The Fight for Healthy Social Media Habits: A Filipina-Canadian Perspective on Covid19

Woman sitting on couch browsing her smartphone

Doomscrolling sounds like a terrible terminology, and maybe it is. If the past fifteen years or so were any indication, the usage of technological devices from computers, the Internet, email, web subscriptions, and recently social media has occupied a significant portion of our time emotional energy and attention.

And it is understandable that there is such a great desire to stay as informed and as connected as possible given the realities of the current situation we’re facing which is a pandemic. And also, it is not like many other challenges and issues we have in our day-to-day lives have been put on hold because of the pandemic. The pandemic is just in addition to everything else, like natural disasters, scheduled government activities like budget deliberations, and the seasons. Products and services continue to be launched and promoted, various forms of entertaining content still get published in dizzying speeds, in addition to what I would describe as people increasingly having social and political discourse online.

I’ve heard so many times that social media apps are specifically designed to continuously capture one’s attention, to make it really hard to pull away deliberately and take a break from consuming all the content. Either it can suck people in into reacting and arguing or contradicting the thing they read. It also prompts people, even without realizing it, to make comparisons between with their own lives and however other people’s lives are portrayed in their carefully crafted posts and announcements.

A lot of times, what we read in social media also pushes us to do things really impulsively without realizing how what we publish can be interpreted by others. The term ‘keyboard warriors’ is there for a reason, after all. Oftentimes, the volume of commentary on a particular topic and a particular position on a topic is enough to make you drown mentally.

Three people wearing uniforms and aprons sitting beside each other browsing on their own smartphones

As someone who wants to be always informed and deeply involved in the community, this is a tricky fine line I have been trying to navigate. I am learning a little bit more about the concept of boundaries and I realized it is time to extend that with how I use technology.

So here is how I have been doing it in the past, which I realize it’s a decent foundation. On my desktop computer, I have an app called LeechBlock that sets timers so I only use certain websites for a specific period of time. This helps me prevent going through all content and scrolling mindlessly for minutes even hours without realizing it. When the timer for that web page says “oh you have been using this for 10 minutes straight!” it feels weird because you lose your grasp of time when you are just mindlessly doing something.

And now, I took it to the next level by doing the same thing for my own cell phone using an app called SocialFever. I’ve been doing it for just a few weeks, and I always get surprised when the timer says take a break from your phone because you have been looking at it for half an hour. I was like what? I have been on my phone for half an hour straight already? I just a bit shocking but also not completely. I still get surprised whenever the phone says time to take a break from this app for the day because I have already reached the limit you have set for myself. I have set a half-hour maximum for this particular app which is Twitter or YouTube and the internet browser app/

It is interesting seeing is the end of the day report I get from this app. For the past few days it seems like I have been using my phone for a an average of two to three and a half hours per day for doing different activities. Another eye-opening, if not a little bit humiliating, statistic that this app tracks now is how many times I unlock my phone. It’s weird to see that I unlock my phone in a several dozen times a day with the stats to prove it.

Screenshot of app alerting "app time has been exceeded".
This is the screen that pops up whenever I’m using an app for too long. It’s a jolting wake up call every time, but one that I appreciate.

I hope that by setting externalized limits, I don’t have to rely as much on my flawed self-control and instead, reserve my energy to when I pivot into doing productive things outside of browsing and interaction on social media apps. The pandemic is going to be here for a while so I know that cutting myself off completely from social media is not something I want to do. This, I hope, is the means to have a happy medium.

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