people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation. Social media gives us the illusion that we are hyper connected and in-the-know about people’s lives whether we know them or not, are really friends with them or not, but it doesn’t do a lot to bridge feelings of distancing and alienation. 

So, though social media does such an amazing job of bridging long distances, we know it can never replace the pure joy an in-person exchange leaves us with, and with the burgeoning demands of being present on social media and maintaining connections, whether to keep up your business, stay in touch with friends, or just feel relevant, we do need to start thinking strategically about what life may look like when we are not so attached to the virtual world.

Naturally, the next question for me is: what do I do with that free time? Well, I think it starts with deciding what are things we can do with the time we usually spend on social media, so maybe the first step is about measuring the amount of time we spend on social media. 

This means that I have to grow to be more aware of when I am spending time on social media for myself rather than for work, and figuring out the times that I am on social media the most. From what I’ve gathered, I get on social media mostly during work and after work, and sometimes in the morning if I’m having a slow sort of day (like a Sunday). Knowing that much, what are the things I can do during those times that don’t involve getting on any social media accounts? 

For me, it looks like reading more, writing more, playing mahjong, scrabble or crossword puzzles, and taking the time to stretch and meditate. Basically all the activities that I love to do without getting on the internet. And of course, spend quality time with my loved ones, whether over food, chores or just sitting quietly, with one another. Nothing can replace that.

What are some of the things that you are interested in doing with the time you use on social media?

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