One of the most intriguing pieces that I wrote as a journalist was about Near Death Experience. I interviewed three people who’d ventured to the other side and came back from the dead with the same message; there’s nothing to fear. All shared very similar experiences: the presence of an ultra-bright light, ascending up a tunnel, a feeling of total serenity and a life review.
As a person with a particularly sketchy long-term memory, the idea that I would get to re-experience my life all over again, always made the idea of death that bit more bearable. However, since the invention of social media, I’m slightly concerned there could be some very long boring parts, where I watch myself endlessly staring at a computer screen scrolling for an eternity.
Often I feel as I’ve fallen into a trance, as time and space dissolve (like being dead, I guess). I become tangled in the sticky web as if I’m a ladybug held hostage in a spider’s lair. It’s not just Facebook, it is Instagram, Twitter, YouTube; it is everywhere I live online that feeds my information addiction. Now, admittedly, the internet can be a good thing, a fucking amazing, marvellous thing, at that. Human knowledge is now at our fingertips, but there is another side.
I get further away from what I COULD (living), and most likely, SHOULD (writing) be doing. Today, I couldn’t get my writing groove on, so instead, I scrolled until my eyeballs went dry. Finally, my free will shouted, “ENOUGH! You’re going for a walk then you’re going to write.” I fought the impulse until I found myself in my leggings, headphones on and outside. I’d been liberated.
I know I’m not alone, I’m sure most of you will understand that compulsion. I bargain with the digital clock to the right of the screen in half hour/hourly increments. Thirteen more minutes, some sane part of my brain says. OK, I promise. But like life, those lost minutes pass in a blink of an eye, and you’re still there. Transfixed. By why?
There are a lot of reasons. Technology is the balm we use to deal with boredom by hiding away online; the fuel for procrastination; the soother of our psychological vulnerabilities, the measuring stick of our lives against the lives of others, and the disconnection from real time, real life.
It’s not you; it’s them.
In November last year, senior tech bro Sean Parker, who made his obscene amount of billions investing in Napster and Facebook and who was Facebook’s first president, sat down for an enlightening chat with Axios’ Mike Allen. In essence, what came out of was the founders of social media knew exactly what they were doing when they created the equivalent of digital crack cocaine.
“The thought process was all about, ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ said Parker. “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop. … You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
They’ve essentially high jacked neuroscience to sell us shit.
In life, the neurotransmitter dopamine informs most of our choices. Pleasurable experiences release dopamine into the brain’s pleasure centres. This, in turn, causes the experience to be perceived as pleasurable, whether that’s scrolling for hours on social media, compulsively checking your phone or email for messages. Dopamine releases also occur in anticipation of receiving good news. While it also forms the basis for nicotine, drug, gambling, shopping, porn, booze and now social media addictions.
In the interview, a slightly self-reflective Parker said, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”.
Well, something dude! Internet Addiction Disorder was recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s only when your two-year-old kid, who can use the iPad better than you, grows up that we will know the true extent of how human brains have been rewired by technology.
The only way I get any work done is to turn social media and all the media I consume off completely. I use an app called Self Control. The name is incredibly apt because it forces me to have the self-control I need to attend the job at hand and blacklist sites I find pleasurable. Sometimes for two hours, sometimes for 24 hours. It’s a relief to be able to focus and work, instead of consuming content, like a hungry monster. I have taken other steps to technology addict proof myself. I do not have Facebook on my phone and stopped all social media notifications on my laptop.
Most importantly, I have a new rule that I leave my laptop outside my bedroom. I am sleeping so much better and don’t feel like the info junkie I was becoming.
As I know from those people that I interviewed for my near-death experience story. Time on earth is finite. Use it wisely.