Social Media Addiction
It’s 06h00. The opening strums of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s cover of “What a Wonderful World” – my alarm ringtone – drag me out of some bizarre dream. I lean over, pull my iPhone from its permanent charging station next to my bed and cancel the alarm.
Before I’ve properly opened my eyes, I open Mail. Spam and random social network invitations flood my inbox. I delete the rubbish, getting back to optimal inbox volume and scan the Daily Maverick’s First Thing for any key news items. Next is Twitter. Mentions first, of course, and then a quick scan through tweets from the last hour or so. A retweet here, a reply there, and I’m ready to move on.
Facebook. Facebook is the sole reason I remember birthdays at all. After a “Happy birthday X! Hope it’s a cracker!” here and an “Enjoy dude, hope it rocks!” there, I’m ready for Instagram. I scan through friend’s pics, comment appropriately, discover an inspiring new Instagrammer or two and ponder for a few minutes why my mates have more followers than me. After that I scan key topics in Zite and share interesting reads with my networks.
It’s 06h17, and I’ve had my first fix of the day. There will be countless more.
I’m not alone. I suspect there are many people just like me. I’m discovering new networks and rediscovering old networks on a daily basis, building follower bases and broadcasting just about my entire life non-stop, and I’ve been at it for over 6 years. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be disconnected. Experiences feel a little emptier if I haven’t shared them and had them “liked” by some random connection.
About a week ago, sitting on the couch in the living room with my kids, my 3 year-old daughter had to ask me to “please put your phone down, daddy”, to get me to focus on her. The irony? I had just posted a picture of her to Instagram and was watching to see how many likes it had received. That’s damn near tragic.
I have absolutely no doubt social media is addictive. And I think I’m beginning to understand why. Participation on social networks is driven by powerful, emotive forces; voyeurism, narcissism, escapism and good old #FOMO (or, Fear Of Missing Out.) We derive a strong sense of validation from the so-called social currency we generate through our contributions of content, conversation and collaboration. We ordinary folk get to be pseudo-journalists, photographers, movie makers, sports commentators and more. “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
But is all this activity valuable and sustainable? This sense of validation is so powerful that we are prepared to compromise on critical and healthy alternatives like privacy, solitude, stillness and real world relationships.
What would happen if you switched off from social media – completely – for a month? Would you lose followers? Would your Klout score decline? Does any of that matter at all? I have no doubt you’d admit that the world would do just fine without you and your updates for a month, but would you be? The technologies that have done so much to bring us so far in terms of connection in the digital sense, may also be stunting, or even crippling us offline. It’s phenomenal that our phones are also cameras, PC’s, GPS’s, radios, TV’s and more – but all that convergence makes self discipline a significant challenge!
When was the last time you took a long drive without listening to an audiobook or your playlist or heaven forbid, tweeting? When was the last time you arrived early for an appointment and just sat, thinking, without checking mail and Facebook? When was the last time you watched the sunset without scrambling to post it to Instagram? If you’re anything like me you’ve developed an intolerance for stillness and silence. That can’t be good.
I’m not proposing that we shut down our profiles and cease all connection with the digital universe. I’m simply suggesting that we be more conscious of what we’re sacrificing for likes and retweets, and strive for balance. Perhaps part of the answer is committing a slice of time every week to being disconnected. Perhaps it’s regular breakaways to quiet retreats that lack cell signal.
All I know is that we’re not getting any less connected and technology isn’t slowing down at all. I’m not sure how much more I have capacity for and hope to find ways to ensure that I don’t miss out on life while trying to simultaneously broadcast, consume and record every waking moment.
Is there an app for solitude?