When Facebook and other social media sites first came to be, I don’t remember anyone complaining about them or saying they were bad for you. All I remember is people using them to connect with their friends and families. It helped establish contact with people from different states or even countries. So what changed? Has anything actually changed or were we just blind to the adverse effects of social media when it first came to be? Has social media been ingrained into our minds because of our evolution to the digital age?
I don’t know. In my personal opinion, I think social media has become so huge because people are just bored. What I mean by this is, people only use social media when they’re bored. Yes, there are people who use it to connect with people for work or use it for work. I feel a majority of people mindlessly swipe through their feed and use social media as a time consumer. I know that I do. In Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, he says that one of the rules of learning deep work is to embrace boredom.
Embrace boredom, you may say? Yes, but not in the way you think. Most people get bored (unless you’re a workaholic). What do we do when we’re bored? Go on social media. If you go to a train station or an airport and look around, most people are on their phones. I think I could safely assume at least 50% of them are on social media, probably more. “Once you’re wired for distractions, you crave it,” (Newport, 160). So if we crave something, how are we supposed to embrace it and still get work done?
We must schedule our activity. Schedule when it’s time to use the internet for the day. (It’s also a nice way to motivate yourself to do work. “Once I finish this essay, I can finally go watch the final episode of Big Mouth”). Easier said than done though. You cannot use the internet at all during times you don’t have it scheduled. You must avoid it altogether, otherwise, you’re going to keep going back more and more to your distractions. Even if you use the internet a lot for work, it’s still possible to do this, you’ll just probably take more “internet breaks” than someone who doesn’t use the internet that much for work.
It’s almost kind of scary to see the lengths we have to go to in order to avoid distractions. Is that what social media and the digital age has done to us? Well, in an article I read, Chamath Palihapitiya (former VP of Facebook), said “It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.” There are no rules on social media. Everyone sits behind a keyboard and can type whatever they want with little to no consequences. Misinformation is fed through social media and people buy into, because “It’s the internet it must be true”.
Not only is social media ripping apart social fabric, but it’s also programming us. It’s very subtle and no one really realizes it, but it’s happening. You’ll search for something online and then a couple hours later you’ll see an ad for it on Facebook or Instagram. We constantly feel the need to update our friends and families about what we’re doing or see what they’re doing via Twitter or Instagram. “It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.”
Social media doesn’t look back. It keeps us in the present. “Social media is designed to keep us trapped in the present and devoid of history.” Go look at your twitter feed right now. I’ll wait. Do you have it open? Good. Look at the first tweet. What’s it say? Probably something like, “so and so said this” posted 50 seconds ago, “so and so said that” posted 3 minutes ago, and so on and so forth. That’s called reverse chronological design. The feed is constantly being refreshed, which makes it nearly impossible to examine the past. How long do you think it would take you to scroll back one week? Clive Thompson says, “I’d be sitting there scrolling backward until my forefinger fell off.”
With the way social media is set up today, it gets harder and harder to examine the past. Sure, Facebook and Snapchat have “memories” that pop up. Normally it’s just some embarrassing photo of you from middle school you completely forgot about or an embarrassing update that made you cringe. The problem here though is we forgot about it. “Present-mindedness is our biggest danger.” We’re always told learn from your mistakes, but with the way society and social media are, it becomes increasingly difficult when it takes an hour to scroll back to find something from a day or two ago to see what was wrong or right about it.