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What You Get Back When You Reclaim Your Time from Social Media

8 July 2019

From Medium:

Last fall, in the midst of touring for my latest book, I stepped away from the public stage that arguably made my publishing career possible.

After investing six years into growing my following on Twitter from zero to over 42,000, with millions of monthly engagements, I left the platform, at least for now. This might not sound like such a momentous decision, but it was for me. My 127,000 tweets — an average of 57 tweets per day — had dramatically raised my profile as a writer, sociologist, and scholar on race. The platform prompted countless interactions and conversations, frequent media attention, and valuable professional opportunities — such as connecting me with my literary agent and helping secure a publishing deal for the book I’m still touring with, How to Be Less Stupid About Race.

Yet at the precise moment when most writers would have redoubled their efforts to promote their work, I felt compelled to step down from my bully pulpit and shutter my most successful social media account.

. . . .

Most disconcertingly, even when I wasn’t tweeting, I found myself thinking in tweets — crafting pithy, retweetable observations about my life, social dynamics, and world events to share with my followers as soon as I could get my hot hands on my phone or laptop.

And then I reached a critical breaking point. Crisscrossing the nation for the book tour and connecting with readers in real life was a new, thrilling experience for me, but it was also unspeakably exhausting.

. . . .

While the vast majority of my interactions with folks at book events were uplifting and supportive, I never quite knew what to expect from Q&As. I felt the constant need to mentally prepare for everything from microaggressions to outright hostility.

What I faced most often, however, were the racialized and gendered expectations that I provide on-the-spot emotional processing, counseling, and strategizing for a never-ending stream of racial dilemmas and existential trauma. “How do I deal with my racist cousin?” a white woman would ask, expecting a sensible answer in 60 seconds or less, while a dozen people waited in line behind her. “What should I do about racism on my job?” a man urgently inquired as I signed a copy of the book.

. . . .

But as I struggled to give the fullness of my attention and intention to each and every person who I met on the road, I began to realize that I had little energy left for myself, and no energy at all for Twitter.

I began experiencing debilitating insomnia for the first time in my life. Anxiety became a daily concern.

. . . .

Media technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are quite literally invested in making us internet addicts. They’re effectively manipulating social psychological responses to ensure that our clicks and engagements don’t fizzle — or else their bottom line will. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s founders, described the platform’s “like” button as “a social validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

. . . .

If it feels difficult to quit social media, it’s because corporate strategists and programmers work very hard to embed their apps with digital carrots that ensure that scrolling through our feed feels deeply rewarding. Facebook “likes,” Twitter “hearts,” and Instagram notifications all drive addictive behavior by doling out intermittent and unpredictable rewards. These rewards, in turn, fuel the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which are associated with the experience of pleasure in the brain.

. . . .

Of course, the sense of community created on social media has many potential benefits when used appropriately and in moderation. But these fleeting digital rewards come at a great price. Social media apps are able to stealthily manipulate our brains into believing that we are experiencing pleasure, despite the fact that heavy usage leads to increased depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and reduced quality of life.

. . . .

“Computer internet businesses are about exploiting psychology… we want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible and then give you back that dopamine hit. We did that brilliantly at Facebook.” And it’s not just the individual that this affects, he observed: “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

. . . .

As Alex Hern has pointed out in the Guardian, many social media executives and developers have either stopped using their own products or never used them excessively in the first place. Facebook made Palihapitiya a billionaire, but he has said he doesn’t use Facebook himself, and his own children are not allowed to use social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, “rarely replies to strangers and avoids discussions or arguments on the site,” Hern wrote. “He doesn’t live-tweet TV shows or sporting fixtures. In fact, he doesn’t really ‘use’ Twitter; he just posts on it occasionally.” Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has an entire team to manage and curate his social media account for him.

. . . .

Emotionally, my mood has greatly improved. I feel less glum, pessimistic, and angry with the world than when I was constantly “connected.” I keep a gratitude journal and count my blessings. While I sometimes miss the creative, intellectual, and political community of my tweethearts, I’m immensely relieved to no longer feel the mental pressure of organizing a social media press conference several times a day in response to trending hashtags, controversies, and tragedies.

Link to the rest at Medium

 

 

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Social Media

2 Comments to “What You Get Back When You Reclaim Your Time from Social Media”

  1. “Most disconcertingly, even when I wasn’t tweeting, I found myself thinking in tweets — crafting pithy, retweetable observations about my life, social dynamics, and world events to share with my followers as soon as I could get my hot hands on my phone or laptop.”

    A few weeks ago, I decided to go on leave from Twitter till August. I noticed the same thing for a while, though it’s largely stopped.

    Funny how technology shapes behavior. The example I always give concerns the way we get change back at the cash register. Years ago, we got the coins first, then the bills, because the cashier had to count back the correct change. Now we get the bills first, then the coins, because the cashier responds to the readout on the register.

    I’ve developed a kind of wrist twist to make the cashier put the coins in my hand rather than on top of the bills.

  2. Terrence OBrien

    There was even a time without credit cards when the cashier had to do the math to determine the correct change. And that was after keying in the prices.

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