Having a habit of opening your social media apps first thing in the morning? (Why we keep on using them and other things we don’t openly talk about)

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We all want to be connected. According to We Are Social and Hootsuite, Filipinos spend the most number of hours on social media for three consecutive years since 2016 with an average of 3 hours and 57 minutes. From the same report, Facebook continues to dominate globally for the most number of users.

Human beings are not just social animals; they are so intrinsically social that if they are cut off from relations with other humans, they begin to decay physically.

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With the rise of social media tools which can be traced around two decades ago (upon the time of writing), we have to admit that most of these tools became an integral part of our lives. But the utility differs between you, me, and everyone else in this age of information. Some may say that social media tools like Facebook and Twitter get them updated with news real time while some say that such tools help them connect with people more. No matter the reason, I am compelled to write about this topic because of the nagging question whether these social media tools really connect us as a people or not.

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Connection

In my recent travels between house, work, and church, I decided to pay attention to my environment and the moment I did, I was taken aback with what I saw.

Be it in a transport, overpass bridge, or open streets, almost everyone are on their screens either playing mobile games or mindlessly scrolling through their social media feed.

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

Everyone seemed to have built an intimate relationship with their smartphones making me wonder if this is what we ought to become in the years ahead.

Telecommunications have never been this mobile and I observed mobile phones are so accessible that everywhere you look, everyone just seem to have in their hands either a basic or a smart phone. Innovations are even pushing forth to make them even formidably better than their predecessors. As Jaron Lanier wrote:

Digital networks genuinely deliver value to us. They allow for great efficiencies and convenience. That’s why so many of us worked so hard to make them possible.

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Thanks to these innovations that we can easily contact our loved ones across the globe. I even endured a long distance relationship because of these capabilities our handheld devices endowed us with.

RELATED: How to endure a long distance relationship

Because of the mobility these devices offer, mobile phones have become a platform for social media tools with promises of connecting us to the people around. They even deliver more than what they promise by becoming a platform for marketing too – all packed inside your smartphone. We have never been this connected with the world two decades ago that I wonder if as humans, we are meant to be connected with everyone else 24/7. And if it is true, then that explains why we are glued to our screens for hours and hours like nothing in the world matters.

The illusion of connection

I want to start from my personal experience and maybe you can relate to some parts of what I am about to share.

As I turn off my alarm every morning, it has become my habit to check on Facebook and Instagram (because these are the social media apps I frequently visit). And note that my alarm goes off around six in the morning and I usually go out of bed around seven. That means I basically spend about an hour on my screen (or more). The question that prompts me to reach for that ‘shiny blue f logo‘ is “What’s up with the world this morning?” With that I really meant “What’s going on with everybody out there?” Not that I really care about what everyone else has to say about everything but it made me feel connected to my surroundings without spending so much effort to really connect with people. It feels so handy to be informed (with not necessarily helpful information) for the sake of information in the comfort of my soft bed.

After this kind of ritual I get to do every morning, there’s a small voice inside me that tells me something is not right. I also get to notice that the time I spent scrolling through my Facebook feed seemed unfruitful and unfulfilling as if I just wasted my time away. Unlike face to face interactions with friends that make me happy and fulfilled inside, spending my time mindlessly scrolling makes me feel drained first thing in the morning and this seems to set my mood for the day.

As Cal Newport put it:

In an open marketplace for attention, darker emotions attract more eyeballs than positive and constructive thoughts. For heavy internet users, repeated interaction with this darkness can become a source of draining negativity — a steep price that many don’t even realize they’re paying to support their compulsive connectivity.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Social media and self-validation

Another feature of these social media apps is to allow us express ourselves to the world (with the desire to be connected) and open ourselves to be judged by people through likes, hearts, and lots of emoji.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Then after posting something, we get drawn by that ping; that notification telling us someone liked, reacted, or commented on our post. And like an art our fingers move across the screen with a few swipes and taps.

At first, this endless loop seems satisfying like sugar high and dopamine rush. We may think that because someone liked and reacted to our selfie (for example), we must be adding value to their lives and that maybe they wanted to see more of us. And the cycle of posting and feeling good starts again.

