It is undeniable that social media has become a huge part of our lives.
From interacting with long-lost childhood friends and relatives who live far away to freely promoting our businesses, it has many benefits and is almost a necessity.
However, social media can be the cause of great heartache.
It has ruined relationships, enabled us to compare ourselves to others in unhealthy ways, and increased paranoid behavior. In its own warped way, it has even become the drug of choice for many of us seeking happiness outside of ourselves.
Just look around a restaurant during dinnertime when entire families have their heads stuck in smart phones, rather than engaging in conversation with each other—or watch people as they walk down the street with their faces glued to a screen. The fact that I am even taking the time to write an entire blog post on the subject is also telling, even a bit concerning, and attests to its real presence in our society as a driving force and influencer in our lives.
Studies have shown that for every “like” or comment on a social media post, the brain experiences a dopamine spike. This dopamine spike creates a feeling of euphoria, causing us to want more and more of the trigger: in this case social media validation and attention.
In an age where people are feeling increasingly more isolated and having less person-to-person interaction, the virtual connection of social media is giving temporary relief to the loneliness many people feel. Recently, I read an article, ironically circulating on social media, about how the solution to addictive behavior is human connection. The less we feel connected to people, the more likely we are to develop addictive behaviors; therefore, social media is a prime drug of choice because it supplies us with a false sense of human connection, is easily accessible, and it’s free.
In reality, our relationship is achieving the opposite of human connection, isolating us even more and enabling us to waste precious time when we could be creating better opportunities for ourselves.
Another online article explored the correlation between limiting our social media time and the level of happiness one experiences. In essence, the less time we spend scrolling through a news feed, the happier we are.
From personal experience, I have found social media to be a detriment more than a help.
It is true that I have used Facebook to raise awareness and funding for my yoga nonprofit, and that has been one of the positives; however, relationship-wise, it has created more harm than good. For someone like me who is predisposed to addictive behavior, social media can be quite an obstacle to overcome. Recent changes in my life have led me to re-evaluate my use of social media and to implement a solution based on the first limb of yoga: the yamas.
Living our yoga involves applying Patanjali’s eight limbs to all we do in our lives.
The first limb, the yamas, are “rules to live right with others.” Practicing the first of the eight limbs is one of the initial steps to preparing ourselves for the inner contemplative limbs of yoga. So when I made the commitment to clean up my social media habits, I used the yamas as a guide as I unfriended, deleted posts and photos, and created a system of time management.
Ahimsa means non-harming, and is the yama that will receive more attention due to its widespread implications. Ahimsa is more than refraining from physical violence or verbal violence—it involves being kind to ourselves (physically, emotionally, and mentally), the environment, and animals. Essentially, if we are practicing Ahimsa, we are mindfully assessing all we do and say and refraining from anything that could cause harm.
We all have those social media friends who are increasingly sarcastic, judgmental, and even confrontational with others. They bully others, ruffle our feathers, and cause unsettled emotions.
From political posts that incorporate name-calling to memes that make fun of the way others look, I began to pay attention to what others were posting. If a person was generally negative, cruel, and unkind, I unfriended him. If unfriending was not always an option, and we all have those situations, I simply unfollowed the individual so that I would not see his posts. This also eases the temptation to comment on bigoted or cruel posts and minimizes the potential of an online argument. The result is less emotional stress for me and a more positive outlook about humanity. In this case, ignorance is truly bliss.
Then, enter the drama kings and queens—those individuals who are constantly posting memes, passive-aggressive posts, and giving too much personal information, from conflicts they are having with others to their relationship woes. These are the ones who have a proclivity to project their issues onto the imaginary audience they feel is out to get them.
The saying “you spot it; you’ve got it” is relevant here. For example, the person who is always claiming to have haters is really the hater; they just don’t realize it or know that everyone else sees it. However, what happens when we read these posts is that we wonder if the person is directing it toward us; this alone can cause discontent. Therefore, it is best to hide or unfriend these people so that we do not suffer from excess worry or anxiety, causing ourselves emotional harm.
Another way Ahimsa applies to our social media use is self-comparison.
In a world where photoshopped Instagram and Facebook yoga photos are constantly invading our news feed, it is easy to compare ourselves to unrealistic ideals. From yogis contorting themselves in unbelievable postures to the touched up photos of fitness models, it is common to feel defeated when we are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Many of my “friends” from the yoga communities I belonged to were not ones I had met personally. When I was seeking to shorten my friends list, I started with their profiles. If seemingly every post was a selfie, photos of scantily-clad yoga postures, or attention seeking on some level, I unfriended them. This decision was not made from a place of envy, but from a place of minimizing self-comparison and unnecessary feelings of inadequacy. I also understand my discontent comes from a place of attachment, which often causes suffering. Therefore, the solution is to detach.
