Okay, so I am still a Facebook user—don’t get me wrong.
But it does scare the sh*t out of me when I think of the power Facebook has over us.
Facebook is highly addictive.
It affects us in a similar way to drugs.
The seemingly innocent “liking” and “sharing” taps into our hankering for being appreciated, validated, and loved. Every “like” we get on a post brings on dopamine, the “feel good” hormone in our brains, in exactly the same way as drugs do.
I am one of the few lucky people who doesn’t need to be connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the sake of work or family. I only got a smart(-ish) phone two years ago. The island where I live doesn’t have Wi-Fi everywhere, and, for the longest time, I couldn’t even get internet at home. So, by circumstance, until about a year ago, I had been spared from the temptations of the Facebook drug.
When I finally could get internet on my phone at home, within days, I found myself scrolling mindlessly for hours. I caught myself early and changed my behaviours. I’ve never been a drug user, but I was getting addicted—fast. My own behaviour freaked me out, but I caught it myself early enough to change.
The addictive aspect of social media explains why we check our phones up to 150 times a day, with a constant urge or to see notifications. Every ping or buzz makes us grab our phones (similar to well-trained Pavlov dogs) for the promise of another sweet kiss of dopamine.
The attraction of Facebook impacts us in several ways:
>> Facebook has changed the way we think: All the things we’re doing each day, stuff happening to us, things we buy or eat—our Facebook-addicted minds translate them all into possible status updates to bring us our hit of “likes.”
As much as I don’t live with my phone in my face, I do catch myself composing status updates in my head. I don’t post them, but somehow, my Facebook use has trained the little voice in my head to add status update suggestions to its never-ending tune.
However, there is a strong filter on what we choose to post, and how we present it. A majority of us only post about the highlights in our lives—anything to impress our friends with our enviable awesomeness.
In search of good status updates, we are driven from peak experience to peak experience, discarding all those “less postable,” ordinary moments in our lives as inferior or insignificant. Our experience of life is suffering from inflation.
I regularly witness people sitting with their backs to a picture-perfect Caribbean sunset, faces in their phones. They will turn around for a moment to capture the image, turn back, and post it.
For many it has become hard to just be in the moment, take it in, enjoy it, and refrain from turning it into a status update.
>> Facebook causes stress, anxiety, and depression: In our quest for “likes,” we are all creating a fancy scrapbook of an inflated reality when posting. Scrolling, however, we compare other people’s highlight reels with our own behind-the-scenes reality. This makes us sad, disappointed, envious, or downright depressed.
The findings of scientific research on the psychological impact of social media use are not pretty. The younger generations, especially, are strongly affected by their own scrolling behaviour.
Students from grades 7 to 12 who spent over two hours per day on social media reported higher numbers in depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts compared to those who spent less time on social media. We’re talking 12-year-olds!
The fear of missing out (FoMO) glues people to their news feeds. Scrolling doesn’t make us happier, in general. So, to crank up our dropped dopamine levels, we post more often, hoping to get a good hit of “likes,” which, of course, makes us check our notifications more often, getting sucked in even deeper. It’s a self-perpetuating loop.
As Bailey Parnell describes in her TEDxTalk, Facebook has created an ”Economy of Attention,” where “likes,” “shares,” and “comments” are the social currency. Currency is used to attribute value to a product. On social media, we are the product, and in our addiction to the “likes,” we allow others to determine our value.
Everyone is looking outward to feel happy, instead of inward.
In this outward search for happiness, our smartphones have become permanent attachments to our bodies. It’s the last thing we see before we fall asleep and the first thing we check when we wake up.
Many of us experience panic when we are separated from our phones. They rule our lives. Social media, with Facebook in the lead, has done that to us.
On my little home island that lives off of tourism, over the last few years, the smaller and mostly locally-owned hotels and restaurants have lost a lot of business to the bigger foreign-owned ones who could afford to install Wi-Fi, which is an extremely costly affair here. The tourists’ constant need to be on social media has literally changed the economy on our little island.
