When Facebook first arrived, we believed it to be another novelty platform. We considered it another ‘Myspace’ amongst the likes of Tumblr and Google Plus which both came later. But unlike those platforms, Facebook emerged from its competitors as an extraordinary network, connecting us to the world each day. When released in 2004 as ‘The Facebook’, individuals used it to connect with friends and family around the globe. Two decades later, it’s become an ever-evolving force that has ignited resounding effects on our relationship with digital technology.
Although the platform positively impacts individuals, families, businesses, public figures, etc.- It’s the urgency and exhaustion it creates causes concern. Thinking about it, the student who came up with ‘thefacebook.com’ could never have expected the impact thrusted upon us. Unfortunately the mentally debilitating characteristics doesn’t extend to one platform. For Steven Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim, when Youtube arrived in 2005- I’m sure they would be less warm to the idea Youtube would be the second most visited website in the world. Now we find ourselves down a ‘rabbit hole’ of videos, with the majority of us barely even remembering what we’ve watched.
These digital changes happened before we had a chance to decide on which rapid advancements we would engage in. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the trenches with several notifying apps, presenting themselves at the core of our daily lives. Our relationship with digital technology compromises what we aim to achieve at an alarming rate.
To take control of what we consume begins with an understanding of what encourages our addictive behaviours towards digital consumption.
The power of the internet represents our expectations for digital media to improve our lives. Without it, we can’t connect with others, find readily available information, and perhaps even maintain a business. But the problem we face with the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, and other digital media platforms, is there’s an ever-increasing rate of mental exhaustion when we pick up our phones. The space it takes up doesn’t help our decision-making, performance, or our overall ability to focus.
It’s not just one platform that harms us when used in isolation, but the overall impact of several applications compounding against our lack of focus. Many of us want to decrease our time spent online, but unfortunately, digital technology has a way to cultivate back in our lives and create behavioural addictions.
There’s often an erratic twitch when putting our phone down, believing we haven’t seen everything we needed to see. It’s a draining behaviour that manipulates our mood to the extent of loss of control. There are two ways in which our behaviour is targeted.
1 ) Positive Reinforcement
Although addiction to digital media perceives to arrive from our own doing, many addictive properties are engineered through companies themselves. Social media companies use unpredictable feedback as a tool to release dopamine into our brains- a neurotransmitter for regulating our cravings.
Silicon Valley whistleblower Tristan Harris indicated that Facebook initially decided on a blue notification symbol. Each time there would be a “like”, or a “friend request”, it would show up. The design was initially implemented to prove a subtle and innocuous feature. Unfortunately no one used it, so they changed it to what we see today- red. The method proved to be a highly popular, but came at the expense of triggering and validating behaviour. More individuals would constantly check their phone to feel the satisfaction of a new notification arriving.
2) Social Approval
We’re humans that can’t simply ignore everything others think of us. In the early days, our social standing was determined by how we interacted with those close to us.
In the 21st century, new technology has hijacked our reputation to take advantage of our behavioural addiction. For instance, consider when you post on Instagram. You may have posted something meaningful with an expectation of feedback: lots of likes, comments, shares. The feedback is received, and all of a sudden you feel a show of support- something we all crave. But if you receive no comments or posts, the opposite occurs, and the lack of feedback brings distress. This leads to an urgent need to pick up your phone and continually monitor how others have perceived your post. If there’s a continuation of no response, you lose confidence, wondering if you should socially show up on digital media.
In addition to our social status, Facebook initiated a “tag” option when posting photos. Users took advantage and later, leading to automatic image recognition as who’s in your photo. You can then tag them with a single click. The notification to the “tagged” person gives them a sense of approval, creating a socially satisfying thought. But it can also be an unappealing feeling if they aren’t satisfied with the photo they are tagged in. Yet, this is just another way for our mood to be exploited.
Digitally Decluttering Moving Forward
We often take social media breaks, effectively detoxing ourselves from the information consumed. The downside of a ‘detox’ means our brain acknowledges we will come back to what we have removed at some stage. The problem with this approach is it enhances our impulsive actions. And as we prepare ourselves to take back control, we’re inclined to consume more of what we’ve missed out on.
If you decide to take a break, consider it not a ‘detox’ but an understanding of what relationship with digital technology you value. Create your own rules of freedom to effectively navigate what you consume. Consider which technologies are considered voluntary- they should be those which aren’t severely impacting your career and personal life. When creating rules for these technologies, aim to dictate how and when you will use the technology, for example, in the case of Youtube. Your rules may be to watch it only on your desktop computer. This means deleting the app from your phone and only allowing yourself desktop access. Whatever your digital consumption, focus on its ability to serve something you deeply desire in this world. You can then turn an exhausted brain, which extorts your willpower, into a replenished and revived mindset that takes control, improving our relationship with digital technology.