As I sat on a bench by the river running between the mountains on a rest day from a snowboarding holiday, I contemplated deeply on the meaning of life, of what it meant to be a conscious being, of being able to witness what it is like to be alive. Entranced by the sublime infinit nature of this age old mountain range, I thought to myself: “Maybe I should post this on Instagram?!…"
Then, on the brink of reaching full enlightenment, I thought my last thought: “God I’m happy I deleted that app!"
It’s been probably 12 to 18mths since I slowed down my once frequent ‘isn’t my life amazing posts’ on social media. A crazy experiment by modern day standards. I think it deserves a snooty term like ‘post-FOMO’ or ‘meta-somethingness’. I have to say that the mountains are just as beautiful without people clicking like on my pictures.
Seriously though, it’s interesting to see how moments change their tone with or without social media. In a situation where I would notice a thought pop up along the lines of ‘I should post this picture, it should look like this and I could write a witty or seemingly insightful comment like this’. I now sit here and for the most part think: ‘Aren’t I lucky, I feel very grateful’, or 'That’s a nice tree' and today ‘Aren’t I happy I’m taking this picture with the retina display in my eyes, instead of the retina display on my phone’s screen!’ (ha, funnily enough spell check wanted me to write the word retina with a capital R because it favours the Apple branded technology over the organic human retina).
I say this with full awareness that I sound incredibly lame saying that would have ever been my thought process but now sitting from the outside of that ongoing experience I can only laugh at its absurdity. This sounds mad perhaps but I'm saying something I know many other people experience. Have you ever walked down the street mentally penning a social media post? It's pretty common. It's common but it's not normal. We're addicts.
Just yesterday I sat at a cafe. A man received his beer and food from the waiter after coming off the ski slopes. The first thing he did was set it all up with his beer glass in front of the mountain view, took a picture, typed some comment, clicked post and only then did he eat and speak to his friend he was eating with.
The present moment has itself become a commodity. Something to put online to add to our social currency, meanwhile feeding the beast. Making it stronger. Were a social media addict to notice their thoughts mindfully, they would notice they sometimes think in tweets and posts. Life is no longer a journey, life is a facebook feed. I say this with experience more than judgement. Our everyday has been hijacked. Mainly our minds have been hacked and yet they are the source of our experience of the world. It’s now been ingrainedinto our relationships, our minds and our expectations. We expect instant replies from friends. Instant gratification from likes. Every instant is a moment not to be lived but to be captured into the digital ether, otherwise how can we know it was lived at all.
These attitudes are created by design, they are the strategies resulting from the motives of multi billion dollar companies owned by rich shareholders, the real customers. Meanwhile the users are the used. Our thoughts aren’t our own but the result of nudge after nudge from designers come behavioural economists motivated not by improving democracy or society but by profit.
The trick I’ve mentioned above in this post, that impulse to hop back on the social media treadmill is something the dopamine drug lord call an ‘Internal Trigger’. One of their chiefs is Nir Eyal, author of Hooked a book which helps designers create addictive products (what an altruistic intention to write a book!). He says: “We all use products to change our mood. In fact, think about it, what app or website do we turn to when we're feeling lonely? Well, we open up Facebook of course. And what about when we’re feeling uncertain? Before we scan our brains for the answer, well, we Google it. And what about when we’re feeling bored? Well that’s a great time to go to YouTube.”
The tech we use is insanely addictive and it is so by design. Because we’re addicted we spend time on the site, because we spend time on the site, we watch ads and give data which they sell to advertisers to serve us ads which we watch because we're hooked. They cycle goes on. And contrary to tobacco or gambling or cigarettes, this addiction is most addictive because it is also very useful. It’s useful to have the internet in my pocket, maps, a translator, a camera. Even social media has its uses. It’s nice to connect with good friends (not that is the main use of social media, but it’s perhaps a desirable one). So the question to me is: how to not get hooked in the traps designed for us, but still benefit from the potential pluses these tools offer?
How do I use this stuff to be connected and not at the same time let it get between me and the people I’m sharing physical space with?
How do I use my phone as a tool without slipping into the habit of using it as a toy?
Mindfulness, measurement and my own beneficial nudges are my own strategy but I’m sure there’s many more. What’s certain is that we need to educate ourselves, each other and our children to see these tools as just that and to revalue relationships and real world interactions over online simulations. The present moment isn’t a commodity but all there is.
So I’ll put my keyboard down now, take a breath and take in the sights and sounds.
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PPS. Ok. I did take picture. I hope you ‘like’ it. Haha.