Along with traditional New Year’s resolutions such as losing weight or quitting smoking, a new resolution has entered our culture: spending less time on social media. A Pew Research Study published in 2013 showed that 61 percent of Facebook users had taken one or more breaks from the site for at least a week. Additionally, the study found that 20 percent of adults who are online but do not go to Facebook were previous users who had once used the site, but no longer do. The reasons for this time away from social media were varied, from the “drama” it creates, to not caring to see pictures of friends’ dinners or children. So, too, do the ways in which consumers of social media choose to balance their time online differ from person to person.
You’re so vain
The overly vague or passive-aggressive status update on Facebook is so ubiquitous that it has spawned hundreds of memes. Though the trend may make for a few laughs, it can also do some real damage to personal relationships. Jim Sullivan, who lives in Barclay Heights, says he has seen “so much drama with family members reading posts that they thought were towards them.” Because of this friction, Sullivan has taken a number of self-imposed breaks from social media. Most of his breaks were for a month or so, though one was for a full year. He says the time away was helpful. “Taking a break from Facebook helps with getting back together with family.”
The elusive personal touch
Regina Comer of Glasco, who has done what she calls the “deactivate dance” with her Facebook account, tells of finding out that a close friend had given birth online, rather than via phone call or text. She says, “I feel like we often find out personal news about one another on social media. It makes us lazy. Whatever happened to making a phone call to share news? To find things out on social media from close friends is tacky and impersonal.”
Another local parent, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed, saying “as much as it has connected people, [social media] has also disconnected people in a big way. There’s no need to pick up the phone and call someone anymore because you can just post ‘happy birthday’ on their page.”
The toll on parenthood
Parents, especially those of younger children, can find social media to be detrimental to the amount of attention and focus they give their children. Roxanne Ferber, a stay-at-home mother to twin four-year-olds in Barclay Heights, says it is easy to use Facebook as a means of social support when things with her children get difficult. This becomes a slippery slope, though, as she recognizes how much time social media eats up. Ferber says, “I was thinking the other day: how the heck did stay-at-home moms from the 1950s get so much done in a day? They weren’t strapped to a cell phone, laptop or iPad checking Facebook posts, or uploading cute status reports of their kids. Amazing how much time we spend with technology every single day.” In order to reclaim some of that time, she says she frequently takes breaks of a few days from Facebook.
But the pervasiveness of social media can be even more harmful to parents than simply eating away at their time. Last year, Comer, who had recently given birth, found out just how insidious it could be. “I was suffering from post-partum depression and felt like everything I was reading on social media had to do with how awesome being a first-time mom was, or how easy everything seemed to be going for everyone.” She said it made her feel like a victim. She chose to “deactivate,” and stay off of the site for four months. The time away was beneficial, she says. “I got to work through my issues without pressures from articles people posted or a bunch of opinions. I enjoyed the freedom I had, of not checking my phone every few hours just to see what was going on.”
Though all those who had taken breaks acknowledged the time away was beneficial, they all ultimately returned to the site. As Comer put it, “I realize this generation is driven by technology and I’m technically a part of that.” Sullivan says he stays on social media as a way of promoting his business. So how do they navigate social media without getting sucked back in?
Sullivan says he stays off of social media at critical times, such as when there are family disagreements.
Comer says she uses privacy settings to her advantage. “I try to keep my life off of Facebook and keep it for those close to me and my family. I doubt anyone cares what I’m eating for breakfast or when I’m at the gym and I’m surely not going to complain on there. I just learned to regain a sense of privacy in a not-so-private time.”