The right kind of consumption: A personal essay

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When you think of the word consumption, does a big, juicy burger come to mind? Maybe you’re vegan and drool over the idea of having a portobello one instead?

Or maybe you’re the kind of person to associate the word with sustainability and the earth. When you think of consumption, it involves fast-fashion corporations and the crazy mess that is Black Friday.

Whatever it is that you may think of, chances are, it has changed during the pandemic. I know for me, at least, that consumption is no longer just something I associate with food and sustainability, but rather the concept of taking something in; specifically, it’s doing so in a way that is harmful and excessive to myself.

When I heard classes were going to be online, I tried to see the bright side of the situation. I wouldn’t have to make the trek up Northside, I could have back-to-back classes without worrying about the sprint between Dwinelle Hall and Soda Hall and I would be able to go back home and spend time with my family in a way that was safe for me and those around me. However, the more time I spent staring at a screen, the more I realized how much screen time I was consuming on a daily basis.

I would go to class, stare at my phone in between breaks, catch up with friends through Snapchat, scroll through Instagram and like a couple of pictures, share some of my own, etc. All the things I used to do. Except now, it seemed to take up my whole day.

Sometimes, I wanted to look away, but then I felt like I was picking between my social life and my health. I wanted to catch up and talk to others after a long day of “Zoom University,” but I was also tired of staring at a screen for class. It felt overwhelming, but it also felt like the people around me would slip away if I didn’t check up on them. Social media was the only way I could connect with my friends.

That had its downsides, too. The more time I spent scrolling through various apps, the more I felt down about myself. There were people posting about their internships, new jobs or promotions, while I felt like I was barely getting through my classes at all. I couldn’t help but compare myself to the people I saw on the screen. It started affecting my mental health, but I just didn’t know what to do.

It felt overwhelming, but it also felt like the people around me would slip away if I didn’t check up on them.

Not only was I consuming too much social media, but it was also consuming me. If this was a movie, I would definitely be getting chased by giant phones right now.

Don’t get me wrong; I think social media is great. It’s amazing that we have the capability to communicate with one another during these trying times in ways that keep us up to date with what we are all doing. 

I love connecting with various people around the world with the photography account I run, for example. It’s nice that I get to see what people in India, Spain and Japan are posting, or what the writing community I am a part of is up to. I have met some of my best friends through there and we always help each other out with our creative work.

These were the things I wondered about as I unlocked my phone and opened another app. I didn’t want to miss out on all this. But sometimes it can get to you, and that’s OK, too.

Two months ago, I started hearing the term “Zoom burnout” being tossed around more as I went through my classes. I never thought about myself feeling that way, and I definitely never connected it to my own consumption of social media. I was still stuck separating academics and entertainment.

But nowadays, when both take place on a screen and you can’t really go anywhere but the places your phone has to offer, it kind of feels like you have no choice but to keep scrolling and clicking away.

So the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I personally felt the burnout because I spent so much time online. Everything, from my books to the videos I was supposed to watch for class, was all on my computer screen.

Everything, from my books to the videos I was supposed to watch for class, was all on my computer screen.

But then we lost power a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t use my phone for the whole day. It was pure and utter torture.

And that was my turning point.

I had just experienced the two extremes: using online devices and social media all day and not using them at all. I couldn’t even access my classes.

So I wondered what I should do next, and I’m still kind of wondering. But what I’ve learned so far is that it takes a balance of the two. I needed the right kind of consumption in my life to keep myself from going crazy: portion control when I had meals, being wise with how I spent my money, shopping sustainable clothing and makeup brands and, now, with how I spent my time online.

I decided to start off by minimizing the time I spent checking up on friends through a screen and thought of different ways of checking up on them. Instead of a text, I would hit them up with a call. I had been so focused on speaking through text and emoticons that I had forgotten how to voice my feelings out loud. And my friends were more than happy to reciprocate. We started doing phone calls after a busy week of work and studying, catching up with one another on Friday nights instead of checking Instagram or Twitter every hour.

I also started following old routines I used to do on campus, such as taking a walk outside my house in between classes and spending time with nature. I started writing things down instead of reading them off my phone and tried printing out things such as recipes and study guides to mark up with a pen.

In addition, instead of restricting my time on social media, I tried not to use it just because I was bored. I told myself I had to have a good reason to log on. But I was also never mean to myself. If I wanted to spend a couple of minutes (or hours) on TikTok, I could! As long as I spaced things out and took regular breaks from social media, everything would be OK.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to do a complete social media cleanse, but I have learned how to structure the time I spend looking at a screen. The right kind of consumption can be different for everyone. Some of us require more of different things. But it’s up to each of us to figure out what these preferences are. I was going to text my friends after writing this, but now, I think I’m going to try to write them a letter instead. Wish me luck!

Contact Pamela Hasbun at [email protected].