Technology Column

Social media breaks can improve your life online

/ The Daily Orange

Like a lot of college students today, I’ve been stuck in a daily routine of aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook timeline for the last eight-odd years. Unlike other online habits, this one has never really let up for me: I’ve always checked in at least three times a day and checked up on friends, pages and news stories. According to the Chrome extension timeStats, I spend around 20 percent of my active time online on Facebook.

So, naturally, I decided to cut it out of my diet entirely for a month recently.

If you’re a college-aged millennial like me and fatigued of your Facebook routine, it can’t hurt to take a break from the site for a bit to reevaluate your life online. It might seem scary to isolate yourself from the activities of your friends and the latest current events, but the effects of going cold turkey are well worth it.

Facebook has become so heavily ingrained in how we communicate today that it’s hard to remember what life was like without it. According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of internet-using adults are on Facebook and 70 percent of Facebook users visit the site daily — 50 minutes per day on average in the United States, according to Facebook’s first quarter earnings report for April 2016.

But there’s precedent for Facebook breaks being great for your personal sanity: a 2015 study by the Happiness Research Institute found that taking a break from Facebook has a positive correlation to your general happiness. If my experience serves as any proof, though, it’s a change well worth adjusting for. Contrary to popular belief, suddenly dropping addictive internet habits isn’t as hard as it looks.

I have found myself more frustrated than ever at Facebook’s brand of communication in this politically-charged season. Since I follow a lot of news pages on Facebook — including Politico, The New York Times and others with heavy presidential election coverage — there has been a high saturation of political content in my news feed.

Adding to this, the algorithm behind your personal Facebook timeline is flawed on its own. Facebook explains its timeline algorithm as consisting of three primary driving factors, in order of importance: showing you what your friends and family are talking about, keeping you informed and keeping you entertained.

I experienced this during the Republican National Convention, the Olympic Games and the VMAs. And I’m sure you have, too, during any huge cultural event that has all three factors buzzing. During my break, instead of sticking to my timeline for news, I searched for new places to get information besides the headlines that all read the same on Facebook. I used resources like news apps and Twitter more often than I did before to give me a more balanced information intake.

And Facebook knows how much power it has over the content you consume. In a controversial social experiment conducted with the University of California and Cornell University, Facebook analyzed the emotional impact of its stories on users. For the 2014 study, Facebook’s staff showed nearly 700,000 of its users either more positive-leaning or more negative-leaning content on their newsfeeds. The users with more positive timelines were more likely to share positive content — and the ones with more negative timelines were more likely to share more negative content. This suggests that the content of our Facebook timelines can directly affect our own moods.

Something I was reminded of throughout this hiatus was, as a college student, how critical it is to keep an active presence on Facebook. I needed Facebook to keep up on class pages, to see what students were offering for sale, to continue with age-old group chats and to see what my classmates were all up to over the summer. To drop all of that at once is a tall order for one’s social sanity in this social information age.

Studies back up the connection between a fear of missing out, or FoMO, and social media activity — a 2013 psychological study conducted by an Oxford University social scientist found that people who score highly on a scale measuring FoMO are more engaged on social media. In a generation so obsessed with live experiences and keeping up-to-date with friends, this is a cause-and-effect cycle of our collective social media obsession.

As this school year began, I officially reactivated my Facebook account, but getting back on the site hasn’t relieved me of any great withdrawal or information starvation. Believe it or not, I’ve only logged in a handful of times since I opened my account back up.

Once I removed myself from the constant information intake from Facebook and obsessively catching up on the latest stupid things my friends are up to, it was a lot easier for me to stop caring about everything they’re doing. Besides a news story or two that flew under my radar, I’ve begun to feel like Facebook isn’t as essential a part of my life as I once thought it was.

I’ve been able to fully embrace networks like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter as the entirety of my online social experience, and I no longer scroll endlessly through my timeline like I did before the break. If you suffer from a similar Facebook fatigue, look into doing the same. Maybe you’ll discover a new perspective on your online social life, too.

Brett Weiser-Schlesinger is junior newspaper and online journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bweisers@syr.edu.

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