4 Ways to Become a More Responsible Digital Citizen
I challenge you to read this entire blog post without picking up your phone.
According to measurement company Zenith, the average American adult spent about 3 hours and 30 minutes per day using the mobile Internet in 2019, an average that has steadily increased over the past decade and shows no sign of decreasing. Over the course of a lifetime, this rate of digital consumption will amount to more than 11 years of screen time.
For something that consumes so much of our time, there is a general lack of knowledge and concern about how to use these tools responsibly and effectively. When used irresponsibly, the underbelly of excessive social media and digital device use is exposed and has been linked to cases of depression, anxiety, and decreased productivity. Conversely, neglecting social media or disconnecting from the online world altogether can be equally as destructive as overindulging—the positive potential these platforms offer can be incredibly impactful to your everyday life.
In an effort to establish a healthy, constructive relationship with my own personal digital media consumption, I've compiled 4 ways to better leverage these platforms to ensure you're improving your quality of life and not wasting your time doing things such as scrolling through TikTok for 3 hours at a time.
1. Regularly “Clean” Out Your Social Platforms
*Warning: This might make you feel old.*
LinkedIn first hit the scene in 2003. Facebook launched in 2004. You've been able to tweet since 2006. (I've personally had a Twitter account for more than 11 years now.) Social media is no longer a new phenomenon, and thousands of online profiles have been around for more than a decade.
As such, there's a good chance that at least some of your interests, hobbies, or friends have changed significantly since you first created an online profile. You should clean out your digital profiles similarly to how you would clean out your junk drawer or purge household items before you move—as humans, we tend to accumulate things that we once needed but no longer do.
This is critical in the context of your online community. Unfollow that ex-boyfriend whose posts bother you when you see them in your feed, unsubscribe from that newsletter you joined that one time to win a free trip to Las Vegas, and if your uncle's political posts on Facebook get under your skin, then unfriend him, too! I promise, you won't miss those posts at all.
It's easy to continue to accumulate unfulfilling connections as you navigate the digital world, and it's quite frankly a waste of your time and energy. This is what I refer to as your digital social debt. Continuously tailor your online experience in a way that excites and inspires you.
2. Get Comfortable Without Technology
I was recently traveling and booked a few nights to stay in a cheap, outdated hotel room. Instead of thinking about the exciting plans I had lined up for the week ahead of me, a wave of dread came over me when I realized the TV in the hotel room was not a smart TV. Oh no, what am I supposed to do with a TV that can’t stream YouTube?!
Let’s face it, we’ve all experienced that gut-wrenching feeling when you check your pocket and realize your phone is missing. It might sound silly, but our digital world that promises almost constant and instantaneous access to the Internet can lull us into becoming complacent, lazy, and ultimately less well-rounded individuals. The moment we begin to view our connected devices as a necessity rather than a tool, we have lost control of what makes these tools so great in the first place—convenience.
If we are not deliberate about which “conveniences” we subscribe to in our digital world, we run the risk of stripping ourselves of the experiences that allow us to grow as human beings and make living life as fulfilling as possible. Especially in the context of children, a healthy exposure to outdoor, “technology free” activity is critical to developing observation and creativity skills, among many other vital advantages (e.g., improved immunity, exercise, stress relief).
To recap, the answer is not to eliminate technology usage altogether, but rather to use it in moderation and to be mindful of where you are investing your time and energy. In fact, a healthier relationship with life outside of technology will improve your experience with it. If it feels like you can’t live without your connected devices, it’s important to take a step back and limit your usage.
3. Track and Monitor Your Usage
Understand how and why you are using your connected devices. This might sound straightforward, but there is sometimes a tediously extreme amount of commitment and follow through required to successfully pull this off. It’s easier to intentionally turn a blind eye to something that’s having a damaging effect on our lives, especially if you don’t have any plans to correct the situation.
Understanding what the problem is (if there is even a problem at all) and how it is affecting you, and tracking the results that accompany the changes you make in behavior are critical to learning, growing, and gaining more control over your reality. I see this as synonymous with tracking your progress toward losing weight. Sure, you might be able to lose weight by eating a bit healthier and doing some arbitrary amount of cardio, but it’s not until you have an understanding of how many calories you’re consuming and expending, while also tracking your progress daily or weekly, will you really understand why you achieved the results that you did and how to repeat that process to achieve further progress.
Apple does a great job of visually tracking this information for you in an easy-to-understand design, and it lets you dig into your usage habits over time. In the example above, the end user is sometimes spending more than 8 hours per day on their phone, and they probably do not realize the extent to which it’s controlling their lives. A study by global tech protection and support company Asurion found that Americans check their phones on average once every 12 minutes and are picking up their phones approximately 80 times a day. These small, frequent breaks used to indulge in whatever your digital device has to offer can really add up over a day, week, or month.
4. Only Share the Important Stuff
Social media fuels an innate reward system that we’re naturally programmed with. Seeing likes, comments, and approval from hundreds of people we don’t know, feels good. There is a psychology behind the types of content that drives higher rates of engagement, and very often we let public perception dictate how we deliver our own personal creative content.
We must be careful not to post solely with our audience’s reaction in mind because doing so will result in a fruitless, zero-sum scenario. It’s important to express yourself and take a stance on the topics you find important. That’s the very characteristic of online platforms that has allowed this unique extension of human interaction to become our new main form of communication.
With that said, there is a fine line between “expressing yourself” and “oversharing.” To put it bluntly, there are things that should be shared online and there are things that you should keep completely to yourself. For some people, that boundary might not be that easy to distinguish.
My general stance on this is that if you need to think about if you should share it, you probably shouldn’t share it. Not to mention, social engineering and other non-technical hacking techniques are getting a lot better, and revealing information about your personal life might seem harmless, but information such as your pet’s names, your daily schedule, or your family member relationships can leave you vulnerable to attacks from hackers.
On top of that, some information, such as medical or personal financial details, is just plain inappropriate to share online with strangers. That drama that happened between you and your cousin at last year’s Christmas party is better off left in the family group chat.
I don’t believe social media is inherently bad, the same way a knife isn’t harmful until it’s used irresponsibly. Thanks to technology, we are all closer than ever, connected with everyone, everywhere, at any time. It’s important to understand the potential dangers that come with such great power.
Numerous studies have shown that social media contributes to higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and, coincidentally, loneliness. Smartphones have the same effect as slot machines and are conduits for floods of the same neurogenic fluids that are also produced by addictive drugs. It’s critical that we, as a collective, begin to acknowledge the dangers of these devices and platforms when used irresponsibly, and teach ourselves and the generations that follow us how to use them in a way that’s constructive.
Tyler is a Product Manager, assisting in the development and delivery of the SentryOne Data DevOps product portfolio. After working as a software developer for almost two years, he transitioned to Product Management with a desire to be more directly involved with SentryOne customers and to leverage the technical experience he's gained to understand the problems and solutions in the industry better. He is thrilled to be a part of the next generation that is committing to improving the lives of the Microsoft Data Professional.