No one can argue that social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc—has changed the way we interact. And now enter the iGen (short for iGeneration), the post-millennials who will be born never knowing a world without an iPhone or Facebook. (Note: I still remember my first phone, affectionately called ‘The Brick’ which I carried to and from my car like a purse.)
There is no doubt that social media has ushered in some positive changes. For instance, it is much easier to connect with friends and family. If you’re like me, I have family and friends spread across the country and I like (the real like, not the Facebook Like—although I do Like their posts too) being able to see what everyone is up to in near real-time.
But is all this liking and commenting and sharing and re-gramming good for us?
Let’s start by exploring what social media is designed to do. I recently read an interview with Sean Parker on Axios. If you’re not familiar with the name, he is the ex-founding president of Facebook and was played by Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network.” This quote is long, but worth re-quoting. He said:
“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ 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 ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”
What happens when you Like?
Social media is creating a reward trigger for Dopamine. When you post something, you’ve created an expectation of something to come, in this case, that something is a Like. When you get that Like, you feel happy. That feeling of happiness is created by a release of Dopamine. And since this action—of posting and getting a Like—has made you happy, it creates a need in each of us to do it again and again and again, thus “consuming as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.”
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in the brain. It is often referred to as the “reward” chemical because, among other things, it is responsible for making you feel productive and gives you the ability to focus. It is also what controls your brain’s pleasure center and plays a major role in regulating your mood, helping you sleep, helps control your motor skills and is part of maintaining memories.
The catch is that the more you want the instant gratification from anticipating a positive reaction on social media, the more your brain (Dopamine) tells you that you need that gratification, thus creating a cycle that keeps you hooked on social media. The problem is your brain can’t always keep up with the demand for Dopamine and that is when your brain chemistry is impacted.
Moderation is the key
Now listen, I am not railing against social media. But as with everything in life, moderation is the key. There are some simple things you can do to make sure you make the most of your time online without feeling like its consumed your day.
- Schedule your time online. Unless you’re a marketing manager and use social media for work, set a schedule for yourself. Maybe that’s in the morning or during lunch. The important thing set certain times when you “allow” yourself to be online.
- In addition to the schedule, set a timer. It’s very easy to hop on Instagram and start scrolling through pictures, only to realize an hour has gone by. While I am usually on social media for work several times a day, I limit myself to 30 mins when I’m looking at my personal feeds. If you use an iPhone, the new screen time feature is a great way to gauge how much you—or your kids—are actually online.
- Lists and filters are your friend! Both Facebook and Twitter have tools you can use to limit posts from friends and groups. You don’t have to un-friend anyone but I think we can all admit we have some friends who post things that are either inappropriate or constantly political and you just don’t want to see it all the time but you don’t want to completely disconnect. If you have found yourself in this position, learn how to use the filter tools.
- There are TONS of social networks. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter…it’s never-ending. My advice is pick the networks that most interest you personally and professionally and leave the rest behind.
- Don’t be a troll. For me, being an internet troll is akin to “liquid” courage. So I live by this rule: If I won’t say it to your face, I won’t post it online.
As always, we want to hear from you. How do use you social media? What are you tricks for moderating your time online?