Confessions of a social media addict

I do not want to write this post. I don’t mind admitting weaknesses. I dislike admitting banal weaknesses. I am writing this post because I don’t want to write it.

I am a social media addict. This is not a medical diagnosis. Nonetheless, I mean it in a technical sense: I am sufficiently self-aware to take note of the dopamine rush I get every time I see that little “notifications” count. It’s cheap thrill. A reliable buzz. Day in, day out, minute after minute, hour after hour.

Mostly, I seek approval, which is easy to come by. Occasionally, less defensibly, I just want a reaction. Reactions are cheap on social media. Especially when you have 14,000 Twitter followers.

I don’t have a sob story about being broke in a gutter and selling my shoes for one more retweet. I am by all accounts functional and productive. Judging by the number of people who ask me how I do all that I do, I am apparently super-productive by some standards.

But I’m not happy with myself at the end of the day. I’m not OK with finishing the bare minimum of work to keep my head above water. I’m not OK with the barely repressed shame of knowing, in the back of my mind, just how many times I hit “refresh” today. I’m not OK with the diminished self-respect. More pressingly, I am not OK with the number of evenings I spend with my attention split between my kids and my phone.

I’m going to especially regret that last one. Like a diet of twinkies, it may not be hurting me much yet, but it’s going to catch up to me. And it’s not going to be an “oh, darn” kind of regret. I will hate myself. I will rage against those memories.

I am certain that Twitter and Facebook, et. al., hone their user experience to encourage this kind of mindless pavlovian response. But I don’t blame them.

I’ve been prone to this behavior off and on for as long as I can remember. A long time ago, when I had a boring job I didn’t particularly care for, it was Slashdot that I reloaded endlessly. Later it was LiveJournal. Oh, the delicious smell of fresh LiveJournal drama in the morning, I remember it still.

I am not so naive as to think that this addiction is a root cause. Social media is a distraction, a way to procrastinate. And procrastination is always a logical emotional choice to substitute something less emotionally threatening for something more emotionally threatening.

I find much of life to be tremendously emotionally daunting. This week I needed to make a quick, trivial call to my doctor’s office. It was on my TODO list for Monday. It took me four days to actually bring myself around to making the call.

The one complaint that I have about the personal planning software I use is that it enables me to rate tasks by how long they will take, but not by their emotional cost. I’ll bet a lot of people are like me and would love that feature. But none of us has the guts to actually admit we want that feature.

The items on my TODO list scare me. Sometimes I don’t even want to look at them  Completing them might have an emotional payoff—maybe. Or maybe, completing them will leave me with an emotional bombshell. Like going through my inbox, and discovering a monstrous medical bill I hadn’t expected. It’s a gamble.

I don’t hate my job anymore. Far from it. But there’s still a cost to it. Most days it still takes me far too long to buckle down and just do it. And there’s still fear involved: what if I can’t think of a good topic for an episode? What if I come up with something dumb and sub-par?

Social media is low-cost. Social media isn’t a gamble. The worst thing that can happen is that there’s nothing new and I don’t get a fix. More often, there’s a fresh telltale that someone out there is paying attention to me. And I get my little dopamine shot.

But it’s not just about avoiding the tasks that frighten me. It’s about drowning out the noise in my head. The constant whirl of panic. Panic about providing for my family: is my business OK? Will it sustain, or will it suddenly vanish out from under me? Panic about doing right by my family: what about all those things I told my kids we’d do, that we haven’t done yet? Panic about my life’s work: Am I going to do some good in the world, or am I frittering away my energy on blind alleys and getting-by? Panic about doing right by myself: Should I be running right now? Practicing guitar? Meditating? Why haven’t I signed up for piano lessons yet? Panic about unkown unknowns: is there some terrible event bearing down on me that I simply can’t predict or plan for?

I can’t pretend that cracking down on my social media habits will address these root causes. But maybe it will throw them into starker relief.

And emotional muscles can be exercised like any others. Maybe it’s time I forced myself to do the kind of calisthenics that will render all of these fears less overwhelming.

I’m not going to talk about my strategies in this post. I’m a firm believer that talking about a plan is a good way to kill its mojo.

But writing this is one step. I can’t pretend I don’t have a problem anymore.

Now it’s time to kick some ass.

