I recently set social media use time limits for myself and it’s almost embarrassing how much good it’s done for my mental health. A handy feature on your phone will let you decide how much time you want to spend per day on an app of your choosing. Once you’ve hit that time limit, the app will block your access to it for the rest of the day, unless you deliberately override the feature.
As a journalist, I use Twitter a lot. If you follow the right people (news media accounts and individual journalists who will have actual consequences for giving you incorrect information), it can be an extremely efficient way of consuming news. You don’t have to check each individual website, newspaper or TV channel; Twitter delivers the news directly to your feed. You need only scroll down to find the latest updates on whatever story your outlet of choice is covering.
As a news consumer, this system is fantastic. As a human being whose mood is influenced by the state of the world, less so. To oversimplify things, a lot of news has been bad lately. On the Fourth of July alone I was seeing updates on mass shootings between pictures of my friends drinking on boats. Every time I refreshed my feed, the news got worse.
I don’t think human beings have adapted to being exposed to so much information at once, especially when it’s negative. It’s not good for you. But at the same time, it’s hard to stop; if knowledge is power, then you’re going to want to be as well-equipped as possible, even if that knowledge is bringing you more anxiety.
If you spend a lot of time on social media, you know there’s already a term for this compulsion to continue consuming worrying content: doomscrolling. The phenomenon became so ubiquitous during 2020 that Oxford English Dictionary listed it among its Words of an Unprecedented Year.
It can be tempting to want to stop paying attention altogether, and I certainly couldn’t blame someone if that’s what they needed to do. But it’s obviously still important to keep up with what’s going on in the world when you have the space for it. I’m still trying to find out how not to overdo it.
Through some experimentation, I think around 15-20 minutes on Twitter per day gives me enough time to scroll through updates, bookmark the articles I want to read and leave feeling like I know what I need to in order to be an informed citizen.
Because at a certain point, I’m not learning anything useful or new. I’m reading tweets lamenting the state of the world, how it likely won’t change and how it’s actually probably going to get worse. A lot of those tweets are probably true, but at a certain point, it does me no good to have that message wash over my brain repeatedly.
So when it comes to Twitter, at least in the way I and other doomscrollers use it, it’s best to get in and get out. It won’t fix the issues that create anxiety, but maybe it’ll help make navigating them a little easier.
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