Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.

Dear the post calvin,

I really like social media. It’s fun, it lets me talk to people, I get news (personal and current events) from it, and I learn new things every day. But I’m really torn. I’ve seen all the studies about how it’s bad for us, and I know I probably end up being more consumeristic because of it. It does occupy a lot of my time and brain space, and I guess according to the formal definition, I’m “addicted.” Got any suggestions for how to use it responsibly? Best practices or whatever?

Instagram Addict

Dear Instagram Addict,

You’ve come to the right place for help. I’m a proud iPhone owner and use it more than I should, but I’ve taken steps over the years to move away from “addiction.” First, I want to highlight a point you alluded to, an interesting tension: our phones are both so good and so bad for us. My phone is so crucial to my life: it’s my social media headquarters, bank, budget, mindfulness practitioner, Spanish instructor, weather guide, literal road map, camera AND video camera, podcast library, and the list goes on and on. (Shoot, everyone reading this very piece is doing so on a device that emits blue light.) Yet, when I use it too much, I end up feeling completely empty and devoid of purpose, feeling like I’m actually missing out on life rather than living it. I can’t imagine living and thriving in today’s world without a smartphone; I would imagine this conundrum is akin to an alcoholic living in a corner bar booth.

A friend of mine recently said, “do the things that take you away from your phone.” Below are a few tips for those who want to live their lives to the full and not be glued to their phones all the time.

Take a social media cleanse. I acknowledge that I’m far from the first to suggest this, but I’ve experienced this practice and its benefits. When I moved to Hungary to teach English, I ghosted Facebook for two years. I removed it from my phone, “deleted” my account (oh, you can never really delete your account, right?) and did not use Facebook for what ended up being two-and-a-half years. Friend, those were some of the best times in my life. I wrote more, I took pictures, I carpéd all the diems, and I made deep and lasting friendships. No, I didn’t get the update when Johnny got a new cat, and no, I didn’t get all the details of Laura’s trip to Ohio. I probably missed out on a lot of hilarious memes and some great puppy pictures. I survived. You see, the reason to get away from social media isn’t just because of all the research you’ve read, but because it’s simply not enough to satisfy the deep needs we all have inside of us: the need to belong, to be seen, to be loved. We must go elsewhere to have those needs really met.

So, try it for a month or even a week and see how you feel afterwards; check in with yourself and really be honest. See if you become more fully present in your actual life. If you still feel like you’re “missing out,” call a friend to chat. (I’m told our phones can still do this too.)

Put limits on your screen time. Perhaps the evil giants of the technology industry understand our plight as well. You can now “Manage Your Screen Time” by placing limits on yourself, both for certain times of day and particular apps. You can disallow yourself from seeing inappropriate content. You can create a passcode and forget it or entrust it to someone in your life. My pastor recently said, “It’s a lot easier to avoid temptation than it is to resist it.” This is a crucial point for anyone who uses their phone too much; it’s easier to put limits on ourselves and not have to face the temptation than to try and hold ourselves accountable every day. So whatever app you’re overusing, don’t allow yourself to use it for certain hours. Or if, as Marie Kondo would say, it isn’t bringing you any joy, gently tell it “thank you” and let it go.

Remember how fake it all is. This section falls in the “whatever” category of your question, having given you my two “best practices” above. I think it’s worth exploring that, many times, people who blow up social media aren’t actually that happy in real life. The couple posting cute selfies at the beach could very well be dealing with something awful at home. The girl who gets 1,000 likes on that glamour shot is actually, unknowingly, embarking on a desperate search for joy and value and, unfortunately, is searching in the wrong place. I’ve been through some difficult and dark seasons, none of which were evident to anyone browsing my social media libraries. We all carefully concoct this “second life” that so rarely matches what’s really going on inside and around us. So, if we are going to choose to limit ourselves from social media, the relevant question is, “What are we really missing out on?”

I hope this helps. The fact that you’re asking this question is the best sign that you are moving in the right direction. Just remember that you get to control what you do with your time; your life doesn’t have to be driven by what your mom thinks, what your friends want, or what the Russians pay for.

May we all choose to be a little more conscious of our phones and a little more present in our real lives.

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