Likewise, I deleted most of my past yoga photos, selfies, and self-promoting posts unless I felt they served a greater good. In all seriousness, does anyone really care that I can touch my foot to the back of my head or do a challenging arm balance? Could I be the source of discontent for others or unknowingly encourage others to try a yoga posture that is unsafe or they aren’t ready for? An honest evaluation of our intention and the potential effect of each photo should be carefully considered before we upload.
Satya is truthfulness and honesty in speech and action. I mentioned the social media highlight reel, where we showcase only the positives in our lives and leave the negatives out. After all, it is human nature to reveal only those events that show us in the best possible way. From touched-up and photoshopped photos to Snapchat filters, we are more likely to post a flattering photo than one that is unflattering, even if that means modifying it to make us look different than we truly are.
We are all guilty of showcasing our highlight reel, but if we really live by the principle of satya, then hiding information is also an example of not being fully truthful.
I am not advocating that we air our dirty laundry for all to see. Some things should remain private. People are more likely to share the wonderful vacations, new clothes, and their successes and accomplishments rather than share their relationship issues, that their house is in foreclosure, or that they are suffering from a mental illness. And that is okay.
We just need to remember that what we see online is only a slice of what is happening in other people’s lives—we all experience rottenness, too. If we begin to believe that we are the only ones who have problems based on what we see in cyberspace, then that can interfere with our sattva or balance.
Similarly, we should avoid posting untruths ourselves. If we aren’t happy with a photo, it’s okay not to post it. Or better yet, maybe the photo isn’t as bad as we perceive it to be. Nevertheless, being more mindful of what we post and evaluating the truthfulness of it will be a step in the right direction of satya.
I like to intertwine the yamas of satya and ahimsa here. If our posts can potentially create discontent or sadness for another because they are not fully truthful, perhaps we should not post them at all.
In its traditional sense, brahmacharya “…is absolute freedom from sexual thoughts and desires.” However, I will apply the Western interpretation of non-gluttony and moderation in all we do.
Social media is not necessarily all bad, and when used wisely, can benefit us all. However, when we overindulge in anything, including social media, it can yield serious consequences.
The root of addictive behavior is the absence of brahmacharya in one’s life.
Addictive behaviors are driven by gluttony, that effort to find the next high from our drug of choice. We want more of everything and are seemingly never satisfied.
Social media is increasingly becoming the drug of choice for many of us, driving us to indulge in it in excess. In fact, social media gives us a false sense of what Andy Warhol predicted: “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Most of us know the person on social media who is constantly updating profile photos, posting selfies, and has an opinion at the top of each hour. They are experiencing this perpetual “15 minutes of fame.” This person loves to look at himself or herself and thinks everyone else does too.
And, I’ve noticed the number of posts one does increases with the number of likes and comments one gets. This is basic psychology; we increase behaviors that are rewarded with positive reinforcement, and many people take it to excess. Why does anyone think that anyone else wants to see the 10 selfies they post each day? Because someone—who is also likely addicted to social media—is mindlessly scrolling through a news feed and “liking” the pictures. There are times when I have mindlessly hit the “like” button, not even aware of what I was “liking,” which contributes to the problem.
The practice of brahmacharya can be applied to social media in many ways: limit our social media time, delete the apps on our phones, log out of the accounts when we are not using them, delete or unfollow those people who are posting excessively, and avoid posting to excess ourselves.
When we spend too much time on social media or engaging with other forms of technology, we are essentially stealing time away from our loved ones and ourselves.
Many wasted hours are spent scrolling through news feeds, taking the perfect selfie, and recording and editing videos to upload to YouTube or Facebook. We are trading human interaction with time spent engaging with technology. We allow social media to steal time from our children, friends, and family. Likewise, we could spend our time bettering humanity instead of playing with a smartphone. Volunteering for a charity, reading to our children, or playing a tennis match with friends or family are far more worthy than watching the next Instagram story.
Before we log on to social media, perhaps we should ask ourselves what the intention is.
If we have a legitimate reason other than just passing time or logging in out of boredom, then by all means, log in, do what we need to do, and log off. Otherwise, finding an alternate activity that won’t result in hours of wasted time will serve us better.
Often, I have logged into my account with the intention of spending only a few minutes—but have found myself still scrolling an hour later, neglecting more important responsibilities like being a mother, learning a new skill, or maintaining my house. Social media will always be there with the same narcissistic posts when we have some extra time.
While the yama of aparigraha seems closely related to brahamacharya, it is slightly different. Part of the discontent we experience when engaging with social media is seeing everyone else’s highlight reel. This leads us to covet what others have.
The narcissistic nature of social media showcases the most positive aspects in their lives, leaving us feeling like we fall short. As a result, we may begin to covet what others have, never feeling grateful for what we do have. Limiting social media time and unfollowing those people we tend to envy are the first steps to practicing aparigrapha in our lives.
It is time that we become more mindful as a society to what behaviors we are engaging in on social media and the effect it has on us. When we really look at the yamas and their application to our behaviors toward technology, they create a roadmap for us to follow to limit the negative impact technology has on our lives.
Author: Angela Still
Image: Anders Lejczak/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina