Log on to Instagram or Facebook and on any given day there's a good chance you'll see a post from a friend announcing they are "taking a break" from social media. He proclaims to his friends and followers that the time offline is long overdue and then goes on to state that he can be reached the old-fashioned way, such as telephone or carrier pigeon. He then bids his farewell, right next to photo of the Zen-inspiring sunrise he will soon be basking in, thus released from the stranglehold of social media over his life. The rest of us are left to deal with the gaping hole left by said friend's departure from the world wide web — at least for a week.
Part of the reason I find these posts so silly and sanctimonious is that I actually love social media. I'm on it a lot, and despite what some of the experts say, I believe its given great benefit to my life.
Facebook and Instagram have helped me stay connected with friends and family who live far away. I can see my friend decorate the city of Chicago with her landscaping and garden business, another friend explore the Arctic Circle for a play she is writing and keep up with what another pal in NYC is seeing on Broadway that week. It's not all pictures of lunches, but I like those, too. In fact, my two favorite meals were inspired by posts about Trader Joe's Green Goddess dressing and a lemon tahini dressing from Whole Foods I otherwise would never have known about!
When I was a new mother of twins, social media provided a mental break when I needed to disengage from the craziness for a moment. As a writer, I find that switching back and forth or rewarding myself with a scroll can spark new ideas (as long as I'm careful not to fall down the rabbit hole).
"People want to talk about how bad social media is and how you should quit using it," says Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a psychologist who specializes in the impact of social media and technology and director of the Media Psychology Research Center. "But social media can do a lot of good. It all depends on how you use it."
Rutledge explains that social media allows you to find out about things you didn't know about and even if it's just an idea for a trip or a new place to eat dinner, this gives you the chance to have new experiences and expand your thought patterns. "New experiences give you new skills, which increases your sense of confidence," she says.
Just within the last year, I've had some incredible IRL experiences, none of which would have happened without Instagram. Since my family and I moved from Brooklyn, NY to Princeton, NJ, Instagram has been a great way for me to find places to visit in my new area. After happening upon a picture of an inviting bourbon cocktail posted by @PrincetonScoop, that led me to follow @brickfarmtavern. My husband and I soon scheduled a day-date to this 1800's farmhouse that a husband-wife team converted into a restaurant, with a distillery on the premises. More than just a good place to eat, it showed me that there are in fact, some exciting things happening outside of New York City.
After someone else I follow posted a picture of a giant flower display outside Air's Champagne Parlor in Manhattan, I knew I wanted to check it out. The image was gorgeous, and I wanted to see for myself what was going on inside.
"Looking at positive images creates positive emotions which triggers your neuro reward system and increases your 'thought-action repertoire' — it makes you more open and creative," Dr. Rutledge says.
This gem turned out to be more than a place to knock back a drink — Air's, owned by Ariel Arce, is a woman-owned business dedicated to bringing a wider understanding of champagne to the casual drinker, at wildly affordable prices. Not only did I get an amazing glass of bubbly, I left with more knowledge about champagne and had a memorable experience — all because I followed a post from an Insta friend.
Not all of my Insta-finds involve eating and drinking. Philadelphia's Magic Gardens lends itself perfectly to Instagram, with its winding paths completely covered in mosaic tile. Artist Isaiah Zagar is a Philly staple but few of the moms I told about my recent visit there had even heard about the place. Maybe they need to get on Instagram!
I'm well aware of the potential downfalls of living life online and one of the things I try to do is to be mindful not to be on my phone during outings. I don't post any pictures in real-time but rather, wait until later that night when the adventure is over, to share my photos and thoughts. "Reviewing your own photos allows you to savor those moment, revisiting the experience," says Dr. Rutledge. "Images in particular trigger sensory and emotional cognitive pathways, so you really do re-experience an event."
"Images trigger sensory and emotional cognitive pathways, so you really do re-experience an event."
Instead of focusing on the negative comparisons to others that can come from social media use, let's focus on the people and places that actually inspire us and motivate us to get out there. After all you never know what you might find!
"My advice to all social media users is to be aware of their choices and the results of engaging," says Rutledge. "If it is positive, do it. If it is negative, stop following, unlink, unfriend. We often forget that the choice is ours."
This morning I saw a picture of an acquaintance snow tubing with her kids. Hopefully by the weekend, my inspiration will lead me to whizzing down a mountain with my own kids. Where could your "mindless scrolling" take you this weekend?
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