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Before the onset of COVID-19, social media was a daily vice of mine, much like the daily cigarette habit one can’t seem to break. Maybe this comparison seems too extreme and at first, I thought the same, but the irony is it closely parallels the reality of today.
I was quite enamored by Snapchat even during pre-pandemic social life. In all candidness, I felt like it was both a way to communicate directly and indirectly; there is a sense of freedom in expressing oneself because you can and maybe a small part is guided for other superficial reasons––to be seen and heard, oftentimes though the response isn’t from who whatever vague signal it was intended for. Still, it never teetered too far over because my love of losing time spent listening to music, in the presence of friends, working out, or long night walks on the track brought balance. The biggest weakness of mine then though was continuing to have notifications for all social media.
When the lockdown first hit, the spikes in my app usage quotas surely reflect that. I hadn’t really even understood the concept of TikTok beforehand, and yet this became one of my favorite places to go for a serotonin boost. In the moments of quarantine, social media offered a comfort in the semblance of connection it offered. For a while this meant more endless and mindless scrolling, all to fill this void of human connection and vicarious normalcy for what we could do and hope for what we will do when we can again.
Living somewhere surrounded by nature, greenery and trees was food for the mind, body, and soul. My other addiction was my daily runs or walks. If I could choose between the two––I would choose physical exercise every time. And I think if you don’t have that, if you haven’t found how life-changing such a routine is––to feel exhausted and energized at once, to feel calm and clear-minded––then that’s when other vices may monopolize lives and start becoming problematic.
In early summer, it dwindled as the days got longer and sunnier there was more to do outside. By late summer though I had noticed a drastic change. And this is beyond evident when long gaps of days and weeks not using the app show in my Snapchat memories. Eventually, around this fall I turned off my notifications for Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. This has been a game-changer to say the least. Instead of being controlled by social media, I control when I want to engage or interact with it. Now though, I am the absolute worst at responding and it could be weeks before I open a message and start to respond.
However, the next step, which was a goal my friends and my sister wanted to do in quarantine but never did is to completely switch to flip phones and film or disposable cameras. The main reasons for my smart phone are 1) the camera and 2) music. Other than that, I think going old-school will be better in the long run.
Back to the metaphor I started with. Before writing this paper, my boyfriend was like, “didn’t you tell me the term ‘users’ applies to tobacco companies and social media”. Sounds like something I would say. This implies the addictive nature of drugs is paralleled in the structuring of social media parallels to––that as we use it, this conscious choice blurs to where this habit is now engrained into our daily rituals and we become users. What is unfortunate is while awareness of the potential harm social media use has on mental health is growing, and research is playing catch-up to this revolutionary gadget––the lag between tobacco finally being denounced as toxic and deadly foreshadows the one with whatever the consequences of social media are.
Elle Moreland, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: How much time did you spend using social media before the onset of COVID-19? Did it go up or down in the early weeks of the lockdown? How much time do you spend on social media now? The class covers copyright and social media. Rae is an Integrated Marketing Communications major.
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