When people get a flattering response in exchange for posting something on social media, they get in the habit of posting more.

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Spending most of our time over social media even illicit unwanted emotions we won’t normally feel when we are off these apps. Especially for people who have developed a certain kind of intimacy towards social media as if their life is all about this virtual reality they have built for themselves, this “feel good” moment of being liked and celebrated is so captivating that once people don’t start noticing their posts anymore, they get to question their self-worth.

For instance, when we are afraid that we might not be considered cool, attractive, or high-status, we don’t feel good. That fear is a profound emotion. It hurts.

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And so to keep up with their virtual reality lifestyle, some even go to the extremes of entering into debts just to sustain the image they made themselves for the whole world to see.

RELATED: This 26-year-old Traveler Put Herself $10,000 in Debt for the Perfect Instagram

Social networks bring in another dimension of stimuli: social pressure.

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Engaging with social media tools with the hope of validating our self-worth through electronic feedback not only disconnects us from our true value as a person God intended us to be but also alienates us to what really matters in this lifetime.

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Addiction

Whenever a hint of boredom sneaks within the day, our hands move in autopilot to reach for our phones. Soon after we will find ourselves switching between social media apps, fishing for information and consuming them like junk food. It is as if we don’t want to be left with our own thoughts anymore. We just want to be connected with what’s out there by feeding ourselves with information until we gag from having too much of it.

A friend once told me:

“Since nowadays it would be easier to communicate through social media, it is imperative for us to check our social media accounts from time to time. That’s the start. And then, considering that there are a lot of things running in social media that catches our attention, it hooks us up.” – Leonardo Remulta III

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We might begin with an innocent checking of messages and then later check our social media feed to see if we can scroll through a news-worthy post. There are times we find success in finding that worth reading post but when we don’t, we keep on scrolling in case we find another good one.

Addictive pleasure and reward patterns in the brain – the “little dopamine hit” cited by Sean Parker – are part of the basis of social media addiction.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Never forget our casual notification checks when someone gets to like or react on our posts too! (Note that Facebook has dominated globally for the most number of users as indicated in the beginning of this article.) And once that red notification is lit up, have we not internally debated whether to check it now or later after we have finished the work we are currently doing?

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Well, checking likes is not a form of addiction,” you might say. “You can’t tell me I am an addict.” But as Cal Newport put it:

The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

checking your “likes” is the new smoking

“It’s hard to exaggerate how much the ‘like’ button changed the psychology of Facebook use,” Alter writes. “What had begun as a passive way to track your friends’ lives was now deeply interactive, and with exactly the sort of unpredictable feedback that motivated Zeiler’s pigeons.” Alter goes to describe users as “gambling” every time they post something on a social media platform: Will you get likes (or hearts or retweets), or will it languish with no feedback? The former creates what one Facebook engineer calls “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure,” while the latter feels bad. Either way, the outcome is hard to predict, which, as the psychology of addiction teaches us, makes the whole activity of posting and checking maddeningly appealing.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

They are programming people

“What’s the single biggest factor shaping our lives today?” His (Adam Alter) experience of compulsive game playing on his six-hour flight suddenly snapped the answer into sharp focus: our screens.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

It’s amazing how we have built our lives around our mobile devices – day in and day out (Are you sleeping with your phone just reachable enough for you to get in the morning?). I even watched teens spending most of their time on their mobile devices, tracking the likes and comments they gained after posting that “perfect selfie“.

RELATED: Facebook may hide Like counts to help us feel happy not crappy

In perhaps the most telling admission of all in the fall of 2017, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, spoke candidly at an event about the attention engineering deployed by his former company:
The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about “How do we consume much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” 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.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Some spend so much time on their devices just to scroll through memes, cat and dog videos, and some comedy clips to name a few. I have personally wasted hours watching comedy clips over Facebook. And then just after finishing a video, a list of suggested clips are already on the roll. Not to mention the in-between ads we have to wait through just to get into the fun part.

