To Cuddle or To Check Social Media

I love social media, the inspiration, the beautiful photos, seeing and interacting with friends and family that live far away.  I also recognize the addictive quality of Social Media, and the suck of time it can take from my real life and creativity. Researching into this I found some not so friendly information about the motivation of Social Media companies and how they are using the biology of our brains to consume our time and attention. I also found tips to live more intentionally with our phones and social media.

Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of User Growth at Facebook said in a talk to Stanford students, “I feel tremendous guilt … The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” Dopamine is a reward our brain gives us for doing things such as eating, exercising, and social interaction.  It gives us a sense of motivation to continue seeking that activity which gave us the reward of dopamine.  This is an evolutionary and survival staple, at the most basic level it keeps animals searching for and eating food.

Interestingly enough, we get doses of dopamine from our smart phones.  The colors, notifications, “likes”, followers and comments on social media, are all dopamine triggers and cause your brain to want, desire, and seek more of that. Companies are not only aware of this but actively pursue ways to make their apps and posts more dopamine driven and thus more addictive, in order to consume more of your time and attention. Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, recently admitted the motivation behind social media is not to connect us, saying, “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’”

Social media wants to consume our conscious attention because it is how they make money (from advertisers). Social media is “free” to its users, but only on the surface.  These companies have monetized our conscious attention, and they do their very best to grab as much of it as possible, including using our very biology against us.

Social Media companies understand our biology and create their platforms to take advantage of the way our brains work.  Small, seemingly insignificant aspects of smart phones and Social Media are designed as dopamine hooks that trap users into a self-feeding dopamine loop.  Some of these include:

  • Our dopamine system is sensitive to visual and auditory cues, just like Pavlov’s Dogs.  The sounds and visual notifications from your phone release dopamine, and keep your brain searching for more (ever had a phantom text or phone call?)
  • Our dopamine system is most powerfully stimulated when information is in small bites that don’t fully satisfy, such as the short blips of info within the posts on social media
  • Dopamine is strongly stimulated by unpredictable rewards, like the unpredictability of when you will get another message, “like”, or comment on social media.

Each of these deepen the self-feeding dopamine loop that makes us more apt to reach for our phones more often, checking for messages, emails and social media out of an unconscious dopamine seeking behavior.  Here are ways to limit your exposure to the self-feeding dopamine loops that were designed to “consume your conscious attention”.

  • Turn all notifications off, except for messaging apps from real people (text messages, FB Messenger) Settings > Notifications
  • Change your phone to black and white. Colorful icons give our brain dopamine rewards just for opening our phones (ask any baby). Setting your phone to black and white removes this positive reinforcement. Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut (bottom) > Color Filters. This allows you to quickly triple-tap the home button to toggle gray scale on and off, having color when you need it.
  • Charge your phone outside of your bedroom
  • Practice mindfulness, asking yourself if you really want to look at your phone or is it a habit
  • You can even turn notifications off within the Instagram app and set time limit reminders (thank you IG!). From your profile page click the three horizontal lines in the upper right corner > Your Activity.
  • Detox from social media regularly. I take a week off every new moon and full moon. My husband takes weekends off. Find a good rhythm for you and reconnect the rhythm of life outside of Social Media.
  • Maybe even leave Social Media all together, back to the good old days of phone calls and letters!

When you limit your participation in dopamine-driven feedback loops of technology, you can focus on getting healthy dopamine from:

  • Cuddling
  • Meditating
  • Sleeping
  • Love making
  • Listening to Music
  • Getting a Massage
  • Regular Exercise
  • Eating delicious food

And no surprise, these are the things that make being human amazing. Lots of love to you all, and to this amazing Earth spaceship journey we are on together.

Inspired by
“Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google” Psychology Today
“Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time”
Center for Humane Technology

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