Unsocial Media (S3E3)

With the latest Facebook scandal ever-presently splashed across all media outlets, and cries from the left, right and center of the political spectrum bemoaning the fact that social media isn’t the promised land, is it any wonder that we are less happy now than ever before? Is Facebooking every minute of your life with a surgical knife starting to seem more and more pointless? If you answered yes to these questions, you would be correct. It is pointless. That is it’s very nature, as a distraction from life.


When the internet first became “a thing” back in the nineties, we were promised that the infinite information that was available at our fingertips would make our lives infinitely better. Twenty plus years since that promise, we’ve come to the realization that that pile of information isn’t all golden nuggets, but mostly gossip, marketing and trash, with that occasional nugget thrown in.


The designers of social media quickly realized that if they wanted to make money, they had to find ways to keep our attention riveted to their sites. The best way to do that was via the dopamine hit we experience when we associate a ping notification with interest in us. This is known as stimulating the reward pathway in the brain. This reward center is known as the mesolimbic pathway and is comprised of the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) and the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) in our brains. The ping notification causes a dopamine signal to travel from the VTA to the NAc, and is experienced as a little shot of pleasure, similar to what a micro-dose of cocaine would feel like.


Once we get used to these regular hits, we want them to continue. When they don’t we become irritable, impatient and depressed. Does that seem similar to what the withdrawal syndrome to drugs looks like? That’s because it is. To strengthen this effect, a multicolored screen with little red badges that denote a message are attached to the colorful app buttons such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, among others.


So what is the intervention? Like drugs, a tapering down of dosage is what is warranted, in addition to a structured usage regime to limit your exposure. Simply hit the power-off button on your phone for 1 hour. Graduate to several of these power-off episodes per day, and notice that your moods will be more stable and you’ll have time to actually focus on different activities that don’t involve a screen. In addition, turn off your notifications for your Apps, or modify them to be less noticeable.


In the 1960s Timothy Leary once said “Tune in, turn on, drop out” as a way to disengage with orthodoxy in society. In today’s social media landscape orthodoxy, I would modify that to “Turn off, tune out, drop in”.

Be Well and Be Zen





Comments are closed.