Every Sunday, an iPhone user can opt to get a notification regarding the average amount of time they spent on their device during the preceding week. The ‘Screen Time’ option breaks down the amount of time spent on each app, and even divides the total time according to productivity, social networking and reading.
It’s easy to get lost scrolling down one’s Instagram feed, but when you see that you’re spending an hour on it a day, it puts things in perspective. And that’s just one social media platform.
Research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania looked at prior studies that linked social media usage to increased feelings of loneliness and depression, and found that while there was cause for linkage, there wasn’t sufficient data to back it up.
So, they took it upon themselves to determine the connection and whether reducing one’s social media usage could in fact lead to the improvement of one’s well-being. The kicker? They found ten minutes per platform to be the ideal, and healthy, amount of time to be spent.
Conducted among students within the university, the study took place in two semesters. A baseline measurement of the subjects’ well-being had to be established and so participants had to take a battery of subjective tests that measured areas such as anxiety, loneliness, social support, fear of missing out, depression, self-esteem, and autonomy and self-acceptance. They then had to share screenshots of their battery usage in order to create a baseline of their phone usage. After this, participants were randomly allotted to either the control group (which was not asked to change any usage behaviour) or the experimental group (which had to limit usage to ten minutes each on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat per day).
Everyone had to send a screenshot of their battery usage at a particular time every day and take the baseline test again at the end of every week. With the data accumulated at the end, the researchers were able to tally the differences in the seven measures and found that the experimental group’s loneliness scale saw the biggest change: a significant drop.
While it’s initially strange to think that the platforms that connect you to others could be a reason for feeling lonely, it does make sense. A lot of the content that we absorb gives way to feelings that we’re missing out on something or leads to comparisons to the material and people on the other side of the screen, and the constant absorption of it just drives that notion in, that notion of inadequacy.
Of course, the study doesn’t come without its limitations. First of all, the study only tracked three platforms, and that too the way they’re used on mobile devices. Accessing them through desktops and other ways wasn’t taken into account (as acknowledged by the researchers). Secondly, it isn’t really feasible to expect someone to be able to stick to the 10-minute quota, considering a lot of businesses function through these platforms in a major way.
But the limitations don’t change the reality of the dangers of social media. It’s important to understand that misconceptions run like wildfire, and it’s a stark reality that people do judge themselves against the other side—all the while not knowing how accurate the depiction may really be—unknowingly accentuating feelings of loneliness and depression.
There is a myriad of apps available that help you monitor your usage, and it’s as good a time as any to pay attention to the time you spend scrolling—for the sake of your mental health.