The combination of three different pandemics – the coronavirus, racial injustice & economic uncertainty – has opened a gaping anxious hole in my inner being ripe for the filling. Like many people I know, I began to fill that hole with “doomscrolling” and mindless swiping through social media.
Over the last few weeks, as the pandemic has worsened, the presidential transition has felt like a queasy rollercoaster ride, and societal inequities have been pulled to the surface like we haven’t seen in decades, I have found myself falling down a hole of endless scrolling in search of something that I couldn’t name.
Maybe what I sought was comfort, community, or maybe it was just distraction. What I discovered is that I was feeling less and less like myself. I found it hard to focus, and I found it harder and harder to stay present. Instead of comfort, I found longing. Instead of community, I often just fell prey to my own imposter syndrome. While I did manage to distract myself, that distraction continued even after I walked away from the screen and permeated my day with anxiety.
The place that I found myself falling into this hole the most deeply was, to no surprise, Facebook. Just recently, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed social media addiction in a Senate Judiciary Hearing, and their stances were not in step with each other. While Dorsey admitted that social media has addictive qualities, it amazes me how Zuckerberg has convinced himself, in a somewhat delusionary way, that his platform is nothing but helpful.
As part of my work with young people around multitasking, boredom, the addictive qualities of social media and overall digital well-being, I am well aware of the physiological effects of dopamine involved in using social media. In my “mindless” scrolling I could feel myself push on and on hoping to find those three cherries, to find a nugget that would feed me the “hit” I was looking for. It’s an odd feeling, almost an out of body experience, to watch yourself fall into the trap created by the “attention engineers” described by digital activist Tristan Harris.
After a day of gauging my interaction with both Facebook and Twitter (the two social media platforms that I use the most) I decided that Facebook had to come off of my phone. I was dismayed to learn, however, as my tweet at the beginning of this article states, that due to an agreement with Facebook, Samsung phone users cannot actually delete the Facebook app from their phones. I liken this to forcing an alcoholic to keep an unopened bottle of booze in their house.
Part of my reason for staying on Facebook in the first place was to help spread the word about my book, which was released in October of last year. With a focus on Digital and Media Literacy and an entire chapter dedicated to social media and another dedicated to living in the digital world, it felt ridiculous that I was struggling to manage my own digital life. But if it was hard for me, what about people who aren’t even conscious of the strings being pulled behind the apps they use?
I haven’t opened Facebook on my phone or a computer since I sent that tweet 2 days ago and I have already noticed a change in my mood. At first, when I picked up my phone I would go to where the app should be and, upon finding it missing, either put the phone down or send a message to one of the group chats that have sustained me over these last 9 months (a much more rewarding experience). It was clear that my behavior had been modified by using the app based how many times I unconsciously looked for the app –like a phantom limb–on my phone’s screen over the last two days.
I’m not sure that deleting this one app will make me feel much more “normal” or focused or productive considering the dumpster fire that is happening around us all, but I’m hoping that my anxiety and my mental “clutter” will subside.
If you are like me and are struggling to manage your use of social media or have a feeling that you’d be better without it….you might just be. See if you can identify which platform is causing you the most distress and take a break to see if things improve. In Manoush Zomarodi’s TED talk, she describes the challenges her podcast listeners completed in order to free their minds through boredom. (Check out her awesome book Bored and Brilliant). One of those challenges was “Delete the App.” Thank you, Manoush, for that simple challenge.
I’m not sure how long I will keep Facebook off of my phone or if I’ll leave the platform altogether. I’m also not sure if I’ll just fill that hole with something equally destructive. I’m working really hard to let that hole be filled with quiet or crafting or playing with my kids.
It’s been a year since my book came out and to celebrate my newfound freedom from Facebook and to commemorate its relevance in a world where education has been forced to embrace digital platforms and modes of teaching and learning, I am offering a limited supply of books at a discounted price.
You can also find it on Amazon.
Lastly, if you have your own journey severing ties with social media to share, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or start a conversation on Twitter with me @mbteach.