There’s a lot of noise these days about the problems with special media platforms especially Facebook. This follows the revelation that the data of about 50 million users was leaked to a company, Cambridge Analytica who surreptitiously exploited a feature in Facebook. To me, the problem is not even the issue concerning the privacy of data that everyone seems to be targeting. I don’t care if any company has access to my Facebook data. There is nothing of significance or secret there.
I am more worried about being uncontrollably hooked to the platform. I recently heard a Masterclass by Psychologist Adam Alter as part of my meditation app, Calm, where problems with platforms like Facebook was explained. I was thoroughly impressed with the class. I recommend it to everyone.
Social Media takes up so much of our attention. The trouble is the continuously scrolling feed and the lack of a ‘stopping cue’. When you read a newspaper or a book, there is a well-defined end point. In the Facebook timeline, there is none. This means that you can perpetually keep scrolling.
Another problem is the instant gratification. When you post something, you get a high when someone likes or comments. You keep checking from time to time how many likes and comments you get. One thing that I have noticed is that the attention span of people is getting lower and lower. Post a picture and you get many likes in a short amount of time. Post an article and the numbers of likes reduces drastically. People just don’t have the time to read through anything even slightly long even if it’s something important or interesting.
The like and comment features cause another disturbing change in you. You start valuing yourself based on these. You look for such positive affirmations for yourself in these shallow ways.
And then there’s the FOMO (fear of missing out). You don’t want to miss anything that’s happening in others’ lives.
I recently removed all social media apps from my phone. I really enjoy the few minutes of boredom from time to time - in the elevator, in the car, between meetings, while walking down the hallway of my office. All these periods used to be spent looking into my phone screen earlier. I haven’t yet completely deleted my Facebook and other social media accounts. I can still access them from my iPad (which is my primary work computer these days).
I have begun hating Whatsapp as well. What started as an instant messaging system has now become an instant disturbing system. When I am dong something important, I get a million Whatsapp notifications about what others consider important and I often don’t give a fuck about. I have turned notifications off recently. I have got a lot more peace in return.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to whether you have control over social media or whether it has control over you. If used well, it can do some great things like putting you in touch with long lost friends. If not, you can end up becoming obsessed with it and letting it take over much of your life.
(If you made it till here, congratulations, you have a fantastic attention span.)