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Addiction to Social Media and how it is designed to keep you hooked. - Musings from a SM junkie

"I wonder if I'm hooked? A thought nagging my mind as I push my kids to the side to read another article on SM or watch a video. After an enlightening conversation with one of our members after a workout one day, I decided to collaborate to dig deeper into his IT world and figure if I could uncover any truths about social media addiction.

late night scrolling

Many of our members have super interesting jobs and viewpoints to share. This particular member works in the IT / cyber world, and happens to be a really switched on human. He prefers to remain anonymous so we will call him ‘Anthony’ (it was the 21st most popular Name in 1984 in the USA FYI).

Anthony, Thanks for sharing a few of your thoughts on some of the social media topics that are gaining popularity at the moment. The use of Social Media is at the forefront of my mind as I consider a massive FB detox! But let’s start with the backbone of how it all works to figure out whats going on behind the scenes.

I always think of artificial intelligence as pretty much just like the movie 'I, Robot'. But, you have shared with me that AI and Computer Learning is already in our homes and pockets! Briefly what is AI and how are we using this everyday already:

Anthony: Artificial intelligence is the ability of computers to understand and perform tasks which normally require human intelligence. Machine learning is a popular application of AI where we provide access to huge amounts of data and teach them to learn for themselves.

There are many other branches of AI. Facebook recently launched a new research lab dedicated to AI research and development. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the "goal is to build AI systems that are better than humans at our primary senses: vision, listening, etc.

Google recently acquired DeepMind ("the machine that dreams"), which focuses on simulating neural networks, i.e. the brain, to analyse and deduce patterns to achieve objectives. Like a brain figures out equations or problems.

LM: Ok now I’m totally seeing I Robot. Do social media platforms use AI?

Anthony: Absolutely. Along with every other organisation which has a digital feed of our activities. Banks, supermarkets, driving assistants, gaming consoles, etc everything is capturing and analyzing our behavior. Across all industries. With the explosion of rich data and the lower cost of computing it means companies which ignore AI will be left behind!

LM: What do they use this data for?

Anthony: Competitive advantage. Most obviously, in Facebook's case, selling ads. Facebook creates a staggering 29,000 individual categories (that you are placed in) to sell to its advertisers. It allows advertisers to single-out Facebook users in categories including, "total liquid investible assets $1 - $24,999", "people in households that have an estimated household income of between $100K and $125K", or even "individuals that are frequent transactions at lower cost department or dollar stores".

LM: Yesh, I feel a little ripped off that my information is being sold like that for someone’s profit! Its also a little bit ‘big brother’ ish to me!

Down to the personal level. Do you think social media can be addictive?

Anthony: Most people I know interact with social media constantly throughout the day. They have no idea how much actual time they spend. It is kind of designed in a way that keeps you asleep to the fact that you may be indeed spending too much time on social media.

LM: But how do they keep our attention for so long?

So the feeds we see are individually tailored to our preferences. A well known psychological trick is: "control the menu and you can control the choices”. This translates to creating the illusion of free choice while architecting the feed so that its holds your attention for as long as possible. As you are more profitable this way.

The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. You can liken it using slot machines, which use intermittent variable rewards (creates a strong behaviour). When we check our phones we're pulling the lever and the notifications/likes/comments are the reward. Same goes for swiping and scrolling through a feed - new posts, images, and ads. Slot machines make more money in the US than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined! Put a slot machine in a billion pockets and see how an addiction becomes the norm without many realizing it.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) can keep people coming back.. even if they don’t really want to! It’s amazing how quickly, once we let go of that fear, we wake up from the illusion. The concerns we thought we’d have don’t actually happen. We don’t miss what we don’t see. Just try it!!

LM: Wise words!! What are your opinions on the usage of social media?

Anthony: I think It's the junk food of socializing. It simulates quality social contact but is the equivalent of empty calories - delicious but not nutritious! My opinion is that it should, when possible, be used for initiating face-to-face interaction. It's obviously incredibly useful for organizing events, sharing information with groups, and keeping in touch with distant friends/family.

LM :Ok lets tackle this for 2018! What are your insider tips for reducing our usage?

Anthony: Delete the apps from your phone and only use from a computer. Our phones are always on us and it's too easy to check-in regularly. If you don't have a computer you can turn off all notifications to reduce the temptation to check.

My spin:

My pledge off social media for an entire year....

(Using for business purposes allowed)

Is a full ban a bit excessive? Missing out on your children growing up because you face is stuck to your phone is a bit excessive too. But that's pretty much where I was at.

I feel like social media isn’t inherently bad. It’s just that I was abusing it. Or it was abusing me? Does it have the capability of abusing us? Well sounds like it actually is a thinking programmed designed to suck up as much of your time is possible. So it’s totally legit to think that this system is against you.. all the while some how convincing you that you need it. Weird. It probably plays on your own, already present insecurities. I don’t have body hang ups or FOMO for holidays or experiences. But I definitely will get the parenting guilts if I see pics of other people being (in my mind) way more dedicated parents and giving their kids “more”.

Not everyone would be feeling the same way, but after a binge on FB, I certainly don’t feel empowered or good about myself. I can’t even describe it. Its like I am on it scrolling and reading for an unknown amount of time. And its all the while building this disgusting feeling in me where I know it’s shit and I should stop. But I keep going. I swear my eyes glaze over! Does anyone else feel like a zombie afterwards. Like………. Oh wow.. where did that hour go?!

I am not the only one to be considering this idea. Even the creators at Facebook are back tracking fast.

The effect of SM usage on our growing teens had me pondering too. I am an adult and I don't seem to be immune to the harm the over use is doing to me. Turns out many researchers are concerned now with the link of depression and social media use in teenagers. Questions arise around, how much is too much? I declare that if it makes you feel terrible afterwards (a little like junk food) then its not beneficial for you. If you ego gets stroked on how many 'likes' you get, or gets a hit when you dont get many. Then its not beneficial.

Easing off the social media isn’t just an idea, it seems like it could be life saving! Quality of life is really important, and if you are effectively self harming with this communication tool, then your life isn’t being lived to its full potential.

I obviously can’t use it sensibly so I think I need to go cold turkey and test Anthony’s theory that I wont miss what I don’t see.

I will definitely keep Messenger just because I see it is a tool and not a ‘deplete your life energy’ mechanism. In messenger people are actually talking to you, not at you. That is probably a note, being talked AT a lot gets exhausting. I try to write exactly how I would talk to you so you feel like you’re participating.

That being said. I want you to make your OWN goals for reducing or banning social media for a period of time. Even if it’s a detox period! See how you feel? Find out four ways to help your possible addiction.

Try them out.

Maybe it’ll be awesome. Maybe it’ll be shit house. One way to find out?!

Here’s to being more connected by being less wired!


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