August 18, 2021
(NEW YORK) – How long have you been on your phone today?
Did you wake up to read your texts and emails? Or did you start by scrolling through your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed? Did you check up on your favorite celebrity or maybe even an ex? Did you chime in on a thread over a heated political argument? Did someone say something to you that they would never tell you in person?
The average person will spend about 76,500 hours on their phone, according to data by Whistle Out. That equates to almost nine years of life.
The older I get, the more I find my views on social media and technology habits change. For months, I’ve been searching for ways to use it in healthier ways.
But first, I’d like to take you back to my sophomore year of high school in Scranton, Pennsylvania and tell you a story of my first negative encounter with social media.
The Marching Band Myspace Coup D’état
In my sophomore year, our high school hired a new band director. The new director announced that there would be auditions for marching band drum major, the conductor and leader of the band.
He also announced that everyone would be allowed to audition, as opposed to just seniors, as in previous years. He would hire three outside adjudicators to determine who should get it. This was met with mixed reactions.
I remember feeling so enthralled at the opportunity and the urgency I had to inform my mom that I wanted to audition. I immediately started studying and taking conducting lessons to make sure I knew all that was required. I assumed that I probably wouldn’t get it due to my lack of experience and the immense competition I faced, but I at least wanted to try.
On the day of the audition, many people tried out, including several seniors waiting their turn to be drum major finally. I performed better than I thought I would and felt good about it. Afterward, our director gathered the whole band to announce the results.
The director looked right at me and congratulated me, sharing that I was going to be the next drum major.
I was in shock and immediately looked over to the other auditionees. Some of my friends were smiling and applauding in the room and others looked like they wanted to kill me.
I was honestly terrified. The joy I initially felt was overcome by the worry of “Could I do it?” and that everyone was going to resent me because I was only a sophomore. Fear filled me as if I had stolen this opportunity from a senior.
A few weeks later, while talking to a fellow bandmate, they said to me, “Did you see the Myspace group about you?”
I had not and asked them to show me. It was a private group that some of my fellow band members made about me and how I should be removed as drum major. There were comments posted that I glimpsed at quickly but it was enough for me to know what was happening. I also noticed that some people I got along with were members of this group, shocking me most of all.
I was devastated and so hurt by it. While it was only just a few people, it was enough to cause me a lot of pain.
I had never been bullied before and social media made it more complicated than I could’ve ever imagined. I knew that there would be backlash from me becoming the drum major but never could I have expected the fallout. Since social media was so new, I didn’t know what to do about it. This ever-growing outlet gave people a voice to say something without even saying something to me personally.
A few days later, we had our first football game. I was wearing a brand new white uniform with a blue sequin sash. My close friends and family were there and were so excited for me. While I was lining up the band to head down to the field, I noticed not too far away that two of the band members were standing by the side of the school. They were holding a bottle of grape soda and started to shake it up. These were also two of the people who created this Myspace group. I immediately knew what was going to happen.
I was wearing all white, and it would be my first time on the field as drum major. They were going to try and spray the soda on me. All I could think of at the time was how Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed was egged in her prom dress, a similar fate I needed to avoid.
I wanted to remain as composed as possible. Luckily, my director was outside, not far away from us. I ran to him as quickly as I could. I explained what was happening, and he immediately went and took care of it. The evening ended up going perfectly, and I never heard anything about it again.
I went on to be the drum major until I graduated high school.
A few years later, the person who created the group on Myspace wrote me an apology…on Facebook. (Oh, the irony!)
I now look back and have a good laugh about the whole thing but I remember it being so upsetting at the time. I have grown to love social media because of the opportunity it provides to share happy moments with friends and family. As a performer and someone who shares a lot on social media, I have learned to understand that there will always be people who don’t want to see you succeed.
Then after the pandemic and all that has happened in the past year, I realized how social media was not always making me happy, and taking breaks from it was necessary for my mental health. While these platforms can be used for good and connect the masses, they also have negative sides to them.
Listening to One Another
I wanted to dig deeper into this and learn more about creating healthier ways of using social media. I had the opportunity to speak with behavioral health therapist Jane Pernotto Ehrman.
“We as human beings forget, just because we think it, doesn’t mean it’s true,” said Ehrman.
“One of the problems is that we are so focused on anything but face-to-face confrontation or communication. It is easier to say things through text or social media. There are no repercussions. You don’t see the look on a person’s face or the countering back.”
Ehrman believes that upcoming generations are losing the ability to recognize, understand, and respond appropriately to body language.
She also spoke about how we need to, as adults, find healthy ways to express our feelings. Whether that be writing our feelings out in a journal or just getting outside to get our mind off something, rather than turning to our phone.
Ehrman wrote about the benefits of taking a social media break in her work for the Cleveland Clinic. Some of the suggestions include tracking your usage or scheduling a specific time to use social media.
I felt it would also be important to get the opinion of someone using social media for their job and perceive the various platforms as a positive aspect of their lives.
“I think everyone needs to see a therapist,” said Kayla Murphy, a 25-year-old marketing and graphic designer for an architectural firm and also a social media marketing strategist for a vineyard.
“I have because it’s been helping with my anxiety and depression. I feel like as a whole, people are losing the art of in-person conversations and talking through differences maturely.”
Murphy has over 87,000 followers on Tik Tok.
“I hate the term influencer. I love the term content creator,” said Murphy. “I love highlighting local travel and supporting local business. I hope my posts inspire others to do the same. I do genuinely like it, but sometimes there is this pressure to post enough and the validation of people liking my content.”
A Common Thread: Pitching for Change
Various well-known figures have called for social media reform and creating safer spaces for upcoming generations. Prince Harry recently wrote an article about how social media is dividing us and how we can redesign it together.
“Researchers I’ve spoken with are studying how social media affects people—particularly young people—and I believe the book of data that we will look back on one day will be incredibly troubling,” said Prince Harry in a piece for Fast Company.
“Around the world, for many reasons, we are at a turning point—one that has the potential to be transformative. In all areas of life, a rebuilding of compassionate, trustworthy communities needs to be at the heart of where we go.”
I, too, agree with Prince Harry on this. If each of us takes steps to create a more kind and compassionate world, we also can do that on social media as well.
When I was younger, I never could have imagined the mental effects and anxiety that would come with using social media.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken the advice of Jane Erhman and started limiting my usage of social media and my phone. I use my iPhone’s time limit for apps and limit my usage to no more than an hour a day. I also have started reading more books before bed. Even if I’m extremely tired, I make sure to read at least a chapter.
With these small steps, I have found that I am sleeping better and I feel like I can focus more clearly on my daily activities.
I hope that I can maintain these steps for years to come. Many of my friends have started taking these same steps and have had similar positive reviews.
While we all lead busy lives, I encourage you to take a break from your phone. Pick up a book that you’ve wanted to read or go outside for a walk. If we all could be mindful and take care of ourselves, I believe we could then spread that happiness and compassion to others.
Less social media and phone use means more time for life and all the interactions it has to offer.