Before I start, please know that I know that there have been a multitude of articles like this written before, and I’m sure there will be many more written during my lifetime. My question to you is, why do you think this is true? Why do you think people can’t stop writing about this? Why do you think this impacts people so heavily? And how do you think we can change the narrative?
I’m talking about social media, of course, but especially Facebook.
I’ve had a hate-love relationship with social media for as long as I can remember. In the early years, Facebook was only a peripheral part of my life. I posted the occasional photo and I shared an even more occasional “status update.” I was very detached from it, and it from me. I talked to/saw my family and “real” friends on a regular basis, so Facebook was just a fun way to log the occasional moment/event from my life. Later on, Facebook became more integrated with my daily life. I was sharing more, reading more news stories, scrolling more, and shouting out my opinions on everything that mattered to me. And a lot of stuff matters to me.
In November 2013, my 8th year of using Facebook, I read articles about the NSA’s mass surveillance/media bias and about Apple’s child labor/child labor deaths. I shared both articles on my page and, guess what? Nothing happened. No one “liked” my posts and no one commented on them. I wasn’t sad because no one “liked” my stuff. I was mad because no one cared about this stuff. After a couple of days, I deactivated my Facebook account and it sat dormant for two and a half years.
In February 2016, I started writing for this blog and had to reactivate my account. As I wrote about before, I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to re-enter the tedium of social media. Since the end of the most recent presidential election season, I heavily withdrew from sharing. However, I recently co-founded a moms group and, unfortunately, social media is a pretty good resource for establishing connections with other moms, organizations, groups, communities, and events. In this vein, I suspect that many of us see social media as a necessary evil. But then I came across this article last week, and it threw me for a loop.
Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s earliest investors and the company’s first president, came right out and said what we all know: the whole intention of Facebook is to act like a drug, by ‘[giving] you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.’ That, Parker said, was by design. These companies are ‘exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.’
Wow. Think about that for a minute.
Facebook (and other social media sites) is a drug. Sometimes when you see a “like” on your post, you get a small hit of dopamine. When you don’t get that “hit” you’re expecting, you might feel depressed, anxious, or angry. Or when you don’t get enough “hits,” you might feel like you need more of the “drug.” So, basically, we’re addicts.
I also read this book last year called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Ironically, I didn’t finish the book, but I read about three-quarters of it and the gist is this: technology, over the centuries, changes the way our brains work and make connections. This can be a good thing. But with the advent of computers, the Internet, social media, and the endless scroll of news and articles and headlines, our brains are, for all intents and purposes, losing the ability to focus, comprehend, and retain information at a deeper level. We need immediate gratification, and we need it in shorter and shorter amounts of times. We need it to be easy, fast, and instantaneously satisfying. Technology is getting smarter, and we’re getting dumber.
Like all of you, everyone around me always seems to be on their phones, or tablets, or laptops. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Liking, liking, liking. Clicking, clicking, clicking. Sharing, sharing, sharing.
I can’t recall the last time I looked at social media and felt happy afterwards, or even enriched by the experience. — Nick Bilton, special correspondent for Vanity Fair
I’m writing all of this to say that, for me, to change my narrative within the context of the Internet and social media, I am stepping back. I’m not checking my accounts daily and I’m not scrolling. I started a week ago, and I have already noticed how much…slower my days are. And I mean that in the best possible way. I no longer feel like I’m rushing to keep up with my daily activities. I feel more present in the interactions I’m having. I feel more intentional about the way I’m spending my time, especially with my son. And I feel more centered.