Today, I’m so honored to host Ed Cyzewski here on the blog. Ed is a dear friend, a wise man, and a talented writer. His newest book, Reconnect, is one I am reading slowly because there is so much I need to understand in its pages. See what I mean, below.
Leah finds Facebook too addicting. She can’t resist measuring her self worth based on the feedback in her notifications.
Aza doesn’t like to use Twitter or Instagram because he can’t resist the promise of something new and exciting every time he scrolls through his feed with infinite content.
Tristan turns off the “autoplay” feature on YouTube because he worries about spending too much time watching videos.
Steve wouldn’t let his children use an iPad until they were older for fear that it could prove harmful for their development.
Who Are These “Technophobes”?
These people who place limits around their technology use aren’t technology resistors. In fact, they worked right in the middle of the tech industry.
Leah Pearlman co-invented the notifications feature on Facebook, including the especially appealing red bubble that appears when there is something new to check. Despite knowing how the feature works and designing the way it appears, she couldn’t resist the way it impacted her mental health.
Aza Raskin invented the infinite scroll feature that is used for social media sites and apps that include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s so effective at keeping people hooked that he regrets creating it.
Tristan Harris studied behavior modification psychology at Stanford under habit expert B.J. Fogg and put it to use among thousands of engineers at Google. Harris saw how a supercomputer vs. an unsuspecting human brain was rarely a fair fight. Although he worked to change Google’s approach to keeping people hooked, he eventually left to found the Center for Humane Technology since Google has no financial incentive to prompt users to log off.
Steve Jobs sold the iPad to schools at a discount while keeping it from his own children.
This wariness toward technology and social media among the people who understand how they work is no mistake.
They know how addicting these devices and apps are. They know that the companies are driven by increasing “engagement,” which basically just means getting more of your attention. As long as they have your attention, they can use your screen like a digital billboard to sell ads or collect data for corporations, political campaigns, etc.
Tristan Harris puts it this way: “Everywhere you turn on the internet there’s basically a supercomputer pointing at your brain, playing chess against your mind, and it’s going to win a lot more often than not.”
All of this is not good news for writers who are expected to use social media for networking and promoting their work.
Aren’t We Supposed to Use Social Media for Promotion?
If you’re a writer or if you’ve published a book, I don’t have to tell you that social media can be useful for promoting books, networking, and sharing important information.
Social media also can be a time-sucking, attention-capturing black hole of despair, conflict, memes, and kitten cuteness.
Social media offers a chance to connect with colleagues, to keep in touch with family, and to share which books and articles are most helpful.
It’s possible to simultaneously feel like you spend too much time on social media and never enough, while watching deadlines creep closer and closer on your calendar.
As ideas sputter in your mind and fail to take shape on the page, social media offers an immediate escape that is simple, fun, and at least minimially productive–because you can claim you’re “connecting” with readers.
The problem is that we are hardly engaged in a fair fight when we try to resist the quick dopamine hit of social media when it’s time to start writing.
Do we have any hope of escaping this manipulation and invasion of our time each day?
We Need a New Baseline for Health and Flourishing
My own experiences with technology and research of studies and polls has led me to conclude that we have limited willpower to resist the wiles of social media and our phones.
We need boundaries, blocks, habits, and intentional use of our time to in order to maintain space for a hopeful wandering mind that can become fertile for creative concepts to take root. Social media is too alluring, too dialed in to our desires and tendencies to approach without a plan in mind.
We need boundaries in order to preserve our freedom to choose how we spend our time. This is a step to preserve autonomy.
That can be a jarring concept to accept at first, but the creators of social media and digital devices do not have our flourishing or personal goals in mind.
For most of us, we need a new baseline for ourselves so that we understand what it feels like to be healthy and grounded vs. swept away by the anxiety and distraction of social media. Some kind of fast or limitation will be essential.
There is no shortage of resources available for us.
I use Screen Time limits and grayscale on my iPhone, as well as Freedom and Moment to block and track my usage.
On my computer, I use Self Control 2 and StayFocusd to limit or block certain social media sites. Kill News Feed on Chrome is a handy way to eliminate the slot machine-like appeal of infinite scrolling for Facebook without losing access to notifications and groups.
Whichever apps and hacks you choose to reset your attention and time so that you have more space for creativity, the key is to reset yourself so that you know what it feels like to be free from the pull of social media.
When you get sucked in to social media for a day or two, such as when you’re releasing a new book (AHEM!), you’ll feel the difference. That feeling alone gives you incredible power and control so that you can decide what is best for your mental health and creativity while still making space for limited social media use.
Social media can be a great way to share information and to keep in touch with friends. The problem is that it’s designed to do so much more than that, keeping us engaged for much longer than is good for our mental health or to-do list.
I wrote Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction because I saw how social media had stolen hours of my life from me each month. I didn’t lose that time for creative pursuits, family, or personal restoration because I’m any worse a person than you. I lost because social media is rigged against us.
We have the power to preserve our time and attention for what matters most, but if we’re going to win, we need to put time and effort into preserving both.
Learn more about how to overcome the distractions of social media and how spiritual practices can become a part of your personal restoration in my new book Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction.
Ed Cyzewski is the author Flee, Be Silent, Pray; Reconnect; and other books. He works as a freelancer writer and editor in Western Kentucky, and you can download a free eBook on using your smartphone less at www.edcyzewski.com.