“We think of teens as being connected to social media like an umbilical cord, incapable of breathing without it. But perhaps only these true parseltongues, who were entering kindergarten while Myspace was peaking, have the self-awareness and ability to know when to unplug.”
It got me thinking about my own social media use, and in particular, Twitter.
I’ve never seen the appeal in gambling. Putting a bet on a horse, or sliding a coin in a slot and pressing a button – they always seemed like nothing more than good ways to throw money away. But in recent years, I’ve started to see – occasionally – similar impulses in my social media use.
‘Pulling to refresh’ constantly to see something new that is almost always not that interesting; tweeting something and then checking back every couple of minutes to see if it’s got any likes or replies… It’s hardly an original sentiment to say that fixation on the metrics and 'always something new’ nature of social media is unhealthy. But see it in yourself, and it can be revealing.
Every few months, I take a social media break for a week or so. My last one was in December. While it’s certainly calming to be away from that constant flow of information, it’s hard not to feel like I’m missing an important part of my body.
From about 2004 to 2012, social media was exciting, and evolving constantly. Like many other people I gorged on it. It was new, it felt world-changing and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it. Give me that sweet firehose and let me drink from it! I was like Veruca Salt in the egg room in the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Give me everything!
Now, 14 years after I joined Myspace, social media is a part of my being. Another limb. As part of me as my academic record, my work history, or my music collection. It’s unhealthy in some ways but incredibly useful in others, but it’s certainly transformed my brain in a way I don’t quite understand. I was like the mad scientist from a comic book who discovers a potent chemical and goes mad with power, consuming it all.
If young people are growing up with a better sense of balance and an awareness of when it’s time to stop, that can only be a good thing. Don’t drink from the firehose, kids.