“This thing is a slot machine,” Harris (Tristan Harris) says early in the interview while holding up his smartphone.
“How is that a slot machine?” Cooper (Anderson Cooper) asks.
“Well, every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see ‘What did I get?'” Harris answers. “There’s a whole playbook of techniques that get used [by technology companies] to get you using the product for as long as possible.”
“Is Silicon Valley programming apps or are the programming people?” Cooper asks.
“They are programming people,” Harris says. ” There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. That is just not true–“
“Technology is not neutral?” Cooper interrupts.
“It’s not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.”

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

WATCH: Full Brain Hacking Interview with Anderson Cooper

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Where do we go from here?

I cannot exactly tell how far we are already from where we once were. The combination of smartphones and social media came to us like a storm, sweeping us through the digital age where how we put ourselves around these changes hasn’t kept up yet. You might have your personal story why you are using a particular social media apps and have your personal reason why you are still using them now. In my case, my first memory with Facebook was that my high school classmates played Farmville and then they keep on tagging everyone on posts and I was just curious. I never played that game but “Facebook is fun,” they said so I signed up. For Instagram, a friend of mine convinced me that it’s a good platform to keep memories in and eventually after a year or so I gave in.

As I kept on using these social media apps, I admit I developed a habit of checking them first thing in the morning and the case is, it’s the beginning of an endless checking throughout the day. A cycle that gets to repeat itself the next day.

At some point, I felt that I am no longer in charge of myself; it was as if these social media apps are taking control of how I handle my time.

I just woke up one day convinced that something is wrong with my habit and so I began to search for articles about my situation. I came across TED Talks on YouTube and stumbled upon Cal Newport and eventually his books. So my research began and reading his books allowed me to put into words what I have been feeling after all – these things are the ones we don’t openly talk about.

RELATED: Why you should quit social media

It was midyear of 2018 that I decided to get out of Instagram just to calibrate my priorities in life. It was a phase where I thought online presence and hearts were everything. Upon doing so, I get to realize that there is more to life than finding that good composition and light. I even gained back the control of my time and learned that the two-hours spent scrolling through social media is not as good as two-hours spent reading a book or with friends. Making this decision also enabled me to focus on writing my thesis and finish reading a number of books (16 books between July and December 2018).

After a year, I decided to come back in Instagram (after my boyfriend’s nudging) but this time, I don’t spend as much hours as I used to. Just recently, I even uninstalled the Facebook app in my phone because I get to notice I am going back to the habit of checking it out every once in a while especially when I am not doing anything.

What I did to gain back control over my time may not be so effective for you. I acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for this matter. So what to do now that we are starting to have ideas on why we are so hooked on these social media apps? I recommend Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World where you will learn how you can manage your digital lives. Some of the things written in this article were quoted from his book.

In this rather long post, I tried to flesh out the probable reasons why we spend so much time in social media apps. We started with the desire to be connected with the people we care but we now know that being too connected online twists that desire into many forms we don’t necessarily need. It may feel as if the pull of these apps is so strong but we must be reminded to make use of our time wisely and spend them on things that create value. We may feel connected with the people we call ‘friends‘ just by liking and commenting on their posts, or by posting something about them. But it’s only an illusion. Nothing beats a face-to-face interaction with the people we truly value. God himself made an example for us to follow in cultivating our relationship towards our friends.

And so the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.
Exodus 33:11 AMP

To live and connect wisely as a people in this day and age, we must also consider how to manage our time in using these social media apps.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5: 15-16 ESV

Wrap Up

  • Connection. We all want to be connected.
  • The illusion of connection. But being connected doesn’t mean 24/7.
  • Social media and self-validation. We often spend so much time in social media because it provides an avenue for our thoughts to be validated; even so, we get noticed through likes and comments and that feels good.
  • Addiction. Checking your “likes” is the new smoking.
  • They are programming people. Our screens are the labs and behind our screens are us, the rats.
  • Where do we go from here? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution but we can manage our digital lives through the ways Cal Newport identified in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

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