Like most of you, I’ve been increasingly struggling to control my social media usage and habits. Our shared problem manifests individually in varying ways, but whether it’s too many Instagram Reels, endless Story updates, or relentless scrolling through the Twitter feed, the bottom line is: how can we change the way we use social media?
Much like the problem it seeks to address, this question too has become tiring to consider. But what finally provided the answer, wasn’t the discovery of a new app or reading about a series of behavioral technicals.
It was just seven words.
Circle of Influence Versus Circle of Concern.
It’s a concept popularized by author Stephen Covey, and a very relevant example of it unfolded on August 15, 2021.
Even if you’re not sure what that date signifies, the odds are that you were very much “concerned” on that day. The day that Kabul fell and the Taliban seized control.
Many of us were rightly shocked by the scenes unfolding before our eyes. Videos and photos cascaded through our timelines, showing desperate people falling off airplanes. We reposted it, commented about it, and discussed it in group chats.
Our circle of concern had grown dramatically since August 14, and now encompassed the plight of an entire nation.
But our circle of influence didn’t budge much. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be outraged at anything that happens more than 10 kilometers from where we’re living. But with each new information that we receive on social media, we need to simply filter it through our circle of influence versus circle of concern lens.
If you see a video of a dog being mercilessly beaten to death in your state, you can act by signing a petition against it, donating to a local shelter, or bringing up the plight of stray dogs to your local MLA. There are many ways to influence things, but unfortunately, too much focus and weightage are given to “spreading the word.”
Yes, sharing a story that’s not had visibility in mainstream media is crucial. But far too often we fall into the trap of thinking we’re making a difference by all echoing the same thoughts, and forgetting about any relevant actions.
The growth of our circles of concern is fueled by the search for enlightenment. We want to know what’s happening, how it affects us, and what we need to do about it. Ironically, technology has supercharged our curiosities, at the cost of crippling our capabilities.
It can be argued that knowing when an actor commits suicide is necessary information. But when we spend several hours reading about the speculations surrounding that event, that’s time we could have spent more constructively. To get enough sleep, to finish studying, to work out…to keep in touch with loved ones.
The most insidious thing about social media isn’t that it inflates our circle of concern, leaving us feeling angry, afraid, and anxious. It’s that our circle of concern simultaneously shrinks, leaving us less capable of making a difference.
So does being aware of this categorization, this filter between circles of concern and circles of influence actually make a difference? It can if we exercise it often enough. It starts with a simple question, asked in the middle of our day when we’re scrolling through seas of digital information.
What can I do about this? Is there something better I could do right now that’ll help me in the long term?
It’s easy to forget that there are billions of dollars and the best minds in the world being deployed to ensure our circles of concern keep growing every single day. Everyone can make a profit by capturing your attention. Very few should be believed when they say they can empower you.
It’s a tough battle to wage. We should be forgiven for losing it for days on end. But winning starts with simple awareness of our social media habits and usage. Of understanding the difference between what provokes us and makes us impotent, versus what improves us and makes us powerful.