12.25.2014

The Time Suck of Anti-Social Media Quicksand

I wonder how much more productive society would be on the whole if it were not for social media?

Social media is a huge time suck. The only social media I use regularly is Facebook (FB), and it gobbles up time faster than a Mrs. Pac Man on meth. I can't imagine how much more useless I would be to society if I was into other social media like Twitter and Instagram. I admit to having accounts with both the latter social media apps, but for some reason I am easily able to avoid them. FB is my nemesis though.

It's so easy to open up FB any time and get some instant gratification from friends' commenting on something you posted or a meme that begins with "OMG, You Won't Believe..." It's not a very gratifying gratification though. It's basically clever operant conditioning by FB.

There's just enough reward there to keep you/me (the rat) pushing the lever, so the behavior does not go extinct. I often find myself having to willfully quit out of FB. Even when I do, I will sometimes mindlessly connect again even just a few minutes after I have quit out of it.

What is wrong with me? Nothing new and revelatory has hit my FB News Feed in those four minutes I was absent. There is literally nothing on FB that cannot wait at least 24 hours or even longer. When I was on Heron Island in Australia for four days in December, I didn't have any phone service (I lacked an international chip in my American phone and I wasn't about to pay the hotel for wifi, which should always be a free service in my rule book). The sky did not fall down. In fact, the sky over Heron Island was awesome, and I was able to experience it that much more fully for lack of social media. I did use my phone camera to score some pictures and I wrote blog posts at night recountng the days events, which I saved for later publication when I had wifi again.

This is the genius of FB and why they are so successful (I bought stock in FB, because I knew it would go gangbusters when it went public, and I was right!). They have basically mastered operant conditioning in human subjects. Not only are most social media types powerless against their compulsions, but they even sacrifice their privacy for it. I have my privacy settings set really high on FB, but even so a huge amount of my data is going into the FB database and those of their affiliates.

My mom and pops often tell me they want to be more technically savvy about using the Internet and turn to me for help. Little do they know, I actually envy their naivety. My mom, rightly, calls me out for using my smart phone at the dinner table. She does not fully understand that it is a form of mild psychological addiction, and I hope she never does understand it. I don't want her to succumb to the Internet brain's hypnotic power. I want her to keep harping on me about it to stop, which helps keep me grounded in reality. I need to constantly remind myself that social media is not reality. Most of the time it isn't even that social. People use it for their own self satisfaction.

They should call it anti-social media.

I admit I am guilty of falling for those mindless and ubiquitous FB memes. They promise satisfaction, and they provide it just often enough that I keep pressing the lever for the possible reward. Their ubiquity is the natural consequence of peoples' operant conditioning to click on them.

But I have come to the conclusion that I need to boycott these memes, willfully. I am almost never in disbelief when I check them out. It's more like "OMG, you won't believe how much time I just wasted checking out that very believable and/or stupid FB meme."

FB memes can best be viewed as little impish demons that flit about your head, teasing and persuading you to succumb to temptation. When you do, they score a victory (as do hundreds of online advertising firms). Any addiction can be viewed as the mischief of demons. Even if you aren't religious or superstitious, visualizing addictions like this and personifying them can aid in resisting them. An addiction is really nothing more than your own behavioral psychology working against you via your reptilian brain, and this has a lot of parallels with traditional literary demonry (most often described as "sin" in the parlance of our times). Many psychologists who treat clients with addictions or dysfunctions make a distinction between the lower animal brain and the higher human brain, for practical therapeutic reasons. The whole field of cognitive behavioral psychology is essentially based on this duality and it has a biological basis. The brainstem is the most primitive part of the brain. All vertebrate animals have one. "Higher" animals also have a neocortex, a part of the brain that evolved later and allows for more complex thinking and reason (better than 50% of humanity still does not use this higher part of the brain most of the time, and it's a wonder our species has survived as long as it has).

Your reptilian brain likes instant gratification and FB provides a smorgasbord of tasty meme morsels for these demons to consume. In order to starve these demons, you need to harness the reasoning and will power of your higher brain. Think of it like a knight in shining armor doing battle with a dragon (reptilian demon). These imps are actually much harder to fight collectively than one large demonic foe, because there are so many of them trying to get you to slip up and make a mistake.

I don't really need to check out the "unbelievable" coat colorations of 36 domestic dogs or the advertising failures of international companies when they try to market products in America.

FYI, though, GOLDEN GAYTIME is a real thing. I have proof (see thumbnail on right).

Resisting FB memes seems totally doable. It's more difficult for me to resist checking out what my "friends" are up to on FB.

I am lucky to have a lot of Facebook friends whose posts I actually enjoy reading. This is a result of two decisions I made a while ago.

1. I am very selective in who I "accept" as Facebook friends. In general, I have to know who they are and they have to be someone I know and might actually be friends with in real life. I periodically go through my relatively short FB Friends List and cull it. Anyone who hasn't been interacting with me much on- or offline gets the axe. I used to have a FB page that was open to all comers. Most of them didn't know me or give a crap about me as a friend. And most of them were idiots or haters (primarily racists and political/religious extremists). I won't pretend I am not an extremist in some ways (progressive atheist with a penchant for conspiracy theories), but now I try to keep political/religious posts to a minimum on FB (I mainly just post cool science articles I read online or promote my musical projects or events to those who might care).

Most of my FB friends now are either like minded with me, or at least pleasant, rational, and relatively non-noxious human beings.

2. I make judicious use of the UNFOLLOW function on FB. I have some FB "friends" that are more just acquaintances (friends of friends, perhaps) who I accepted more out of sympathy than anything else. I should just UNFRIEND them entirely, and sometimes I do, because I honestly don't want to read anything they post - it's either dumb or excessive. But I usually don't unfriend them in the interests of diplomacy, because it might annoy whoever the mutual actual friend is. In reality, my actual friend probably also thinks the acquaintance is a douche who posts superfluous dumbassery, and they wouldn't care if I unfriended them. But when I am not sure, I just let it go.

I am sure the quality and quantity of my FB posts seem dumb and excessive to some people too, and I fully hope they use the UNFOLLOW or UNFRIEND feature on me. I wouldn't hold it against them. Everyone's unique. But some people are insecure about that kind of thing, I guess.

Anyway, the conclusion I have reached is that I need to discipline myself to 1. avoid social media as much as possible and 2. not waste time responding to what I see there (if #1 fails). Then I can spend more time writing blog posts like this one. Hahaha.

The above two strategies are designed to prevent me from jumping into the social media quicksand to begin with. Once you jump in, it is very hard to escape. The imps do everything they can to lure you in and trip you up. Send them back to HELL!

The best strategy for me would be to avoid social media for most of the day and only jump on at night. This puts a time boundary on using social media...because sleep is the only end game at that point. This would allow me to accomplish a lot more during the functional hours of the day without impish distraction.

I guess that was a long winded way of expressing a New Year's Resolution, which is to minimize useless social media, and be more efficient with social media in general. As I near the conclusion of this post, I am already feeling the imps swirling around my head, urging me to quickly open up FB and gratify my addiction. But social media is not SOCIAL. It's a substitute for the lack of socialization in society at large. The only justification I can make to go on FB right now is that I want to put a link to this post there. I may take the opportunity to cull my Friends List down a bit too. If you haven't been very social with me on social media, you probably aren't reading this post, and so you won't even know you have been cut off. Even if you do, you really shouldn't care. I guarantee you, not having me as a FB friend will have zero negative consequences on your life, and may even have positive ones (one less stupid wall post to read).

Are you with me here?

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