Changing our Relationship with Social Media

Originally posted on Medium.

Social Media Addiction is the latest buzz phrase about how we are spending our time.

In a 24 hour day, the average person spends 8 hours sleeping, 3 hours eating/cooking, 7 hours working, an hour for showering and personal care, and an hour commuting. Leaving us about 4 hours to spend doing whatever we want — reading a book, working out, playing with our children, watching television. However, the latest stats suggest that the average American adult spends 3 hours/day on their smartphone (with some studies suggesting up to 4 hours).

Where is that time on our phone going? The same study suggests that nearly 1.25 of those hours are spent on social media. At first we might have simply used social media to find out that our friend just got a new job at a middle school or adopted a puppy. To share photos of our vacation or latest family gathering.

We might also use it as a news source. To help us stay connected to what’s going on in the world. To be better informed about cultures, politics, and the environment. When used to its best potential social media can have a positive impact on people’s lives.

However, when we start to really take notice of how often we look at our phones to check Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and the amount of time we’re spending there, it’s easy to see that we are becoming addicted. And that our addictive relationship with social media is affecting our mental state.

Designed to be addictive

We’ve been hearing a lot of news surrounding social media and how it was designed to be addictive. But what does that really mean? How do we define addiction?

Most of the time when we talk about addiction it is in relation to what we can physically consume — drugs, alcohol. However there is another side to addiction which is psychological. Dr. Gabor Maté, an addiction expert defines addiction as an escape from pain.

All addiction is an escape from pain. All addictions come from emotional loss, and exist to soothe the pain resulting from that loss.

Social media creates a psychological addiction. It becomes an escape from the everyday. Allows people to pretend for a moment that their lives aren’t messy. Like a physical addiction, when we come out of that state, we are reminded that our lives aren’t perfect, and so we seek to feel euphoric again.

Roots of addiction

Many psychologists and addiction experts will point to the root of addiction lying in self-love, or a person’s lack thereof. Self-love and self-respect are important emotional states that should be nurtured and developed when we are still developing mentally, which research has shown continues into our twenties.

We talked to a number of women in an addiction recovery home, and they all pointed to lack of self-love/respect as the catalyst for their addiction. If they could go back to their 12/13 year old selves, they would want to teach them to love themselves. It is often some kind of emotional trauma that occurs when we are still children that leads to a lower sense of self worth.

When we are not taught self-love we become prone to addictions that increase our dopamine levels. When our dopamine levels are affected, it has an effect on our mental state. On the positive side, dopamine helps us recognize rewards and to motivate us to take action to gain those rewards. Our reward might be to win the soccer tournament and so we work towards that goal.

Social media takes advantage of that same effect:

“…we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while…” — Sean Parker (former Facebook president).

That like or comment on social media is a small dose of dopamine. We chase that feeling of acceptance again and again and continue to post and check our social media feeds looking for that next like.

We have to ask ourselves, does social media teach us self-love?

Marinate in love

Love is the solution to addiction, and helping children develop self-love. It is why Mazu uses filters to block out negative content and human moderators to review posts and images before they go live. It’s why we built our platform around core values — so that users can spread positivity and receive positivity. We are creating a village to surround children with love.

Attachment, emotional and physical, to a caregiver — parent, grandparent, etc. — is essential for a child’s development. It provides children with a sense of safety and security. When it expands out to a community or village it provides a sense of belonging and connectivity. Overall it is these connections that marinate children in love.

The Neufeld Institute, which studies child development, has great tips on how to keep our children close, to develop strong caring relationships with them in a digital age.

Conscious interactions

How often do you click on a like button without thinking about it? In many ways it has become a conditioned response. Just like the Skinner box taught behavioral conditioning — you take the right action, you get a reward — we too are conditioned to scroll and like, scroll and like. Likes have become an easy way to tell someone you saw their post, but as they are often a conditioned response have less significance and less lasting emotional benefit.

Give a lab rat a lever that produces a food pellet on demand and he’ll only press it when he’s hungry. Give him a lever that produces food pellets at random intervals, and he’ll keep pressing it forever. — Cory Doctorow

As the person creating the post, it also makes us crave those likes. When we post something on social media and it receives a lot of likes and comments we feel good about ourselves. Which encourages us to post again and again. But also, when we don’t receive those likes and comments we begin to question whether people saw the post, if we’re being ignored, or people weren’t interested in the content. We are therefore encouraged to post the type of content that receives more responses, even if that post isn’t real or authentic.

When we continually post inauthentic content we are creating a disconnect between our real-selves and our online selves. For many internet celebrities this is what has lead to their burnout and eventually removing themselves from the social media spotlight.

We want to reconcile those two selves. Helping others believe that who they are is enough, encouraging them to post their truths, and encouraging others to share kindness through their comments.

It becomes a competition

Social media also puts us in a state of comparative psychosis — constantly comparing ourselves to others. We follow or friend people whom we would otherwise not be interested in, in order to compare our lives with theirs. We compare followers and likes as well.

When their lives look perfect, we feel worse about ourselves. But when they post a less-than-perfect photo or story, we feel better about our lives. It’s as if we’re constantly having that 10 year high school reunion. Creating an emotional rollercoaster we can never get off of.

Building a village

Circling back to the roots of addiction being in a lack of self-love, addiction typically happens in isolation. When we are not surrounded by people who support us and care about our overall being. When we do not have a village to come back to.

Social media only increases our isolation. While it has made it easier to message others and see what they are up to, it has created a false village. The interactions we have online, do not have the same positive emotional effect that real-life interactions do.

To overcome the system we need to marinate children in love. To create spaces that help them understand that they are valued, they are beautiful, and they are loved.

Help us spread a little positivity.

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