Social Media: When a Distraction Starts to Feel Like an Obligation

We all know some of the benefits of social media. Whether it is staying in touch with family and friends, keeping up on the latest news, or a little entertainment, social media can deliver. These are the reasons we started using it, but as I mentioned in another post, when it comes to social media, the benefits rarely outweigh the costs. The main reason is because we tend to misuse it. To get the advantages mentioned above, we rarely need to spend more than 20 minutes a week on these platforms; an hour, at the most, is usually enough.

I am not talking about people who have social media responsibilities in their job descriptions or use it as a form of income. For those people, the benefits increase dramatically, so they can better shoulder some of the burdens that come with it. I am talking about the general user. The last thing the architects of these platforms want you to do is to use it wisely. They make their money by getting you to spend as much time online as possible so they can collect a more extensive and more accurate marketing profile on you. That way, they can profit off of the information they have collected by selling it to advertisers who are looking for people like you, and you need to be online to see those ads.

To get you to spend more time online, they employ multiple tactics that I talked about in this post. All I want to do now is point out a quick test to see if you are experiencing mission drift with your social media usage. Mission drift is when you set out to accomplish one thing but unconsciously end up pursuing something else. In some cases, it can be positive; in other cases, it can be harmful.

If you started to use social media for the primary reasons already mentioned, one of the ways you can detect mission drift in your usage is to ask yourself how obligated you feel to check these sites continually. Remember, you started to use them to make them serve you, but if the feeling of obligation is strong, maybe you are beginning to serve them.

If you are unsure if you feel an obligation to social media, ask yourself this question. How would you feel if you were to step away from these platforms entirely for two weeks? For most of us, there is an instant internal spike of concern. We think we have too much at stake to do something like that. How would I know what is going on? What if someone commented on one of my old posts, and I would look bad if I did not respond? Would the people I interact with start to forget about me? I have worked hard to cultivate these followers; would I lose them? All these questions could be warning signs that something unhealthy is taking place.

These feelings of obligation are one of the main reasons why the majority of people who spend long periods on social media struggle with more anxiety and depression than those who do not. Social media has a way of making us feel like we have more on our plate than we do, and it gives us next to nothing in return. It can also give us a false sense of accomplishment because we think we somehow have met our social media obligation. The problem is, in the end, we have not accomplished anything that will last. Social media is some of the shallowest of all shallow work.

If you have been feeling a strong obligation to social media, maybe now is the perfect time to take a week off to see what life is like without always checking in. My guess is you will not miss it as much as you think you will. Likely, you will find your week off more fulfilling than the weeks you are active online. If that is the case, there are ways to adjust your usage going forward to gain the benefits without incurring as high a cost. In the end, it never hurts to take a closer look at our habits and reevaluate what we are doing because, as Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

-D. Eaton