There's been a lot in the media recently about the potential evils of its social counterpart. Social media is becoming too powerful, they say. It's too big an influencer, and it's taking over too much of our lives. Of course, at the heart of Silicon Valley that's exactly what they want. Zuckerburg and all his Facebook friends want us to use social media in every aspect of our lives; to 'check in' on our excursions, to celebrate birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, voice political allegiances, record exercise regimes, share our entertainment preferences and announce our relationship status; all so that they can target their advertising, and as some suspect - influence our decisions.
That's the view of the social media nay-sayers, and of course, in many respects they're correct. But that's obviously not all that social media is about. It opens doors to new experiences, knowledge, new music, films and books. It helps us to follow global news and become involved in pressing charitable campaigns. And, perhaps most importantly of all, its key feature is it helps us to stay connected... even if it does that by letting us share photos of our food!
A Mediakix study in early 2017 revealed that based on current trends the average person will now spend more time on social media during their lifetime than they will eating, drinking, grooming, doing laundry and, yes, socialising. This means that you could potentially spend a whopping one year and seven months browsing Facebook alone. Looking back in your final days, will this seem like a good use of time?
Yes? No? Maybe...
For me, social media is neither a force for good nor evil - it is only what we make it. I think that the real question we should all be considering is how to strike the perfect balance:
How can we use social media as a tool, without becoming slaves to it?
Take Control - It always starts the same way - you open a social media account intending to only check it once or twice a day, just to see what your friends - or favourite celebrities - are up to, but then boredom creeps in. It's a tedious commute: reach for your phone. You're procrastinating at work: reach for your phone. The baby is taking too long to eat: reach for your phone. Before you know it, your attention span has greatly reduced and you're craving the constant stimulation of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, even if there's nothing new to see.
The answer is simple! What did we do before SM? We talked to each other. We read books. We listened to music. On buses and trains we looked out of the windows - try it, it's surprisingly relaxing. We played with our kids and made a game out of mealtimes. If you limit your social media time - 20 minutes a day is more than enough to get everything done - you're still going to see everything, there's no need for those FOMO sensations, and you might actually be able to use the regained time to do something worth posting about! Buy an alarm clock and start by taking your phone out of your bedroom.
Get Help - If willpower is not your thing, there is help available to unhook you from social media - ironically in the form of other apps. Self Control and Cold Turkey actively block your computer from accessing the procrastinator's friends. While these are of most benefit at work, you could use them to keep you off social media in your down time too.
Go Old School - The next time you want to catch up with a friend, try phoning instead of texting. Or, heaven forbid, you could actually visit them! In spending real, actual, physical time with people, you've less reason to stalk their social pages.
And finally, when you do use SM...
Don't Go Compare - The one major drawback of social media is that it can seem like everyone is having a fabulous time but you. When we sit there scrolling through endless sandy beaches, beautiful meals, amazingly sculpted bodies, parties, smiling babies and cocktail hours it's easy to forget the things that no one is posting. The arguments with spouses, the Pot Noodle dinners and the jeans that no longer fit.
Social media is essentially a platform of all our best selves. Enjoy your friends' happy posts and don't be envious because you know that they're probably feeling the same about you.
Like I said before, social media isn't, in my view, a bad thing. It can be a great way to keep in touch with people you really wouldn't otherwise see, to open up new experiences, provide a window to the world. But, it has its place, and that place isn't a proxy for actually living.
Shaz Memon is creative director at Digimax.