I have a confession. I have actually referred to myself in the past as an insert-social-media-network-here stalker.
I think I realized this couldn’t be healthy somewhere around the time I was scrolling a year deep in the social timeline of the cousin of the boyfriend of a person I had never met in real life.
Let me repeat, for the people in the cheap seats:
of the boyfriend
of a person I had never met.
Shamefully, this wasn’t my first time. I had jumped down this rabbit hole several times before — delving neck deep into the lives of friends, colleagues, or strangers who were, in the words of Wendi Williams, “‘friends in my head.” I would also spend so much of my day mindlessly scrolling, I would scroll on the bus on my way to work, intermittently through my work day, then on the ride home, before and after dinner, and then I would stay awake later than I should, still scrolling.
I would rationalize it by saying things like…if they didn’t want people to see it, they wouldn’t share it. While this was true, it just didn’t seem healthy for me. I could tell that something about this time was different. It was like an alarm went off in my head – complete with the flashing lights and loud beeping. Like the talking car alarm in one of those iconic Fresh Prince of Bel Air episodes, but instead of saying “you are too close to the vehicle…you are too close to the vehicle,” it was saying “back away from your phone.”
I could not continue to do this. Maybe, just maybe, I was spending too much time online. I composed myself, and made a decision to bench my Instagram account for a while — I would venture on a social media detox. I logged off.
Within the next hour I was maniacally scrolling through my phone’s app menu to locate the iconic camera icon for Instagram, and I had been in for a few minutes before I even remembered the decision I made less than an hour ago. Old habits die hard, I guess?
I attempted to delete the app from my phone, but my phone wouldn’t let me (gee, thanks technology) — so I settled for disabling my account, and removing the app from my home screen. I would have to go into the Google Play Store and type in “Instagram” before I could access it. Yes, more roadblocks. This would stop me for sure.
And although I didn’t actually make it back into my account for a few weeks, I did, over the course of these weeks, open the Play Store and locate the app, almost like it was a basic need for living. I was going through withdrawal — I hadn’t realized I was addicted until I tried to leave it. Could I be experiencing the levels of withdrawals of a quitting cigarette smoker?
In an interview with CNBC, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff suggested that the addiction level of social media, namely Facebook, can be compared to cigarettes, and as such, should be regulated in the same way.
He remarked: “Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive and we need to rein that back.”
So was this why I was having the feeling that I was missing out on all the updates on the lives of the people I followed? I was having strong intense cravings to find out what was happening. I logged back into my account, which triggered a reactivation.
If I was addicted, I needed to take more serious measures, so I deleted my account. That was four months ago – the day after my 27th birthday. Don’t think for a second that this stopped me from going into the Play store and opening up the app, because I still did. And then a familiar “oh yea” moment ensued.
But then, something wonderful happened. It started happening less and less, and then I noticed that I stopped. The habit was dying, and my cravings began to dissipate.
Interestingly, the founding President of Facebook, Sean Parker, admitted in 2016 that this was the intention of Facebook and other network’s design — they wanted to “exploit a vulnerability in humans psychology” to create an addiction. “The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’”
He continued: “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social-validation feedback loop.”
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
The founding President of FACEBOOK said: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
I had an immediate moment of introspection. My distance from social media had allowed me to be more honest with myself. Who had I actually been posting photos for? After all, my family members, and my closest friends already knew the ins and outs of my life. So, why was I still updating, essentially people who are now strangers, on my life? Was it for the ego boost of the likes – a hit of dopamine? Did I also get a dopamine boost when I navigated through the profiles of colleagues, and strangers? What the heck is social media doing to my brain?
I noticed great things started happening in the time I would have dedicated to scrolling through Instagram. I spent more time reading, I made the decision to start this blog, and a host of so much other productive things.
I am preparing to end my self-imposed exile and rejoin the community, but I have no idea when I will return — I don’t have much of a drive to rejoin as yet. However, when I do decide to take those steps, I plan to use social media in a more intentional way, and to use this enlightenment to prevent myself from getting in over my head again by setting boundaries — limiting myself to only certain periods throughout my day. I have also created a simple litmus test to help as I navigate — I will ask myself: “How is this serving me?” anytime I find myself headed in a wrong direction.