My 2018 includes less time with my phone

Woman texting on her phone and using social media.
Written by Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo for The Catholic Register on January 20, 2018 

Spending more time with family, making forgiveness a habit and being less judgmental could help you make good on one of the most popular 2018 New Year’s resolutions.

According to U.S.-based pollster Marist, “being a better person” was rated a top lifestyle change our American neighbours hope to make over the coming year. Among the many ways we can improve our behaviour — in order to be become a better citizen of the world while also showing some self-care — is to develop a healthier relationship with social media and, by extension, our distraction-inducing smartphones. Without a doubt, getting a handle on our collective addiction to social media will help on the journey to being the best versions of ourselves.At its best, social media helps us connect with our community, stay informed of current events, advance professional interests and affect change. For example, we’ve recently seen social media serving as a platform for social good through the ongoing #MeToo campaign. It has empowered victims of sexual harassment and violence to share their stories and hold predators to account.

But at its worst, social media can be a battleground for cyber-bullying, a constant distraction that can harm family life and work habits, a platform to encourage narcissism (the chronic selfie poser) and, in some cases, even cause depression and anxiety.

We can pretend that a compulsion to check our phones constantly is normal — but it’s not. According to recent research, Americans check their phones for updates every 12 minutes. That’s 80 times per day for someone who sleeps eight hours. I suspect I’m like many Canadians who match that statistic, reaching for my phone unconsciously throughout the day, every day.

This is no coincidence. Social media was created to be addictive. Former Facebook president Sean Parker admitted as much in an interview last November.

“The thought process that went into building these applications … was all about: How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” he said. “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post.

“It’s a social validation feedback loop. It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

He also added: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

So how do we reap the benefits of social media and the convenience of smartphones without compromising our well-being and relationships? According to Yvan Mathieu, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, to better navigate the interwebs we need to apply principles of Christian life and keep in mind the first and second commandments — love of God and love of neighbour.

“Let’s consider this threefold question,” he advises. “In one given day, how many hours do I dedicate to social media, how many hours do I dedicate to prayer and how many hours do I dedicate to my family and friends? There has to be some kind of balance between those three aspects of one’s life.”

While it’s valid to argue that social media lets us connect with family and friends who live far away, we need to be honest with ourselves and understand how this means of communication, instead of helping us get closer to loved ones, often makes us feel isolated, he adds.

As we work towards striking a proper balance in our social media usage, we should also let how we use social media be guided by the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. “Let no evil come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

As we establish our priorities in the new year, we should make sure social media takes a back seat. I know I will. And if I fail, I can always turn off my wi-fi.