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  1. Just had to say that I can relate to *so much* of this (all the way to refreshing Slashdot during a boring job). In fact, I saw this post because I was scanning Twitter instead of writing tomorrow’s email newsletter!

    Thanks for writing it.

    1. There is a saying – “you hit the nail sqaurely on the head”………
      i think youve encapsulated in this post the REAL feelings of millions of people all over the world. The problem as far as i see it is as with any other addictions, the addicted must want to quit. Mebbe there are just to many lonely unconfident people in the world today. The conundrum is though, as social media accelerates more and more into our lives it creates more and more insular unconfident people in our society as a whole. Its just to easy to vent anger or look for praise online, and isnt that what technological advances are supposed to do – make our lives easier . Social media is the new glossy magazine in my opinion, if you read it for the most part it will only make you feel like your underachieving or ugly – even though as you read you know most of it is made up to gain praise or photoshopped to gain adoration. For me the internet is an amazing tool, as is social media and all things associated, the problem though is there is no manual out there which explains how to work each individuals emotions so it can be used properly without problems.
      remember the internet isnt real.

  2. You are wise and a deep-thinker. This post is poignant and extremely well written. Your writing style has matured noticeably over the past few years. And to that latter point; it is as a result of the constant and consistent “practice” of writing your skills have become so sharply honed.
    I appreciate you “bearing your soul” in public like this – but I am certain this is not at all an uncommon malady. Most of us simply do not admit it (even to ourselves).

  3. i would certainly miss you on the small fraction of social media i follow. i always pay attention to what you write, though i don’t always publicly comment.

    i believe i know where this emotional procrastination ‘gene’ may come from. it’s a killer. i’ve experienced some of it myself. the smallest task can seem overwhelming, when you’re juggling so many moving parts to keep the life you’ve built from bursting out from under you. it’s tempting to seek distraction and validation, however ephemeral.

    i’m one of those with not much life of my own, unlike you, spending way too much time on fb not to avoid responsibilities, but just to have some contact with the outside world, and keep up with those i love, such as you. for me, your absence here would be a loss, but i totally understand why you might need to limit or eliminate it, at least for a time.

    i admire the guts and emotional honesty it took for you to confess to the panic that can paralyze, and the determination to work through it. you always seem so self-confident and aspiring on the outside; it takes a lot of self-awareness and integrity to face down all those all-too-human demons just below the surface, and courage to admit to it openly.

    i hope at least you will continue to write. writing is a kind of therapy and self-examination. i gain so much insight about things i could never articulate, from reading your posts. if you were to divert even some of the time you spend on social media into glimpses such as this, it might help you see more clearly to navigate the path you’ve set yourself, and what to streamline or eliminate. and we your readership will be better for it.

    perhaps a bit of social media fix can be something you reward yourself with. only AFTER you accomplish certain tasks you’ve prioritized for yourself first. but that’s just me, hoping to catch a glimpse of you now and then! you can be sure those who know and respect you (many) will understand and think even more highly of you if you need to limit your time on twitter, fb, etc. we will just have to admire you from afar! your family and life’s work (and peace of mind) come first.

    each day is a new day to start again.

  4. […] So last night I revealed my secret shame. […]

  5. I appreciate the honesty here and the self awareness. I think most people wouldn’t even be able to think in terms of emotional cost, or have any idea how to measure it, much less admit it to the world or themselves in order to track it.

    I am also wondering if this isn’t just another thing to beat ourselves up about. Refreshing slashdot/metafilter/facebook/whatever while you’re at work? Who cares, other than your boss?

    As a parent, it’s definitely something to be concerned about. But, my parents weren’t perfect, and I’m (relatively) fine. Who, ever, had perfect parents? I’m sure most parents did the same thing with TV before social media, with books before then, and with other grownups before that.

    I mean I don’t disagree with you. Hell yeah to any kind of rebellion against this commodification of our attention. Hell yeah to self betterment and self awareness. But there’s no reason to blame yourself or think you’re any worse than anyone else for this. I suspect you are much better at being a good human than most.

    1. Thanks. As a rule, I’m not too concerned with whether I’m better than anyone else. I just want to be better than I was yesterday.

      1. Point taken. What I was trying to get at is more about self acceptance.

  6. […] I had reason to visit the Twitter website earlier. According to the bright little adornment on the “Notifications” tab, I had 60 items of note waiting for me. As I looked at it, it updated to 61. I didn’t click on it. […]

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