Book 2: Chapter Two: The Shadow Side to Social Media

This addiction is an affliction,

Programmed into us by their system.

Yet addiction by design, Doesn’t appear to be a crime.

Getting ‘users’ hooked like it’s a lifeline,

Harvesting our energy, data and time...

Just so they can make more dime. I want to take back what’s mine.

I am addicted to social media.

The itch to pick it up even though I only picked it up a few minutes ago. The tightness in my tummy, the fluttering in my stomach, the anticipation as the app opens up and as thescreen refreshes its ‘feed’. The butterflies as Iawait results; be it Likes, comments, messages, new content, news, connection, valuation, appreciation. Hunting for that feeling, that sensation, as I mindlessly hop from app to app, email to Facebook, Instagram to Messenger, Whatsapp to LinkedIn, Twitter, News or YouTube... Coming round to the reality that I’m hunched over a small bright rectangle, noticing I’m lost in an endless scroll, forgetting what I had come on to check, or do. Time lost, energy drained. Cross with myself for doing it again.

Learning that I was hooked on my own chemical reaction to social media was a big thing for me. Finding out that being on social media is producing dopamine, which is lighting up my system in all sorts of different ways. In similar ways to drugs like cocaine, alcohol and nicotine. It started to make more sense as to why my body would crave this ‘hit’, and the instinct to go hunting for it, when in need of a lift, even though this information has been sensationalised by the media somewhat.

What drugs release dopamine in the brain? Research has shown that the drugs most commonly abused by humans (including opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine) create a neuro-chemical reaction that significantly increases the amount of dopamine that is released by neurons in the brain’s reward centre.

Source: Hazledon Betty Ford Foundation: Drug Abuse, Dopamine, and the Brain’s Reward System.

In my twenties I loved to rave with my friends at the weekends, indulging in lots of dopamine one way or another and I think I have some tendencies towards addiction. I have madesacrifices and lost some friends in putting thosehabits behind me. It concerns me now that I recognise my addiction to social media and the effects that it is having on my wellbeing and I wonder how this will affect my business.

I am not an expert on the science behind this, but from the research I have done I have come to understand that dopamine is not all bad. It can help with depression, with memory, with excitement and motivation. It can help us process pain and can help us to be more creative. But too much of it is also linked to addictive and repetitive behaviour, attention disorders and mental health conditions.

In response to this, I started to take measures to cut back on my device and social media usage, taking note of how it feels when I do. Looking at when I use my phone the most and when I use my phone the least. What drives those behaviours and what it feels like in my body. Looking for what gets me to want to pick up my phone; how long I spend on it and why.

Addictions and shadows are things we often can’t see, or we ignore, because they are in a blind spot. It’s uncomfortable to give some things up. Looking at our shadows can be scary and painful. This seems to be human nature. I doubt there is a human alive who doesn’t have something in their life which this relates to. I don’t believe any of us are perfect, ever will be or would want to be perfect. Our imperfections are beautiful, but when it is hurting ourselves orothers, then being honest about it can be a firststep to making things better.

Maybe Facebook can’t see their own shadows, in order to own them. Maybe they don’t want to. Addictive design appears to be common practice in Silicon Valley, so they may not even think they are doing anything wrong in the way it was designed. It makes the company money, therefore it is okay. They are opportunists; they didn’t necessarily foresee what it would do.

The way Facebook has handled the issues of the past year has been interesting. I remember watching when Channel 4 news were covering the Cambridge Analytica scandal: the Facebook HQ in London had gone into lockdown. The whole building was locked and the lights were off. Live on the six o’clock news, the reporter was knocking on their big glass doors while staff hid inside pretending no-one was there. This felt like a symbol of them being in the dark, not able to face up to the truth of the situation or their mistakes, choosing instead to stay hidden from their own shadow.

But they say the wound is where the light gets in, so maybe there is hope for Facebook yet. There is a movement in tech valley highlighting these issues, with The Centre of Humane Technology at the forefront.