>> Even scarier than us becoming addicted, is the fact that Facebook behaves like a proper drug dealer: Since I am not active on Facebook every day, it will regularly point out to me that I haven’t posted for a while, suggesting that my friends want to hear from me. Recently, they have added a new line to their tune: when I have posted a few days in a row (because I am getting published here on elephant journal), Facebook sweetly points out that friends are responding, suggesting that I should post more often (and get more addicted). “Keep up the good work!” they tell me.
They push memories into our faces, telling us that they thought we’d like to see them again, suggesting kindly that we share them. They make unsolicited highlight videos of our year, our vacation, our friendships, sweetly nudging us to post them.
I don’t use location services, so they are turned off permanently on my phone. Still, Facebook knows where I am, telling me to stay dry when rain is forecast. Thanks, Facebook!
When we check into Facebook, the first thing we see is their question asking us how we are or if we want to share something. Pretending to be interested in our well-being (“we care about you”), Facebook is just pushing itself more and more upon us, gaining control over our behaviours, our moods, and our lives.
Over the years, with us becoming fully enslaved to its sweet shots of dopamine, Facebook has taken more and more liberties when it comes to our privacy. It started with them deciding what we get to see and who are close friends and who are not. Then, they started to make our “highlight” compilations, deciding for us what were the best moments in our lives. Now, they scan photos and messages on our phones to sell information to advertisers—and, we just let them.
The fact that we all happily accept that Facebook has complete access to everything in our phones, is the ultimate proof of how addicted we are, how little we care, and how much we are willing to give up—just to get our daily IV drip of endorphins. Like proper addicts, we have given gave away our power to our drug dealer.
It’s clearly time we became more mindful about our social media use. Here are a few things we can do:
1. Become aware of the social media problems that we might be experiencing, like the anxiety, FoMO, depression, withdrawal symptoms. Acknowledging them is a first step on the way to changing our behaviours. If they are severe, seek professional mental health care.
2. Limit our time on social media. For example, no phone in bed. We can agree with our partners, children, or roommates that our phones have slumber parties on the kitchen counter. Good old alarm clocks can wake us up. Or we can agree to not check social media until a certain hour in the day, or only after we have done certain things.
I only turn my phone on after I have done all my personal morning routines, taught a yoga class, had breakfast, and written for at least an hour and a half. (Yes, I’m still alive!)
3. Turn off notification sounds. By changing the settings for our apps we can mute all notification sounds. Because of this, we get less distracted (or, should I say, attracted) by the pings, beeps, and buzzes luring us to social media. We can also mute conversations in Messenger. Our brain cells might become a little less “Pavlovian,” bringing us back to our power to choose if and when we want to see what’s going on in our news feeds.
4. Be more mindful about the way we take in our social media. Instead of mindlessly scrolling to see everything and hitting the “like” button on autopilot, we can take some time to really think about how a post makes us feel, and sit with those feelings for a bit. If appropriate, we can express them in a comment or in a private message.
5. Be more mindful about the way we present ourselves in our personal posts. We can be more honest about our lives, showing some of the less-than-perfect moments as well—letting others know that we are human, and struggling with life, just like them. Instead of just posting about ourselves, we can also share our friends’ stuff—if they need support for their cause, or to simply celebrate their efforts, or express our compassion for their suffering. Let’s be more authentic.
6. In our daily lives, we can become more aware of our minds being overly “status update” oriented. Instead of thinking in “postable moments,” we can practice being in the moment, being fully present to that which is happening right now, right here, in real life—not on our screens.
Look up to the sky!
Bailey Parnell, “Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health?,” TEDxTalk, June 22, 2017
Lauren Thompson, “FoMO: It’s your life you’re missing out on,” Science Daily, March 30, 2016, through Texas A&M University.
Author: Leontien Reedijk
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron