Column: Balancing the real and virtual world

In the modern world, it is very easy to spend a lot of our time on social media. Source: Foundry (via Pixabay)

By Megan Shinner | Advice Editor

Social media for most of us is a prominent part of our everyday lives. A quick scroll through Facebook once you wake up, editing an Instagram post on the commute to lectures and responding to Snapchats whilst cooking your dinner. We may not realise it, but all these little things add up, and we end up spending a lot of time on our screens. Particularly with the pandemic, lots of people have dedicated a lot of their free time to endlessly scrolling through all sorts of content because we couldn’t engage with live sports, theatre, and so on. As I stated, we use social media quite regularly; you may be wondering I’m raising this as an issue. It’s not the actual act of using social media that’s the problem, it is the how and why we are using it.


Smart Insights predicted that the average social media usage was nearly 2.5 hours per day. That’s 17.5 hours each week and very nearly 3 whole days per month that we give to social media. This is just your social media apps, let alone all of your phone calls, texts, emails, google searches, music streaming services, online shopping – the list goes on! When you think about it, 3 whole days is a decent bit of time. Can you believe that on average we spend over a month of our year scrolling through tweets or posts? I couldn’t quite believe this when I worked it out. I couldn’t tell you how I’d managed to spend a month of this year just watching TikToks, but I could tell you many other things I would have liked to have done with that time. 


Social media, before I talk of reduced engagement with the online world, is also used for lots of good and practical things. Lost your Student ID at Juice? Someone will probably find it and share it on a Facebook group. What to spread awareness about a certain topic? There are loads of advocacy accounts on Instagram which you can engage with. Whether you’re looking for something from raising money for charity to sharing your successes, or even to simply engage with content to lift your mood; social media is a very good place to start! However, there is a fine line between positively engaging in content and just filling a void. Are we using social media and technology too much? Are we using it for the right reasons? When is it a good time to re-evaluate our relationship with the online world?

Digital Balance

Within our relationships, we must set boundaries between ourselves and others so that the relationship can develop naturally, healthily, and can coincide with each other’s personal needs. Finding a digital balance is the boundary between the real and virtual worlds. I’m not really one to talk as I’ve definitely checked my phone a handful of times whilst writing this! 

One thing I changed on my phone in the past 6 months was my push notifications. I just turned them all off. I found then that if I wanted to check social media, I was now doing this on my own accord. I had a bad habit of every time my phone pinged, I had to check it, regardless of what I was doing. Social media took over and left me feeling overwhelmed around assessments as I couldn’t dedicate a select time to something. My brain was rushing back and forward between several things at once, and I lost all sense of priority and importance. I now also have time limits on apps. I set half an hour a day on my social media. If I go over, I get warned and there is a count down to how much time I have left or am borrowing. This allows me to be conscious and realise the time I am either investing or wasting. 


The next step I took was deactivating my accounts. I only ever used my Twitter account to pass time when I was very bored. This was generally at 2am or when I was procrastinating something. I’d rather channel my boredom into something that I actually wanted to do or if I was going to procrastinate my assignment, procrastinate well by being productive in another way. 

Mindful Usage

Regardless of how much you use or don’t use social media, it’s what you are looking at that counts. The content that we dedicate hours to is what determines whether our relationship is toxic or not. 


Some themed accounts I love are the ones that are spreading positivity, exam tips, book quotes, psychology, photography, music, and mental health awareness. We are often drawn to certain things as they may be relatable, there is a common interest, the content is particularly thought-provoking, or you just consider the things you are reading or seeing as mentally nourishing and is a good spending of your time. This is an example of mindful usage. When we are using social media, as long as the content is adding to our happiness and is not stealing too much of our time, it can be considered healthy.


However, on the flip side of things, what isn’t too good for us? Sometimes negative content can creep up through a page or hashtag that we follow. Sometimes it only takes one comment to dampen our mood. Make sure to filter your content to avoid this from happening. Also, sometimes the accounts I enjoy engaging with can become an obsession after a while. The hours I’d spent reading quotes from books; I would have much rather actually read a book and found my own meaningful quote. The time I would have spent scrolling through beautiful pictures of different cities; I would have much rather spent my time exploring a new place and taking my own pictures. We are so invested in others’ lives that we forget to live our own. We must control this daily task to ensure it stays a task and doesn’t develop into an addiction. 


Just like you may take a break from studying, fitness, rehearsals – sometimes you need to take a break from social media. One of the frustrating things I find with social media is this unspoken obligation that you may or may not feel to get social media. We lived in a world without it before, so it isn’t imperative to your world now. Always remember – whatever is going on in the world will still be there when you log back on. 

At the end of the day, social media apps are literally designed to entice us, therefore being quite difficult to quit them. If you can’t bring yourself to deactivate your Instagram or Twitter account – that’s okay. It’s not that you have to do this; finding your boundary and sticking to it is what’s important here.  


One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given regarding my technology usage; your devices should be a slave to you, not you a slave to them. Remember your boundaries and remember what you feel is a good use of your time. 

Megan Shinner Advice 

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