In the morning, it’s Twitter. A constantly refreshing stream of mini updates, letting me know what I’ve missed overnight. After breakfast, if I’m feeling confident, there are Instagram Live dance classes, or boxing lessons I can gamely flail along with, and maybe a sedate Youtube yoga session as well. Maybe I’ll tune into a streamed chat between two famous actors, isolating in their individual huge mansions. They also bought too many beans! So relatable!
In the evening I’ll FaceTime with Mom and email with Dad, check the news on Reddit and Facebook, and hop on Tik Tok for a quick laugh. That leaves me with just enough time to check Twitter again, falling asleep as my fingers are still itching to scroll, scroll, scroll.
Though my screen time might be a bit much, it’s getting harder and harder to tear myself away. I work online, I stream my entertainment, and now that we’re all isolating at home, staying online keeps me connected. It’s just not possible to turn it all off.
Besides, logging off isn’t as easy as pushing that power button on my laptop. In the middle of a pandemic, there’s also a need to keep up to date on the latest news alerts and health advice.
So when should we log off? And how do we stick to our “real” lives when it feels like everything is happening in a virtual space? Kin spoke to Matthew Allen, an Adjunct Professor of Internet Studies at the University of Tasmania, who said first up, you should "be conscious of what you are doing online, how often and when, and every few days ask yourself if you are OK with it.”
With more time at home and more outside stressors, it’s natural that our screen time might balloon to epic proportions. So do a check in, and avoid “doom scrolling.”
Sarah Craig, director of Sefiani PR Agency in Sydney, told Kin it’s not always necessary to know everything as it’s happening.
“In an isolated environment, one of the things that can be more contagious than the virus is panic itself," she said. "Not only are we facing a pandemic, we are facing a global info-demic.”
While it’s natural to want to constantly refresh our feeds for new information, it’s unlikely we’re going to learn anything crucial every 15 minutes.
Instead of more information, get fussy about the information you’re bringing in, and clean up your feed. “Selectively mute and block people, words, and hashtags on Twitter. Now is the time to review and cull follower lists,” advises Craig. “Limit the amount of COVID news shared with others unless from a trusted source. There’s a lot of misinformation out there; don’t add fuel to the fire or share posts that have already done the rounds.”
If you feel like you need a break, set time limits - and stick to them. Decide how long you want to spend on a certain site or doing a specific activity, and set a timer.
Jessica van der Torre, psychologist with Clear Sky Psychology, recommends checking in with yourself after you spend time on different websites by doing a body scan. Are you tense? Relaxed? Jumpy? Rate your feelings on a scale from one to ten.
“It is helpful to be on the look-out for feelings of exclusion...helplessness, agitation or anger after being on certain sites or engaging with certain online communities,” she tells Kin.
Van der Torre says the goal of interacting online should be to follow the ACE principle, aiming to spend time on sites that give us a sense of Achievement, Connection, and Enjoyment. And that might mean kissing FOMO goodbye.
“I have actively turned notifications to Twitter and my various news apps off, and I limit my checking typically to twice per day,” van der Torre says. “I have at no point felt that I missed something vital or felt as though I was in jeopardy as a result.”
Since living and working online is a huge part of all of our lives, it’s unreasonable to expect that we’ll shut it all off for good. Instead, the goal is to have a mix of activities - including helpful ones. At the University of Tasmania, Allen is researching the social response to COVID-19, and points out there are many resources online to help folks deal with the stresses of isolation.
"The pandemic has made a great many people who thought life was fine and quite easy realise how difficult it is,” Allen says. “We no longer know who we will be in the near and longer-term future and, as has been shown over many years, the Internet provides channels and platforms whereby we can explore and try to understand these feelings of self-uncertainty.”
Maybe that’s a Tumblr, allowing you to celebrate your passions. Maybe it’s a Medium page, where you can write about what’s going on. You can even connect virtually with psychologists like van der Torre, whose clinic has moved to working with clients through Telehealth, offering video conferencing sessions and low gap fees.
This is an unprecedented time, and there’s no rule book for exactly how to act to get through it. But by recognising how you feel after spending time online, you can decide if, and how, you want to alter your behaviour.