I’ve tried to give up social media but like any good drug addict, I keep coming back.
The most used social platforms are not the most popular by accident. They are carefully designed to get you addicted. They are specifically crafted to capture your attention without you realizing it. The way the feeds work and the notifications are updated, they use the exact same psychology as demonstrated in addiction studies using rats.
If the rodent pushes a lever and gets a food pellet every time, they’ll feed themselves until full and move on. But, if the food pellet is randomized, the rat will become obsessed with pushing the lever. Waiting for the surprise food reward and the accompanying serotonin rush, they thoughtlessly eat themselves to an early death.
And so we get “newsfeeds” that are not predictable and notifications that seem to be broken because they are not always showing you what you want. With every software update, it seems to work a little worse. But these are not programming errors. This is an intentional disruption to the predictability of the app. Before users can build up a tolerance for the current version, a new one comes out to keep you guessing. To keep your attention. To keep you obsessed with hitting the lever.
It’s all a bit insidious and repulsive.
But, for better or worse, it does have one upside: it’s where you are.
If I, as an author, want to reach my audience, I have few places to look outside of social media. It’s where my friends and family all seem to hang out. It’s where I’ve met some of the most important people in my life. And if you cultivate it properly, it’s where you can expose yourself to a lot of great information and authentic connection that’s unencumbered by geography.
So, I’m back. Again. And this time…it will be different.
I admit it. I have a problem. I spent an hour straight on Instagram yesterday. I didn’t intend to. I was tired. Grumpy. Hot. I needed a nap. I had work to do. Writing is always an option. I did nothing I needed to do. Instead, I got caught in the space between rest and work; a useless, mind-numbing, carpal-tunnel-syndrome-causing habit of scrolling.
I’d like to just give it all up completely. I don’t think I’d even miss it. I went 100 days without Facebook last year. It was great. Of course, I seem to have some family and friends who’ve taken it personally, as if I’m avoiding them or ghosting them, just because I haven’t kept up on what’s happening in their lives. Without social media, the only way to keep up with people is to see them in person or, when geography makes that difficult, direct contact. But social media has made some people forget that direct communication is a two-way effort. When you post your major life events for all to see, how are you expected to remember to contact that one odd family member who’s stubbornly avoiding the modern public square?
I get it. And I’ve changed some habits as a result. I write letters now. You know, on paper. I’m sending cards these days instead of birthday memes. I can do a lot better. It’s an adjustment, but the extra effort makes it feel more sincere anyway.
Just one more problem. I’ve reason to believe after 44 years of breathing on this big blue ball, I may have figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m learning a lot, I think. I know for sure that sharing what I learn as I go brings me a lot of joy. All an aspiring writer needs now…is readers.
Where to find them?
Ah. There you are, on Facebook, Linked-In, Instagram, Tweeting.
If I have something to say, I better go where the people go. Like any drug, I’ll need to manage the dosage. I’ll try my own experiment. I’ll give more than I take. To succeed financially, the psychology can be complex, but the math is easy; earn more than you make. I’m going to try my own little experiment and apply that math to other areas of my life. Starting with social media. I’ll give as much value as I can, and take in less time than I give.
No mindless scrolling allowed. No boredom induced log-ins. No idle time filler. Only intentional connection with people with time credits that I’ve earned by giving first.
I’m not sure how long this experiment will last. I’m as susceptible to slipping up as much as any addict. It’s a powerful drug, and the cooks are constantly tweaking the formula. I’ll have to be as vigilant as I am forgiving.
But this feels like a fun game. Come at me, Zuckerberg. I’m ready.
I’ll keep you posted.
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