“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.”
Lately I’ve started to wonder if I might be addicted to social media; so this week I’m going to take a break. The idea took hold one day when I noticed myself walking around downtown staring down at my phone the whole time. Sadly there wasn’t anything interesting on the screen. I was just hoping for something – anything really – to pop up and entertain me. This didn’t seem right; perhaps a change was in order?
Sunday: having decided to go off social media the night before (namely Facebook and Foursquare), what’s the first thing I do when I wake up Sunday morning? I check Facebook. My hands open it on my phone almost before I’m even awake. Doh! This could be a problem. Moving the Facebook icon deep into my utilities, I cross my fingers and hope this will prevent me from opening it out of sheer habit.
I get up, shower and we head off to breakfast. Once Emrys and I are seated at The Truffle House & Cafe it’s clearly time to pull out our phones, check in on Foursquare, read the tips and take some envy inducing photos of our food. Instead we sit and talk and eat. At some point towards the end of breakfast Emrys does break out his phone. I sit and stare out the window at the falling snow, sipping my coffee. Emrys asks if I am bored. I am not.
Monday: I start to open Facebook several times during the day only to shut it down again. I struggle with my resolution. Maybe it would be ok for me to just look at it briefly but not do anything? My god, am I actually addicted? Unable to compulsively check Facebook or bask in the validation of a well liked post, I appear to be experiencing withdrawal.
Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a thing; although it isn’t yet recognized as an official disorder. However you want to define it, it’s something a lot of people are talking about. IAD can be divided into subtypes by activity, such as excessive, overwhelming or inappropriate use of pornography, gaming, online social networking, email or internet shopping. Perhaps you know someone addicted to one of these? Obviously interest in any of these activities isn’t a disorder until it starts to consistently interfere with other areas of your life.
Tuesday: I note that I am finally making some progress on my book club book, which is quite exciting. Who knows, maybe I’ll even finish it before our next meeting? Apparently without social media there are all these pockets of time in my day (transit to and from work, lunch hour and before bed) in which one can choose to read. Who knew?
Unfortunately my teeth are not fairing so well. Unable to check into Flosstown, the foursquare assisted living facility we created to promote flossing through peer pressure, I’m afraid I’ve lost my will to floss. Every check in (which I am now forbidden to do) garners points towards mayorship and I am slipping too far behind to ever hope to steal the mayorship from Emrys. Emrys valiantly stops checking in but continues flossing. I however can see no point in flossing with no hope of earning a mayorship and so resign myself to dentures.
Wednesday: Not sure how to fill my lunch hour without Facebook, I pore over my three daily emails from Old Navy, GAP and Banana Republic. (Don’t be too jealous but it seems I’m one of their favourite customers, garnering me all sorts of highly exclusive deals daily). I find myself savouring these previously ignored emails, drinking in every last detail. They are fascinating in much the same way the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle are engrossing when you’re trapped in the bathroom for an extended period of time with nothing else to read.
Thursday: Not sure what to do with myself after dinner I turn my attention to drinking all the wine in the house. (Good call Melissa). Then I try to read. (Nice try Melissa). Note to self: choose one or the other.
All this drinking has me thinking about addiction and theorizing (which is always fun when you’re drunk) that part of the reason social media is so addictive is that it taps into a very primal instinct: the need to connect, but more pointedly, the need for gossip. While gossip satisfies a number of sociological needs (affirming your values and giving you valuable information about your tribe) it also touches on something surprisingly physiological.
As Gossip’s Dirty Little Secret explains:
Humans gossip in the same way that chimpanzees groom each other. In chimps, grooming causes endorphins to be released in the brain, inducing euphoria. In humans, gossip generates a small high, which is magnified by laughter. “This may well explain why we spend so much time in our social conversations trying to make each other laugh,” says evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. Gossiping and laughter literally make us ecstatic.
Social media creates this potent mix of gossiping and laughter that’s potentially quite addictive. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Of course, there’s always the dark side of social media: the frustration and annoyance we sometimes feel with other people’s online (mis)behaviour or the paradoxical effect of obsessive computer use causing us to neglect certain real life, real time interactions.
Friday: I think I might be coming around to some level of acceptance. That’s the final step in the 5 stages of Loss & Grief, isn’t it? I only accidentally open Facebook every other day now. At dinner with friends at Symposio Greek Taverna, everyone pulls out their phones at the end of the meal to check out what’s going on. I sip at my water and watch them, bemused.
Saturday: I wake up early, put some gentle morning music on, brew a pot of coffee and sit down on my couch to write my blog post. As the world wakes up slowly outside my window I don’t feel like anything is missing.
Sunday: Thinking back over my week I am pleased. It’s been an insightful week. Once I got past my initial withdrawal, I really enjoyed ignoring you all and having no idea what you were up to. I particularly enjoyed leaving my phone in my purse when out to eat and getting sucked deep into the imaginary world of my novel – a habit I hope to keep up. I’m sure I’ll enjoy getting back on Facebook and catching up but right now it’s time to clean the house and get ready to have a few people over to watch the Oscars. Maybe I’ll ask them what they’ve been up to this week.