Today’s tech platforms are caught in a race to the bottom of the brain stem to extract human attention. It’s a race we’re all losing. The result: addiction, social isolation, outrage, misinformation, and political polarisation—all part of one interconnected system called human downgrading that poses an existential threat to humanity. Our mission is to reverse human downgrading by realigning technology with our humanity.

Source: Centre of Humane Technology - humanetech. com

Nir Eyal, author of the book Hooked - How to Build Habit-Forming Products ironically got hooked on such products himself and has just released his next book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

He writes:

We can take steps right now to retrain and regain our brains. To be blunt, what other choice do we have? We don’t have time to wait for regulators to do something and if you hold your breath waiting for corporations to make their products less distracting, well you’re going to pass out.

Source: Indistractable; How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, by Nir Eyal with Julie Li.

As a human (unicorn) being on this planet, I understand how we can all make mistakes; it is how we handle things once we are aware of the issues that I think matters the most. As I understand it, our response to a situation either clears or continues the karma.

It got me thinking, if Facebook was a family member or a friend- and lets face it, we spend as much time, if not more with our devices these days as we do with some of our closest people - can we forgive, forget and move on?

By looking at the shadow sides to social media, not only for myself but for all of us and for Facebook itself, I hope to be part of our healing. I want to help clear the energy, get the digital sage out, roll our sleeves up, clean up, move forwards and start a new chapter, a new age.

Social media and digital technology is not all bad, but I want to be aware of the pitfalls so I can kick my bad habits and use it that much more effectively.

This requires some commitment and sometimes some tough love. It is so easy to get away with bad digital habits. I have been reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport; he recommends taking a full 30-day break before reintroducing certain technologies and social media back into your life.

In his book, I discovered how the main social networks and mobile app builders had actively employed companies and consultants (including consultants from casinos andgambling houses) to find the best ways to get us addicted to their apps. They worked to findthe best ways to create that addictive dopamine hit with ‘addictive design’ and ‘persuasive technology’.

That fluttering in my stomach, the sense ofanticipation I felt when I was opening up my apps or app-hopping, that physical reaction was cultivated, encouraged and programmed into my nervous system. The reaction was made stronger and stronger over time due to the repetitive nature of it. Each time I open up my phone, this action is strengthening the neural pathway and re-igniting the release of dopamine or feel good chemicals. My body over time is changing, no longer producing these chemicals naturally, instead leaving social media to do it for me. I learned this from scientifically-minded shamanic healer and business leadership coach, Sue Farmer, who I

have been collaborating and working with for many years. We have a podcast episode called Are You Addicted To Picking Up Your Phonediscussing this, which you can find on iTunes.

‘A movement to be “post-digital” will emergein 2020,’ Mr. Fogg wrote last month. ‘We willstart to realise that being chained to your mobile phone is a low-status behaviour, similar to smoking.’

Source: The New York Times, Addicted to Screens? That’s Really a You Problem by Nellie Bowles.

Maybe Facebook and company didn’t really think about what they were doing to us long- term by getting us all hooked. But with a reported big $3 billion plus investment into virtual reality and new platform Horizon, I hope they are being careful and consulting with psychologists to see what impact this is having or may have on our brains. As more studies start to emerge it is important we consider the risks.

A small-yet-significant study involving 47 healthy pre-school children between 3-5 years (27 girls & 20 boys) found structural differences in their brains caused by screen- based media. Think: iPhones, computers, iPads, etc The children exposed to more screen time had lower structural integrity of white matter tracts in their brain.

White matter tracts are VERY important - they support language & other developing literacy skills, including imagery & executive function + mental control & self-regulation.

Researchers can’t yet definitively determinewhether screen time = long-term neuro- developmental risks, but they do strongly urge parents adhere to the American Academy of Paediatrics screen-based recommendations.

Source: Instagram; Danielle Shine @ChefShine (whoI love and trust and who checks her sources and science.)