I’ve completely failed at this basically… Well, I say completely, I have been checking twitter and had a couple of private conversations. I haven’t been posting publicly or reading any general threads. I still have all social media apps uninstalled from my phone and they will be remaining so….
There has been a lot of talk recently about the potentially negative impacts of social media both on individuals and on society as a whole. As recently as December of 2017 former vice-president of Growth at Facebook Chamath Palihapitiya stated in an interview that he felt ‘tremendous guilt’ over his involvement saying:
The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.
These comments from Palihapitiya came just a day after an interview from the prolific Sean Parker who was the founding President at Facebook and was well known for his earlier involvement in the notorious file sharing application Napster. Parker claims that Facebook knew from the outset that they were creating something addictive and utilizing techniques that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology”
These views are equally expressed by many outside of Silicon Valley. Prominent Web Psychologist Natalie Nahai has spoken at length on numerous occasions about how Facebook in particular has been designed to deliver a dopamine hit and create anxiety about checking back for feedback on posts. This is covered in a 2015 interview with London Real.
Facebook also came under massive criticism when it was revealed in 2014 that had conducted an experiment on over 600,000 of their users to see if they could manipulate their emotional state by controlling whether they saw positive or negative posts from their friends and how this impacted their own activity.
Whilst Facebook are possibly the most aggressive in this area, the effect is also found on other platforms including Twitter and Instagram in particular.
Social Media and Anxiety Disorder Sufferers
The constant feeling of need to check for feedback (good or bad) is particularly keenly felt in those like myself who suffer from an anxiety disorder. For me personally it is actually when I don’t receive any feedback at all that I feel more anxious, and this generates stronger emotions than when I receive negative feedback and is even more significant than the validation that comes from positive comments.
I’ve become particularly aware of some of the negative feelings that social media can generate over the last week or so. I am currently on 2 weeks holiday whilst a change in medication and some lifestyle changes kick in and the plan was to spend less time on the computer (great time to start a new website I know!) but I have constantly found myself quickly dipping into my Facebook or Twitter feed and ending up either spending ages reading other peoples stuff or posting myself and then feeling the need to go back every 5 minutes.
Taking a Break From Social Media
Yesterday, during another one of these bouts of checking, I had a strange moment of clarity and made a resolution that I would not check any of my social profiles again until I return to work next Monday.
Stupid as it sounds, I know it is going to be very difficult, any habit that is years old is. This is the first full day and I am constantly reaching for my phone or going to open up a browser window to go to Facebook or Twitter to express an opinion or tell a friend about something that happened. These actions in themselves take moments to perform but it is the danger of getting sucked in by seeing what other people are saying and the constant need to check for feedback that are the problem.
One of the other reasons I feel it is important to do this is that it has been recommended to me by Therapists, my Doctor and friends that many people with anxiety and concentration issues benefit hugely from practicing Mindfulness .
It occurs to me that often the perfect moments to stop and observe the world around us are when we reach for our phones to check out feeds. When stood at the bus stop, going to the toilet (which I’ve been doing a LOT of recently), walking to the shop etc.
I also agree with Chamath Palihapitiya that these platforms can have a detrimental effect on relationships, particularly marital ones. More often than not when my wife and me go out for a meal we spend half our time both hunched over our phones. We actually tried an experiment once where neither of us took our phones out and we ended up being stranded without being able to ring a taxi to get home!
Avoiding Temptation to Log In
There are a few things that have done to try and avoid “accidentally” logging into any of my accounts over the next 5 days including the following:
- Making sure I am logged out of all my accounts on my laptop
- Removing all social media apps from my phone
- Telling my wife what I am doing so she can give me a bollocking if she sees me posting (I actually thought about getting her to change my passwords but realized I could just do a password reset)
- Letting people that would normally contact via social what I am doing and that they should ring me if they want to speak to me
- Redirecting social media sites to a reminder that I am being naughty via Windows hosts file (geek bonus)
What Happens After the Break
Regardless of how this experiment goes and how difficult I find it, I’m determined not to go back to the constant checking for messages / feedback however it wouldn’t be practical for me to quit social media altogether. From a work point of the, due to the industry I work in, there is a lot of valuable information and conversation shared on Twitter in particular which I don’t want to miss out on. From a personal point of view, I have a lot of friends that live considerable distances away and Facebook is the easiest way to keep in touch with everyone.
I have a few thoughts on things I could do to better manage my social media usage including the following:
- Spending more time away from the computer
- Disabling all notifications on my phone
- Using apps to restrict time online
- Having set times of day to check feeds
- Using Twitter lists to collate industry information so I can check every couple of days or maybe once a week
- Not taking my phone everywhere, especially when going out with my wife.
- Asking people to email or call me if they want to discuss something
I’m sure there are many other options and I will update with what I find effective as well as updating next week on how this CBT like experiment has worked out and how I am feeling.