Powering Off: Excessive Internet and Social Media Use and How to Create a Healthy Balance

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Are you digitally dependent? Many people would say yes and there’s research to prove it. According to a Pew Research Center study from May 2013, 72% of online adults use social networking sites. For some perspective, in 2005, it was a mere 8%.

WHNT NEWS 19 sat down with Pavica Sheldon, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at UAHuntsville, who has spent the last several years researching how people communicate using social media.

When asked if there is a such thing as being too connected, Sheldon responded,  “I definitely think it can be a problem because we think we can multi-task and actually we cannot.”

Sheldon, who’s published over a dozen peer-reviewed journals on social media related-topics in the last 5 years, says when we’re consumed with online activity, we cannot focus on what’s important. That’s because often times digital distractions like email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, games and apps get in the way.

“We think we can be on Facebook and work at the same time,” says Sheldon. “We think we can drive and text. It’s a problem.”

Something else Sheldon says is problematic about excessive social media use is not being able to interact effectively in person.

“People cannot communicate interpersonally anymore,” explains Sheldon. “You go to a restaurant and people are texting or receiving a phone call. They’re not focusing on you.”

With less face to face time and shorter attention spans, Sheldon says it’s imperative that we find a healthy balance between staying connected and not becoming consumed with technology. Then, teach that to children.

“We want them to learn how to use internet and the media effectively so it helps them, but doesn’t constrain them,” says Sheldon.

In her research, Sheldon looked at the number of hours people spent on social media each day. Since her initial study in 2008, she says the number of hours doubled to 3-4 hours.

How much is too much? Is there a such thing as internet addiction? WHNT NEWS 19 posed those questions to Cherryl Galley, Psychology Chair at Oakwood University in Huntsville.

When it comes to the internet and time spent on social media, addiction might be too strong of a word to use, but Galley says overuse fits well.

“It can certainly compromise one’s responsibility to life,” says Galley.

In Galley’s professional opinion, it can compromise a host of other things too, like real time relationships and face to face engagement. One recent instance sticks out in her mind.

“I went into a room earlier this week and there were several people in this particular room and all were looking at some kind of device,” describes Galley. “It was silent and nobody was talking to each other, but they were clicking or typing.”

Because everyday life can be so technologically involved, Galley says most people probably don’t think they have an issue.

“Social media is so readily available for anyone, that people think it’s a way of life now and it is a way of life,” says Galley. “But the more we use it, the more we think we have to use it.”

And we don’t have to use it and certainly not all the time. Galley suggests this strategy saying, “Write down how you spent this morning and afternoon. Then make a plan so you can schedule in time for exercise and actually engaging with people.”

Galley says it’s important to document and write down the time you spend on the internet or social media. If you don’t, you run the risk of underestimating what’s really going on and how it could be affecting your life.

Watch and read our series of reports on Powering Off:

Powering Off: Excessive Internet and Social Media Use and How to Create a Healthy Balance

Madison Family Eager To Take “Powering Off” Challenge

Pastor’s Challenge: A Huntsville pastor challenges his congregation to commit to a 21-day digital detox

Powering Off: A Pastor Unplugs