I’d like to introduce a new voice to this blog: my husband and social media fast accomplice, Shannan Butler. Shannan was the first to bug me about my social media consumption habits (although his aren’t a whole lot better…) and not only supported the idea of the fast, but also decided to join me in it. He will be sharing his experience on this blog under the name shannanb.
Yesterday we learned that one-third of young women aged 18-34 check Facebook as soon as they wake up. We also found out that one-fifth of them don’t even wait until the morning hours, but instead get up in the middle of the night to read up on their friends’ latest adventures (source: Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research). As crazy as that sounds, I have to admit, I have done both. In fact, my morning routine these days consists of almost instinctively reaching down for my laptop (which I keep by my nightstand) and pulling up the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Bloglines, and yes, email. I’m not quite as bad when it comes to midnight Facebooking though. I’ve only done it a few times — mostly to chat with friends who live overseas.
These study results caught my eye, not only because they ring true to my own experiences, but also because they highlight just how much of a spell social media might have cast on us. What this study doesn’t tell us is why so many people simply can’t turn off their news feed any longer. While the scientific research on this question is still in its infancy, our growing knowlege of how the brain works can shed some light on the mechanisms that drive this apparent Facebook addiction. As Emily Yoffe wrote in an article in Slate Magazine:
We actually resemble nothing so much as those legendary lab rats that endlessly pressed a lever to give themselves a little electrical jolt to the brain. While we tap, tap away at our search engines, it appears we are stimulating the same system in our brains that scientists accidentally discovered more than 50 years ago when probing rat skulls. [...] Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. Since we’re restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp [a neuroscientist] says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a “CrackBerry.”
Although I love Facebook, Twitter, and Co., I can’t help but wonder what they’re doing to me. Why do these sites keep drawing me in? Why do I pull out my iPhone and check Twitter whenever I get a minute? How much have these technologies really changed my behavior? It’s easy to see the power and benefits of social media. What may be more difficult to see are their detrimental effects on our lives. I realize that most of us may not have the option to completely walk away from the social web because of the nature of our jobs, but I do believe that in order to understand the grip these technologies have on us, we need to distance ourselves from them for a while. Hence the idea of the social media fast. I see the fast as a method to study just how much social media has influenced my daily routines and behaviors and maybe even my thought processes. Now off to schedule my fast!