Scrolling to Find Meaning

Photo by Erik Lucatero

What are we really doing when we scroll through social media?

When hearing the word “distractions,” I immediately think of social media. We don’t realize how involved we are in social media all the time. From the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, many of us are drowning in a digital world full of likes, places we convince ourselves we’ll never go and things that we wish we were doing. In identifying so much with social media, I have noticed a large shift in the connections I’ve been forming with others. A lot of people do not know how to form genuine connections with one another. There is a physical item that creates a wall between us. There’s this silent, strong gravitational pull to reach for our phones. Why is this?

When thinking back through your whole day, what did you do on your phone? Do you remember? Or were you just scrolling? Why were you scrolling? Personally, other than a few important texts or calls, maybe a little online shopping, I don’t remember what I did on my phone throughout the day. There are various points where I find myself scrolling and I don’t even remember picking up my phone.

The truth is that (not all, but) most of my scrolling is to distract myself. What am I distracting myself from? My hand starts moving towards my phone when I’ve hit a wall, whether that be in writing a paper, when I can’t decide to end a friendship or not, when I’m sad, anxious, or confused. Scrolling is familiar. It’s comfortable. Making these decisions is not. Engrossing yourself in other people’s stories, their lives, their food, their clothes, their friends, their family, means you don’t have to focus on your own story for a moment.

Coincidentally, scrolling to find comfort in feeling less alone in our thoughts has been shown to cause us to feel even more isolated. According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, participants who used social media for more than two hours a day had twice the odds for reporting perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less then 30 minutes on social media each day. These researchers found that there is a happy medium where social media makes us feel more connected, but if it goes past that threshold, it does quite the opposite.

We are pushing the things that take time, take more of our emotional energy, take us trusting ourselves. Let me be blunt: When we are scrolling, we are attempting to escape. It doesn’t mean we’re an overall insecure person, but it does mean that in that moment, something in you rang the siren saying, “this is hard, let’s stop.” What if we could speak to that inner critic and tell them, “I appreciate your input, but I got this?” What if we could just decide then and there, that this is hard but we are fully capable. We have faith in our full abilities, even the ones that aren’t so obvious.

In countless ways, social media has given us the tools to genuinely connect with others that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It has given us new ways to create and discover new parts of ourselves as well. On the other hand, social media has disconnected us, not just from each other, but from ourselves.

I think having a healthy relationship with social media comes hand-n-hand with having a healthy relationship with ourselves. We must trust ourselves, have faith that we can talk to that new person, we can finish this assignment in only an hour, we can make that decision and stick with it. We must spend time developing our real selves. We must edit and work on ourselves before we edit our posts.

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