While part 1 outlined the basic problem with social media, part 2 is going to be a moral inventory of sorts before we can begin with overcoming social media addiction. An honest look at the true reasons for my media usage the way it is. This might be a difficult step for some because it might reveal things we try to ignore about ourselves. I will touch upon every service I use. This is a very individual process but you might recognize certain habits or thoughts in yourself. Be bold and honest, make a list, tell a friend. Freedom starts here.
I was a very frequent Twitter user years ago. I would follow so many interesting people and engage in replies, retweets and my own commentary on daily life. But it did exhaust me to scroll through hundreds of tweets everyday just to filter out the few bits of information really relevant to me. Also the incessant retweets led me to follow ever more people which I then were unable to filter through. So I stopped and never looked back.
When I began blogging again I signed up for Twitter to promote my blog and to connect with others within my blogosphere. It felt good to connect with people, to have small exchanges online, to be part of a social group. But I soon got embroiled in petty hate and intrigue and left Twitter again.
When I started this blog I signed up for Twitter again with the expressed purpose of using it only to promote my blog posts. I would automatically tweet any blog post without the need to actually log into Twitter. But I began to follow people, scroll through tweets and started to have exchanges again. I also read a lot of political Twitter due to the pandemic and I soon saw that this place is just too polarized and hateful.
Still I kept checking Twitter to get my dopamine hit of new likes, to see how many people clicked on my links or to read some tweets to confirm my own bias. So I went back to let WordPress automatically tweet new posts and to not log into Twitter. Well it did not work. I checked again, I read tweets again and clearly can not withstand the compulsion.
As a photographer Instagram seems to be the place to be. I used Instagram to follow lots of interesting people but soon became somewhat depressed by how beautiful their lives seemed to be (which are all of course well curated slices).
So I unfollowed a lot people and only kept following mostly local photographers and people I had a prior relationship outside of Instagram with. My hope was to connect with other like-minded people nearby, maybe go on photo walks or make new friends. But in all my years on Instagram I only ever physically met one person from Instagram and it did not went well.
I have trouble letting go of Instagram. I feel like I know the people I follow even though this feeling is an illusion. But I don’t want to “leave” them behind. Parts of me still cling to the idea of making new friends over a shared hobby. There is a local photo club in my town for God’s sake I should attend their meetings instead of scrolling through Instagram.
Still I have some friends who are on Instagram as well and it is nice to let them see my pictures. But then maybe by liking each other on Instagram we do not feel as much of a need to actually meet and do something. Are we now only keeping in touch by the press of a button? More and more I feel unsatisfied sharing my passion there and comparing the number of likes with other people’s accounts. I want my relationships with people to mean more than just a like or short comment.
News are easy to evaluate. They are toxic. News mostly report on negative things, news is often biased, emotional, it takes things out of context and many news items are really not relevant for my daily life. Modern news needs clicks and engagements (i.e. shares, tweets, comments etc.) so they tailor their articles to drive engagement. This makes for bad reporting though.
Whenever I read the news I become angry about the cruelty of the world, the unbalanced reporting, the useless partisan fights in politics, the never ending scandals and dramas. Life is much much better than news make it out to be. Still I have to check a few news sites every day and almost always feel bad afterwards.
Forums, Reddit, Tech Sites
I frequent a couple of the above mentioned sites to “keep informed” about things relevant to my interests, that is mostly for photography. The thing is most of these sites are just about gear, about buying new things, about what is better, about useless fanboy discussions about what camera brand is “better” than the other.
Lately I would check these sites multiple times a day. But after a few months I realized that the topics constantly repeat themselves. It is the same again and again but by then I had already formed the habit of checking these sites daily.
I used to enjoy video games when I was younger but I stopped somewhat when I started working full time and my then girlfriend moved in with me. But work did not fulfill me and boredom crept in so I started again and with a nice salary I could afford the hardware and games.
But for years I tried to recapture the sense of wonder I had as teenager and young adult. Maybe I have changed, maybe games have changed but I ended up playing games to essentially kill time. And doing something to kill time is just sad. In the last few years I can honestly say that I only really enjoyed one game. This topic is worth a separate blog post.
My relationship with YouTube is very conflicted. On one hand I learned a lot and I even made a kind of pen pal / friend via YouTube. On the other hand my use if this platform is pretty unhealthy.
I like to watch people travel or live a very different life from mine. It is enjoyable but also offers me a different perspective on things. I consider this a positive impact though. I like to watch people who are grateful, minimalist or humble. It inspires me. When I can see that another kind of life is possible I have to decide if I want to change mine too or not. And if not I think I should accept my choices and be more grateful for what I have chosen and for what life has chosen for me.
I enjoy cooking shows because I learn so many new recipes and techniques. It inspires me to cook more as long as the channels are not just showing off the fancy and difficult stuff no one realistically makes at home. Like people who tell you to make your own pasta. Sure it be nice but my kid is hungry now…so realistically it is going to be Barilla with homemade sauce.
I enjoy photography channels for the same reasons but they tend to be mostly about tech and new gear. As long as I am not actively looking for a new camera or lens watching these videos just feeds consumerism and the need to buy new things. Just look at how many cameras I owned in my life. Watching these channels or reading camera gear sites just fed this need to buy more stuff.
I am subscribed to some museum channels but I rarely watch them because I would rather be there in person for a guided tour, public discussion, alone or with friends. Watching museum tours online right now just pains me. I am also subscribed to a few lectures concerning my studies and I should actually watch more of them but they get drowned but what I consider my most unhealthy social media habit.
The biggest problem and the most unhealthy social media habit for me are Let’s Play channels. These channels essentially play video games for people like me to watch. I could play games myself but instead I sit on the couch and watch other people do irrelevant things. I find this very depressing but I need to watch it. This is clearly a form of self medication for whenever I feel unwell, want to shut out the world or numb my own thoughts. Which is very often right now. It is a colossal waste of time. I know this but I can’t stop it either.
Blogs and Email
My preferred medium are blogs. I like that people take their time creating and writing something. Reading an articles forces me to focus on the content without the distractions a video usually entails. I also prefer email to messengers for anything that involves more than “want to come over for coffee”. But I do have the tendency to check on my blog feeds and emails multiple times a day to see if there is anything new. Surely a blog post can wait a day or two for me read it.
Why oh why?
Why did I develop those habits in the first place? There are many reasons like my unfulfilled need for human connection, the dullness of my daily routine, the inability or unwillingness to confront my own thoughts and anxieties or my fear that nothing new will come from the inevitable boredom and idleness that would follow from letting to of all these distractions.
Sure there are some good reasons too. Learning new recipes or photo techniques, learning about other places and different ways of life, being inspired by other creative people and yes sometimes a bit of entertainment can be good thing too. But if I had honestly say how much of my media consumption is a positive experience in which I learn or get inspired compared to just distraction, mindless entertainment and compulsion….maybe 10%?
For me the problem is that keeping the 10% entails being dragged into everything else. But as we have seen in part 1 that is exactly how social media works. To make a famous quote from the Godfather Part III
Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.The Godfather Part III (also a nice meta joke in The Sopranos or Seinfeld)
Well there it is. This is how I use most media online. It is not pretty and I am not proud of it. I have not added the actual time spent on each activity. Of course I know how much time I waste I simply do want to see it tallied up as a number. I feel pretty bad right now but also motivated to change things. The next post in this series will deal with actions I took to change my bad habits.