How to avoid the dark side of social media

There are a lot of great things about social media. The Facebooks, Twitters and Instagrams of the world help us stay in close contact with family and friends and share favorite memories (not to mention pics of dogs playing with fidget spinners).

But there’s a dark side to social media, too.

For one thing, when we spend so much time refreshing our screens, we can lose perspective – namely, that there’s a vast world out there, filled with all sorts of interesting people, just waiting for us to explore, to touch and feel. You can’t get that on Facebook or Twitter. Which is to say that when we spend too much time on social media, we risk containing ourselves in exclusive echo chambers of beliefs and opinions, and losing touch with greater humanity. That’s not a good thing.

Given this, we need to seriously consider setting our own boundaries for when and how we use social media. Here are a few things to consider:

Social media as a starting point, not an ending point: The next time a friend posts an interesting story or opinion on Twitter, use it as an opportunity for further exploration. After all, just because someone said it online doesn’t mean it’s true. And even if you agree, it’s always healthy to explore as many sides of the issue as you can. You’ll be better educated about the world, and you very well might have something new to add to the conversation.

Don’t let real friendship lapse into social media friendship: People love to use social media to announce big changes in their lives – a marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one. And while you could easily just “like” it (and probably should), that’s not enough, especially when you’re dealing with close friends. Pick up the phone for god’s sake so that they can hear you say “congratulations” (or “condolences”) from a real voice. Better yet, make some time for an in-person meet-up. Because social media shouldn’t get in the way of showing your friends that you really care.

Schedule time away from social media: Maybe it’s a couple hours a week, or maybe it’s an entire day, but it’s a good idea to set some personal boundaries for your social media use. It might be hard at first getting used to not refreshing your Twitter feed every 5 seconds, but you’ll get used to it. And there very well may be health benefits – like lowered anxiety and increased feelings of personal freedom. At the very least, you’ll have less of an excuse to stay home with your nose buried in your phone.

Like most things, social media is good… in moderation. By stepping back, opening your horizons and actually getting outside and meeting people in real life, you’re bound to improve your own quality of life and that of those around you. And when you do get back online, maybe you’ll have a different perspective about the benefits and drawbacks of social media.

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