The Problem With Social Media Is You
Anxiety and social media go hand-in-hand. But that doesn’t mean the problem lies with the social networks.
Do you sometimes suddenly find yourself filled with thoughts and overwhelm even though you were just sitting doing nothing?
What a lovely feeling that is.
I say “doing nothing” because I bet you were doing something; you were just completely unaware of it.
You were scrolling yourself into oblivion.
And now you feel like shit. Now, isn’t that curious?
Cal Newport saw how people were becoming increasingly uneasy about their relationship with their phones. Both how they were spending too much time on them and not liking how it was making them feel.
He decided to study 1,600 participants and wrote a book about it titled Digital Minimalism.
He found that participants were aware of how their phone-usage was affecting them but didn’t quite know what to do about it.
The problem was made worse when the people attempted to free themselves of their addictive behaviour.
They soon discovered that fighting against powerful, attention-tuned algorithms was much more difficult that first anticipated.
The two solutions they usually deployed against this were:
- A full digital detox
- Blame the tech
1: Full Digital Detox
Going cold turkey and “white-knuckling” it was the first approach.
This generally didn’t work as the participants were deploying their willpower against the desire to pick up their phones.
Willpower is a finite resource: eventually we run out.
And there are genuine reasons we should use technology too. They had to use their phones for genuine reasons.
The problem is the slippery slope when they picked up our phones again.
2. Change the tech, not us.
The second approach was to point-fingers back at the technology. To instead use simple apps cleverly designed to give the illusion of mindful tech usage.
There was a super popular app that allowed you to use your phone while watching a tree grow. It was meant to promote mindful usage of your device.
But why would you buy vegetables from the butcher?
It was basically a beautiful countdown back to scroll-time.
The True Challenge We Face
The real problem of social media consumption and our relationship with technology lies as a fundamental human truth.
A struggle faced from the dawn of conscious man to the modern day age.
Technology has simply brought the issue to the forefront on a global scale and made it extremely obvious to see.
The main problem that keeps people going back to their phones that they won’t admit (or maybe aren’t even aware of) is that their phones are serving a psychological need for them.
It fills a void they don’t want to acknowledge exists in their live.
The most common of which is simply not knowing how to be alone.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the French philosopher Blaise Pascal.
We pick our phones so don’t have to face the difficult parts of life. The parts of life…
- …we’re not happy about
- …we feel shame about
- …have regrets about
These days, it’s extremely easy to escape even the least comfortable of thoughts.
The algorithmically enhanced colours and pings offer the easiest distraction for a little while.
…and another little while…
..and another little while.
But these small distractions come in the form of highly-polished lifestyle images. Allowing us voyeuristically glimpse into these seemingly perfect lives that aren’t ours and never will be.
By distracting ourselves from the hard truths about our own lives, we are consistently exposing ourselves to these unachievable ideals of beauty, wealth, talent or lifestyle.
Over and over and over we blast our minds like an x-ray. Exposing ourselves to ever more dangerous levels of toxic bullshit.
The constant stream of this exposure has not only increased our anxiety collectively; it has eroded our ability to deal with it too.
Our minds have become a double-distilled cocktail of avoidance and dopamine-fried exhaustion. Unequipped with the mental faculties necessary to deal with living, we are no longer able to deal with once very normal things.
We run from one reality to another with ever more frequency. To the point where we will unlock our phones, open social media apps and wonder why or how we even got there.
The anxiety has reached its final boss form of: Autopilot Anxiety. A level of human operation marinated in sauce of deep unfulfilment without even knowing about it.
As you can imagine, this is why simply removing the phone from people’s lives didn’t work.
A white-knuckle approach of simply removing the phone from a persons life will not solve the deep psychological hole it was trying to fill.
Because what happens when you take a pacifier away from a baby?
The technology keeps us from having to confront our voids.
Okay, woah. What now then?
So what steps can we take to have a better relationship with our technology?
1. Change How You See Technology
The first step we must acknowledge is that technology and social media are not the objective problem: they simply exacerbate underlying human conditions.
After all, social media are empty forums: humanity fills them up.
We are simply more aware of already existing human traits that have been accelerated and put on a global scale.
Social media has actually allowed us to become more aware of our fragile mental states like never before.
2. Take Time To Know Why
If social media accelerates the underlying human conditions, this also applies to our curiosities.
If we apply our goals against those curiosities, we can mindfully use our social networks to meet people, start hobbies and build a life of fulfilment.
With intent, we can use social media for net positive results.
Without intent, we slip down the rabbit hole of attention sucking algorithms and depression.
3. What do you actually like?
If you have active hobbies and interests, reprogramme your social media feeds to focus exclusively on those interests.
Be brutal. Cull everything that doesn’t pertain to your interests. Make the best use of social media while cutting out the toxicity.
On the other hand you don’t know what you’re interested in, it’s your job now to uncover what they are.
You’ll need to start experimenting what you like and what you don’t like and use social media accordingly for that.
BONUS: Make it a goal to actively use social media
This will be counter-intuitive to the rest of this article because curveballs keep you thinking.
As you become more mindful of your social media use, you’ll most likely become completely repulsed by it.
The following stage should be the re-programming towards your interests will allow you to see the benefits of building a community, speaking with people and pursuing your curiosities.
This should be a goal of yours to actively engage with these communities. The network effects of engaging with like-minded people are exponential. It will only do great things for you and your interests.
This is the secret sauce of social media people leave on the table.
To conclude this attack…
Paradoxically, we should be grateful for the advent of social media. Nothing in the history of the human race has shone a light on who we are and how fragile we as humans can be.
Learning our lessons, we can move forward to harness the power of our online social world to further ourselves as full human beings.
Just like anything in life, an intentional, mindful approach to our technology use is crucial.
Without it, we risk a world of runaway anxiety, depression and other degradations of mental health.
With it, we can glimpse of a world of undiscovered human potential. 🖤
Hope this article helped you think more deeply about your relationship with technology. If you’re feeling stuck and creatively unfulfilled, drop me a message and we can chat about it.
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