Qn. “How can I draw the line between socialisation and slavery on social media? I feel I’m caught in a trap that is wasting my energy and focus in life”.
Many people belong to different WhatsApp groups; some being of a temporary nature, for instance arrangement of a funeral or a wedding. Others are more permanent in nature like a neighbourhood welfare group, family, or even high school class groups.
In all of them, there are those who are primarily “listeners” and those who seem to have an opinion on every subject that is raised. The latter group also tends to respond to posts immediately, indicating that they probably spend much time on their screens.
Groups of insomniacs also reveal themselves in a similar way, because their posts come between 1am and 4am in some cases! People have been known to stay up all night engaged in social media activities. For some clearly lonely people, Facebook and other social media outlets become the primary and in some cases, only source of social contact. A number of elderly people mostly retired, fall in this category.
We have in the last few years had to advice parents and teachers on the use of social media especially by teenagers.
Your question seems to be addressing the fine balance between use and abuse of social media. Being a new phenomenon in our society, no simple answers are on offer, but in general terms we know that the use of anything that interferes with normal function of life is a bad thing for you.
If you are a high school student and spend so much time on Instagram that you are unable to do your homework, then clearly social media is not for you. If you are a mother who spends much time on Twitter at night to the extent that you are unable to prepare your family for school the following morning, then clearly something is the matter.
Sometimes the excessive presence in social media is a sign of boredom. At other times it is a sign of some other form of illness that leads to withdrawal from society.
We saw a lady in her sixties recently and it was clear that her engagement with social media was unhealthy. It was indeed on the verge of being described as an addiction.
Her general practitioner referred her to us for the treatment of a sleep problem that had persisted for several months. She had also lost some weight, was irritable and often said unkind words to her husband of many years.
They were a model couple who seemed to love each other dearly. The problem of her change in behaviour had upset them both and they saw us together. It was clear that neither had slept well the previous night, the husband had not shaved and seemed tired and haggard. She was restless, sad looking and clearly angry at something.
In answer to the question, “how may I help you”, the husband answered; “I want my wife back. Ruth is married to her phone and she no longer has time for me. Before devotion and early morning prayers, she first goes on her phone to check if there is something new. After showering, and before she gives me breakfast, she must spend some time on her phone. After breakfast, she spends some hours doing the same. She no longer has any time to talk to me. We used to enjoy each other’s company in the garden or simply walking but now the phone is her new companion.
The first thing she wants to know whenever we visit a place is the Wi-Fi password. I am fed up with this situation. Either we go our separate ways or I get my wife back.” The old man was sweating and was in tears.
Looking back, it turned out that he had something to do with the problem. He had bought her the smart phone for her sixtieth birthday. He had always complained that she was technologically backward all her life! A grandson had changed his grandmother by teaching her how easy it was to use her “new toy”. It all begun with the wife “showing off” her new toy. In time she had, like you, become a slave.
The lesson is to learn how to use these gadgets in moderation! The term ‘internet addiction disorder’ has entered scientific literature and could in the course of time, be a formal mental illness.