In October, I took a break from social media.
I needed to focus on myself, my values, and my priorities. People say that disconnecting from social media helps you better connect with yourself. I would finally have time for other activities and read the books piled up on my bedside table.
But it wasn’t the extra free time I noticed most.
I realized social media wasn’t the problem, but my unhealthy relationship with it: all the hours spent aimlessly scrolling, the public personalities I diligently checked in on every day,…
AND yet, there are also great things online. I missed the Instagram pages I checked daily to stay up on literature and social issues I care about. I often think that having a healthy relationship with technology is possible only if we set limits, spend as little time as possible on it, or disconnect completely. But our lives are increasingly spent online, whether at work, in leisure, or in our social relationships.
So, I wonder if disconnecting is really the solution for better mental health. Isn’t it possible, instead, to have healthy, responsible use of digital tools? Can we be highly connected while protecting our mental health?
Digital literacy for a healthy relationship with technology
YES. According to many studies, we even need to develop our knowledge of media, its codes, and languages, to make more informed, critical use of it. This concept is called digital literacy.
This is an individual’s ability to understand and use digital technology, such as social media, online government services, and devices that enable access to them.[i] The main objective is to give people the means “to access a society’s cultural, economic, and political structures”[ii] to have a critical view of media they consume and use.
Understanding digital technology requires a set of life skills that are significant for optimal mental health, such as deconstructing stereotypes, verifying information, and creating ethical, responsible content. In other words, mastering different facets of digital technology is essential to mental health and adapting our social-emotional skills to the technological world we inhabit.[iii]
Choose the information we consult
I wanted to take a break from social media because some content does me more harm than good. Studies show that social media and stereotyped images that circulate on it affect self-perception and body image.[iv] Learning to identify the effects of social media on our emotions and perceptions is one way to counter its negative impact. This makes it possible to make thoughtful choices about the content we consume online and to implement strategies to develop healthy digital habits. For example, we can choose to unsubscribe from accounts and people no longer bringing us joy.
Creating healthy spaces for yourself and others
That said, social media is an important site for community and solidarity. I realized from the time away from my smartphone that I had made invaluable connections online. The main difference between digital technologies and those of the past is precisely the social and connected dimension of our online interactions. So, we need to ask ourselves about our practices: Does my use of technology reflect my values? Would I like to spend more time offline, or am I satisfied with my use? Is the content I share useful to others? This break was a chance to check in with myself and observe how my use of social media aligns with my life goals.
This is what I found: while digital literacy is an essential skill for everyone, it has to be taught from a young age to promote healthy use and prevent potential harm.[v]
[ii] Belshaw, Doug. The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. Doug Belshaw, 2014.
[iv] “The Complicated Truth About Social Media and Body Image,” BBC, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190311-how-social-media-affects-body-image
[v] “Principes fondamentaux de la littératie aux médias numériques,” Habilo médias, https://habilomedias.ca/litt%C3%A9ratie-num%C3%A9rique-et-%C3%A9ducation-aux-m%C3%A9dias/informations-g%C3%A9n%C3%A9rales/principes-fondamentaux-de-la-llitt%C3%A9ratie-aux-m%C3%A9dias-num%C3%A9riques