There’s a new sport taking our culture by storm. Parents start their kids off as early as age five to get a leg up on the competition. Eager players start practicing immediately when they wake up in the morning and continue day and night for an astounding average of nine hours per day. This new sport: scrolling.
It’s official, many of us now spend more time online than sleeping. Let that sink in. A recent survey by Common Sense Media found that most U.S. kids above the age of 12 spend nine hours per day scrolling through the internet. That means if you get a phone when you’re 12 years old and live to be 100, you will have spent 29 years of your life scrolling your fingers to the bone.
As crazy as that statistic sounds, it doesn’t really surprise me. When I stroll through my college campus, over half the people I see mosey along with their faces glued to their phones—eyes down, minds elsewhere. It’s like the closest we’ve ever come to a mindless zombie apocalypse. If they’re not staring at it, they’re death-gripping it like it’s their child.
Keep Scrolling Down to Learn Why You Should Reconsider Your Scrolling Habits:
From YouTube, to Reddit, to Giphy.com, to Facebook, the opportunities to absorb media are endless. You could spend the rest of your waking life browsing the internet and not even make a dent. Not to mention, ever since we’ve gone mobile we can access everything from our pockets, tempting us to trade our precious free time for looking at a stream of memes.
“Half the time I’m on my phone I’m pretty much just wasting time looking at random stuff,” FSU junior Rachel Harwick said.
To be clear, spending time online reading eBooks, creating new software or art, or writing creative stories doesn’t count as wasted time. But we need to start thinking quality over quantity and be deliberate in where we allow our attention to reside. We need to make a conscious effort to evaluate how much of our lives we really want to spend planted in front of a computer screen. It’s great to check Twitter to catch up on the latest basketball news, but do you really need to spend the next three hours stuck in the void of comments arguing about Michael Jordan versus Lebron James? Being online allows us incredible access to useful and current information, but that doesn’t mean it should skin us alive of our free time.
Is this content worthwhile? Is looking at Harry Potter memes really worth my Saturday morning?
Online is Great, But it’s Not Real Life
I’m not here to bash social media. I’ve spent plenty of hours poking the screen to shuffle through Instagram photos and watch Buzzfeed videos on Facebook. There’s no doubt that amazing things have come from our ability to connect with each other. People used Facebook to offer warm beds, food and showers to complete strangers following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The Instagram ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $115 million for Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Not to mention the endless courses, educational videos, research essays, etc. So yes, the internet has many, many advantages.
But we also need to be careful not to confuse the online world for the real world. Spending too much time online blurs the lines between the two. I don’t want the internet to become our second world; I want to use it as a tool to enhance the world we already live in. Spending excessive time online can take away from your relationships and even disconnect you from reality—especially social media.
“If Facebook demonstrates that everyone is boring and Twitter proves that everyone is awful, Instagram makes you worry that everyone is perfect—except you,” Guardian technology reporter Alex Hern wrote.
Social Media Creates False Expectations
When it comes to the internet and social media, we have to take the good with the bad. Scrolling through an Instagram feed can quickly become a list of fun, exciting things you’re not doing—creating a false expectation of what life should look like.
To make things worse, we now live in an “influencer” culture. Micro-celebrities will buy followers, likes and comments so they can continue promoting a fake, unattainable lifestyle to passive scrollers. “Why isn’t everyone liking my selfie in Santorini? I paid good money for those likes!” They might need micro-agents to handle their micro-fanbases. Due to my overall dissatisfaction with the app, I deleted it last year (not my account, just the app). I’m doing fine without it. My account still sits there, stoic and unshaken, not caring what anyone thinks of my mediocre following and mediocre posts.
I’m not saying everyone needs to delete the app, but I’ll be the first one to tell you how amazing disconnecting feels. A study by Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health points to the fact that people who use more social media platforms have a higher risk of developing depression or anxiety. Yet we spend hours on our phones frog–hopping from one platform to the next. Nobody needs to suffer unnecessarily because of a tiny electronic rectangle that can talk to other tiny electronic rectangles.
“The jury is out on what the positives and negatives are in terms of social media usage,” said Adam Primack, the study’s lead author. “Although we’ve seen higher tendencies for depression and anxiety for those who spend more time on a variety of platforms; people need to figure out for themselves what works for them.”
You don’t have quit the internet. That’s a pretty unrealistic move at this point anyway—and not necessary. The internet has become a commodity to us. We live right on the edge of cyberspace and reality. It’s not going anywhere. But more responsible scrolling habits might be the best place to start. Set a goal for spending two hours outside riding bikes every day. Go to concerts instead of watching them on YouTube. Get the heck in the real world and leave the virtual world for virtual stuff. If you need some help, set a phone restriction for yourself. Try to use the internet primarily for homework and learning. There’s no need to abandon the internet’s value entirely. It’s better to curb the sh*tstorm of useless information so we can access the valuable information more wisely.
So, close your laptop for a few hours, turn your phone off and go do something. Go for a run at the local park, go do a wine-tasting with your friends, or don’t do anything at all. But give yourself a break from screens for a little while. Let your scrolling fingers rest. Your laptop won’t go anywhere while you’re gone. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that we take time for ourselves to de-stimulate and unplug. Humans got along just fine without smartphones for, well, all of human history up until just now.