On (My) Social Media Addiction

At the beginning of the pandemic, just for a few weeks, there was a moment when I felt a sudden love of social media I hadn’t felt in years. We were being told to go home, to stay inside, and none of us had a good idea of what was going on just yet. A lot of people were scared, a lot were bored, a lot had had their social circles taken away. So we got online. We told stories of what happened to us, even mundane things like going to the grocery store. (“Were the shelves empty where you are? They were empty where I am.” “Some were empty. I got beer though so I was glad for that.”) People were “going live” all the time with nothing in particular to say, just hanging out, saying hi, or reaching out to anyone who might need them as a support system.

“Social” media felt social all of a sudden, and all at once I realized just how un-social it had been in the months and years prior.

Then, after a couple weeks, the moment of calm passed, and everyone was angry. Everyone went back to nominating a new “Daily Hate” each morning and piling onto whoever or whatever that Hate was. I recognize that these sites come with algorithms that show us whatever is getting our attention and that for that reason, it’s a terrible reflection of what’s actually going on in the world. Maybe nobody got any angrier or meaner, maybe I just started reading the angry and mean posts again, and Facebook said, “Oh, that’s what you want to read now? Let me inundate you with a steady stream of it.” It doesn’t really matter which is true. Whether it’s all in my head, whether it’s something in the air, or whether it’s a little of both; social media is feeding it to me either way.

I could go into a lot of social media complaints, but they’re just the “greatest hits” that we all know about by now anyway. How it’s got us addicted to attention in the form of thumbs-ups, converting the basic act of human communication into a point-based competition scored by people falling increasingly into one of two angry mobs. How it’s always the anger, the hatred, and the righteous indignation that rise to the top of those thumbs-up wars. How it motivates users to compete for the most radical stance because we’re all being hit with so much so often that it takes a fever-pitched stance to make us stop scrolling and click.

I don’t know if these things are “worse than ever” like a lot of people say. I just know I got a glimpse of something else in those early weeks of the pandemic and it made me acutely aware of how much there is about social media that I don’t like. That feeling built for a while, and then reached its inevitable breaking point.

The Mood Log

A couple months ago I had a shitty interaction on Facebook and spent a full day in a bad mood over it. As I kept trying to focus on other things, I would find myself bouncing back to the bad mood and thinking how this wasn’t the first time that having a Facebook account had cost me a full day of happiness. Whether it’s a clumsy joke, an observation, or an anecdote that someone is misinterprets, misrepresents, or takes as low-hanging fruit in their search for a fight, I started asking myself how many times I (and them, for that matter) had paid an emotional toll over something stupid that shouldn’t have mattered? I started wondering if there was some way I could do an emotional cost-benefit analysis of my relationship to social media.

So, at the end of each day, I started keeping a “mood log” where I’d list the highlight and the lowlight. What moment put me in the best mood? What moment put me in the worst mood? And right away it was clear that I should absolutely be using less Facebook, and, in fact, I should probably be using exactly zero.

After two months of marking down highlights and lowlights each day, it seemed that the worst part of my day took place on Facebook about twice a week, whereas the best part of my day took place on Facebook about once a month. Worse yet, most of the “lowlights” were events I wasn’t even directly involved in. Paying close attention to mood for these entries made me realize how often I read a thirty-comment argument between two people I barely know and work myself up into a bad mood over it without even joining in the conversation. It’s pretty embarrassing when you have to own up (even just in your own diary) to the fact that the worst part of your day was an argument between two strangers that you had no part in and nobody forced you to read.

The thing is, I’m on there every day. Especially Facebook. Sometimes for hours. And I know it’s not a great comparison for all sorts of reasons, but in my head, I started comparing it to alcohol. If twice a week, the worst part of my day happened while I was drinking, and I continued to go to the bar every day, it would be time to make a change. And if twice a week, the worst part of my day is on social media and I continue to use social media every day… well…

But it’s tricky. It’s tricky because I’m a writer, and sometimes I find out about opportunities through social media, and surely plenty of readers find out about me from social media. It’s tricky because I’m a screenwriter and the whole social group of filmmakers I’m connected to communicates with each other mostly through social media. It’s tricky because friends and families now communicate mostly through social media. It’s a dilemma I think most of us have. “There’s a lot I don’t like here, but it’s where all my friends are. And if I go, how many will go with me?”

But either way, I really think I need to find a way to go pretty soon.

Back to Blogging

So, about a month ago, a few weeks into the experiment, when it became clear I had to figure out a way to make a change, I started the work of resurrecting this blog. I don’t think it will fill up with angry comments and arguments between strangers that bring my mood down, and I don’t think I’ll waste three hours scrolling through comments here. I don’t even think there will be that many comments. The blog will likely never have the traffic or the reach that I would have on social media, but I hope I’ll be able to use it to take a few friends with me when I go, and to retain a place to make a point, or a joke, or a musing, when one occurs.

It’s going to take me a little time to make the transition. To start with, I’m trying to build the habit of writing here once every week or so (and once a month in the newsletter I’m starting), and gradually shifting to unmonitored social media accounts just there to share my blog posts (if I can force my addicted self to do it). Then once a few people have gotten used to following me here, I’ll bid farewell to the ones that don’t and make this my online home, the plan being to delete the accounts (or at least Facebook) entirely before the end of 2021, if not a lot sooner.

5 responses to “On (My) Social Media Addiction”

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