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We need to look up.

How addictive social networks are re-wiring our brains and what we can do to stop it.

Photo by Myles Tan on Unsplash
We all know how important it is to stay away from the myriad of information sucking devices we own – our phones, laptops, smart watches, televisions, and etcetera. I have gone through a lot in these couple of months to find an answer. One day I realized how I wasn’t able to stop checking my email, my social feeds, in the middle of the night, checking them as soon as I woke up, checking my phones for Whatsapp throughout the day (I stopped using notifications long back) just in case somebody messaged me, browsing the internet and god alone knows looking for what! It was time I should realize my mistakes and these mindless things I have done, wasting all my precious time. But I figured I did so for that slight dopamine rush (and how all these products are designed to do it), and so I kept observing till I am ready to quit cold turkey. For next couple of days, I decided to analyze my behavior. I cannot recall the trigger but I was frustrated by my mindless browsing for a while, and I think that day it just busted.

I think I might credit it to regular meditation and my running. We all try to get a technology detox, but most of us mere mortals are not unsuccessful simply because these addictive products are designed to calm our weakness, to help us avoid our fears. It is similar to any belief based organization that has ever claimed to help humanity, the most significant example being religion. Religion is based on fear rather than reason. People are God-fearing instead of God-loving. Our governments are based on a perspective of creating a better future with narrow scopes and a promise of stability, eliminating our worst fear, change. If we go in depth, we can find that all of these establishments (be it religion, governments, or the social networks built on top of technology) are laid on the foundation of fear. And until we accept it, we can’t be truly free!

What kind of vulnerability do these networks exploit?

To get some answers I started experimenting with myself. I began observing myself. Whenever I wanted to browse Facebook or Instagram I asked myself why I wanted to do it, what was I feeling right before, where was I, what was my state of mind. I realized I would go for my phone, say when I was working too hard and wanted a little distraction. This quick distraction seemed okay, but when I started, by the end of it, I felt terrible. I spent a lot more time than I planned, by the end I was engulfed by this strange feeling of being distant from everyone, and it made me feel somewhat like a withdrawal.
Secondly, I patterned how I checked my email, and it was every 15 minutes! I am not that high flying person who gets thousands of emails, but I did it merely because I thought maybe someone needs something from me, or perhaps I got a new business opportunity. Logically the probability of getting a new lead via email is 1/30. Simply put, the math fails here. There is no logic for checking your email every 15 minutes unless there is something mission critical. For that people will call you. Calls are another level of distraction which I will talk in another post.

From the above two cases, I figured that deep down there are two things that this obsessive behavior satisfies. On the surface, it feels like fulfilling the need for social interaction, the feeling you know everything that happened or is happening around you, but I guess on a deeper level it was about the dissatisfaction of what the hell am I doing with my life. Everyone seemed so happy, going places, closing fundings and I was just slogging it out. Everyone except me looked happy. Well, going a level deeper I realized it was all about me. I felt this way because of my shortcomings (it will be hard to accept) and also because these networks are designed to make you feel incomplete and empty so that you have to log in and at least get that momentary feeling of completeness and connectedness, every 20minutes. So if these products can trick our brain, we can also trick our minds to do what we want. I am sure Facebook knows it, and they would soon be coming out with something even more promising and addicting. Probably this was the reason behind FB’s newsfeed change, and Snapchat’s revamped UI update.

What we can do to get a real detox.

How you can trick your brain.


We are our habits. If we can change them, we can accomplish anything. If you are reall0y keen for a life which is livelier than our trash screens, we need to understand your deepest fears and accept them. We need to know what feelings are these networks helping you tackle. Find ways to mitigate them. Don’t worry as it is okay to have fears, but it’s awful if you choose to hide from them.

Below are some ways to help you get off the devices-

1. Observe- Next time when you feel like going to FB, Instagram etcetera stop immediately, write down what/how exactly you are feeling and what you are thinking. Ask yourself why you want to log in there. Try to get a real answer. Write it down.

2. Login to your desired social network. Once you login write down what exactly is going in your mind. Just write don’t think. It could be anything. For example- Shiela is so hot, that place is so cool I want to be there, this video is hilarious, whatever, just write it down.

3. Now please log out. Again observe yourself and write down how you feel.

The above steps may seem to be a time-consuming process, but if you do them even once and later read your notes, you will benefit a lot.These three steps will help you understand your cycle- what initiated you to pick your device and browse, how you felt doing it and in the end what kind of fear was satisfied. Most of the feelings/fears will come under isolation, boredom, death, missing out, loneliness, failure, looking dumb, maintaining status, depression, left out, fear of losing things, moments, etc.

And even if you are unable to get a definitive answer, these three steps will help you moderate your addiction and steadily prepare you for quitting cold turkey.
The only thing for you to figure out now is how to appease your fear by doing something else. It could be as simple as talking to someone face to face, reading a book, making a coffee for yourself or just a nature walk. You just need a substitute. A pretty cool way I figured out was keeping a jokes book with me. Whenever I felt I want to browse I would go read couple of jokes. I laughed, felt happy and, and there was no need for a device. The other things you need to do to help you detox is starting meditating and exercising. Even if you meditate for two minutes, you will start seeing the difference. Exercises give you the same dopamine hit that you get from visiting any social networks without harming your brain.

Benefits

When you start a real technology detox program, your life will change. You will feel more focused and will get that extra time you always wanted. With this time you can learn more, exercise, spend time with family and be here and now. With the extra time I have got I have started writing, reading more books and learning courses. This is true freedom. With the help of meditation, you will feel calmer and under control. And your head will feel lighter simply because it does not have to process and react to so much of useless information that you have been gathering from all these networks.

Mostly these networks help you get social validation, but they hardly show the real picture. We all know what happened in US elections. The entire social network talked about Hillary Clinton. Everyone thought she would sweep away to victory. The results were quite different. What I am surprised at is that more than 50% of Americans believed in Trump. Yes, that is a fact. No social network said that.

The Internet gives us selective freedom. It provides a select few capabilities to control all of us under a nice grab of doing larger good. I don’t know if it is right or wrong but if we think like a VC they never keep all the eggs in the same basket. Common sense I guess. Facebook tracks our usage, and Uber tracks our location, Instagram tracks your memories, Whats app tracks all your conversation. I believe with all the data this one company has (Facebook, Instagram, Whats app combined) it will start building humanoids, maybe have an alternate world with all our identities. Think about it all your memories are there; your behavior is mapped, your location, bank accounts, your conversations everything is there. We might end up paying to visit this alternate world of ours.
Just unplug your self once in a while, get in touch with reality and live a more satisfying life. 
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