How does using social technology like Facebook make you feel? After using it, do you feel uplifted or depressed? Does it make you more productive? If not, why do so many of us compulsively use these technologies? I believe many of us do so for two reasons: because we habitually use these technologies when bored or sad, and because we are addicted to instant gratification.
These social technologies often depress us because they present a biased view of other people that we unconsciously compare ourselves to. People only post about their best experiences on Facebook, not their bad moments. When we read others’ pages, we compare our real lives to others’ cherry-picked events — of course we will seem inadequate!
Unfortunately, most of us do not realize this inherent bias in social media and thus become unhappy after spending time on Facebook or similar sites. Paradoxically, depression and boredom cause many of us to turn to media. Perhaps this is a habitual behavior to distract ourselves from our pain by living through others’ experiences, as exemplified by the concept of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Thus, sadness creates more sadness via social media, a vicious cycle. If we become aware of the cycle, we can break out by not turning to Facebook during negative moods.
Even if we are aware of social media’s biased presentation, it often still affects us; thus the best suggestion is to use it less. For example, a friend recounted that her parents warned her to avoid Facebook as much as possible for her first quarter of college. Once she started college, she realized why: Facebook became a battleground among her high school friends for who could post the most pictures, go to the most parties, have the most friends, etc. Thus, spending time on Facebook would feed feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.
If social media does not uplift us or increase productivity, why do so many of us feel compelled to constantly check it to the point of refreshing the page every minute, hoping for a new notification? Are we addicted to Facebook and texting’s constant stimulation? I believe so; many of us become irritable or angry after a short period away from phones or the Internet — classic withdrawal symptoms.
In other words, many of us are addicted to instant gratification in the form of a new notification or text message. Nowadays, instant gratification for almost any impulse (socialization, purchases or even sex) is available through technology. As a result, I believe many of us never learned the crucial self-discipline of delaying gratification during our childhood. Thus, we struggle to focus on non-instantly gratifying tasks, like school work or lectures, even if they offer a tremendous future reward. This lack of discipline creates far-reaching effects across our lives.
For example, many of us cannot sit through an hour-long lecture without checking our phones, sending a text or accessing email or Facebook. If this is the case for you, do not be surprised if you struggle with the lecture. After all, you weren’t mentally present in lecture to absorb the information. If you absorb little from lecture, studying for an exam will seem like learning the material for the first time rather than reviewing what you already know, a much more difficult and time-consuming task.
Even 30 seconds of distraction in a lecture can cause us to miss a key concept or term that makes understanding the rest of the lecture nearly impossible. Furthermore, if we do not understand the lecture, we are much more likely to become distracted again due to boredom or frustration, fueling a vicious cycle started by one 30-second phone use.
Nonetheless, social technologies can be extremely useful for communication when employed well. One good approach is to only go on Facebook with a specific purpose in mind, like telling a friend about an upcoming party, and then immediately logging out. If we log out, the login screen next time will jar us awake to the fact that we just clicked on Facebook and maybe should not be using it at that time.
If this approach is not sufficient, even stronger deterrents are available. Most browsers or phones have add-ons or apps that allow you to block yourself from specific sites. If you really need to use Facebook, you can remove it from the blocking add-on temporarily, but the extra effort to do so will greatly reduce your Facebook use.
We must control social media, not let it control us.
Share what you think of Facebook and other social media with WILLIAM CONNER at firstname.lastname@example.org.