Over the holidays I set myself a goal of a two week break from social media.
Those closest to me were highly sceptical that I could do it. As the people who feel my disconnection from them the most when I choose to connect with social media, they perhaps see more clearly than I do how wrapped up in those platforms that I can be.
making the break
I did take and enjoy the break – I didn’t miss connecting to the platforms and I definitely made more choices to be present and focus on my family. I didn’t post anything but I did have the occasional scroll to keep on top of messages from friends and I also ended up liking a couple of posts. Once you go into the app, it’s amazing how quickly you get drawn in.
With an average screen time of three and a half hours each day before the holiday, it is startling how you can end up spending more and more of your life away from the present moment and what is actually going on right in front of you. What I didn’t fully realise, (although I had an inkling), is that social media platforms are specifically designed and configured to get as much of your attention as possible, whether that suits you or not, with the key objective of selling to you.
the social dilemma
Which leads me on to the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma which I watched over the holiday…
A fascinating discussion which lifts the lid on the science behind this key objective of the business model of social media platforms – to subtly change your behaviour, one small step at a time to get you to spend more and more time on screen. This means more and more exposure to the advertising which is the key revenue stream for the platforms and in turn, makes their customers more and more money. We are not the customer when it comes to social media. We are the product.
The business model of the main social media platforms is pretty well understood these days, however what is scary, is how the technology is configured to lead you into making more and more choices which can potentially take you further and further away from a calm, happy and healthy life. We are being proactively manipulated by a technology which is now much more effective than our own brains at controlling and feeding our emotions. When it comes to social media, we are not on a level playing field.
calm v social media
Looking at social media through the CALM model, here are four of the social media myths that our brains create for us which move us away from a calm, happy and healthy life and how you might reframe some of this…
Connect with me – myth #1 – to feel fulfilled and successful we need as many followers and likes as possible
Followers and likes give us a hit of dopamine – the feel good hormone which makes us repeat our behaviour for more hits. It’s highly addictive and it’s what can lead us into doing more and more to seek out that positive affirmation from the social media community – despite the fact that we may not even know many of these people.
True connection comes from spending time with people that we love and care about, building trusted relationships through showing compassion and acts of kindness. Dunbar’s number theory proves how human beings can only manage these kind of relationships with around 150 people. As I realised at the beginning of the holidays, I was often choosing to connect with social media rather than the people that are really important to me.
All of me matters – myth #2 – it’s how things look on my feed that matters especially compared to other people
We all know feeds are curated around life’s highlights, but knowing this doesn’t mean that our brains don’t react emotionally to it in ways which result in feelings of inadequacy followed by possibly unhelpful choices to try and restore our egos. How often have you done something to make your feed look good rather than what will serve you positively in ‘real’ life?
Let me have time for rest and recovery – myth #3 – screen time is down time
We often reach for our phones when we have gaps of time that can be filled. Who can resist not checking their phone when it’s sitting there in front of us? We need to know what information it might have for us. But it’s not the information that we really need but the hit of dopamine. In today’s world where we are surrounded by information coming at us from all directions, our brains need regular time out so they can continue to function properly. By plugging every spare moment with screen time, we are becoming more and more overwhelmed, leading to problems with healthy cognitive functioning, feeling tired and anxious and even leading to burnout.
Motivate and inspire me to take care of myself and others – social media myth #4 – the technology knows what’s best for us
The technology feeds us what they learn we will respond to. This makes us feel like it is helping us live the life that our ego believes is the road to happiness. The technology is simply feeding us information that is likely to tempt us to buy something whether that is aligned with our actual dreams and passions or not. We are being trained away from taking the steps to live a life where we can focus on what’s really important for our wellbeing in a sustainable way.
I am obviously now back on social media and as expected I did get ‘punished’ during my break by losing some followers. But I’m ok with that – and I also knew that was going to happen. Social media platforms are not going to disappear in the short to medium term and are an essential tool for my business. I’ve also made some genuine friendships and connections through them but I will engage with my eyes open, making sure I’m aware of when my behaviour starts to shift in favour of the tech and their commercial goals rather than what’s really important to me. As always, balance is everything.