Maybe it's screen fatigue.
You can listen to or read this article (or both), this month as I am trying out a new audio to article format. The podcast is me riffing on the topic with the article an edit from the transcript.
It’s been a busy and successful summer, with many of us seeing a big increase in being back out in the world, mixing, playing and working with one another.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with Glastonbury Festival, running the social media for The Common, I've also been working with authors Rebecca Campbell and Diana Cooper. Diana's gone viral in the last few months, with some of her Reels on Instagram getting up to 350,000 views.
What I've noticed, especially when working on popular accounts with big numbers, and helping to create content that performs well in those spaces, is that I get big fat dopamine hits from it! And this has crept up on me a bit recently. I’ve started to notice it creeping in, with my bad habits getting a little out of control. I am noticing how I'm picking my phone up a lot more. I'm hopping from app to app to app, and I'm hunting for dopamine. I've been open about this before. I love a bit of dopamine. I think we all do, our bodies do, it’s a motivation molecule, but I'm noticing edges at this point that feel uncomfortable, and too much dopamine has been linked to anxiety and stress.
Over the last few weekends, I have tried to take two or three days off and away from my screen. I’ve had my phone in ‘do not disturb'. I’ve been outside with the phone inside. Following advice I give, things I learnt in the digital wellbeing training. Knowing how the body works, how the brain works, how we create space from our mobile device in order to unhook from it.
I've been online so much because I've had to be for work, and this can be the same for so many of us. Success can equal screen time. Things have been doing well and I have noticed how I'm hopping into my client's accounts as well as my own, which in my rational brain is to check that the content is performing, it’s gone out properly and there are no mistakes. I am in charge, so I need to do this. I love to do a good job. I love to get results for my clients, but there's an edge in that of chasing and adrenalising the buzz that I get from those results.
I've definitely been overstepping my own boundaries around my device use and noticing these patterns coming up. This was one of the reasons I stopped managing accounts for clients and studied digital wellbeing. I needed to reassess my relationship with my device and understand what was happening. At that time, I was using it to pacify myself. I was using it to numb out, I was using it to entertain. And when travelling by myself and during lockdown, I used it for company too. It was and can still be my go-to for a lot of things. I am sure I am not alone in this.
I can see that my eyes look tired even though I'm sleeping well and I get this feeling in my solar plexus, in my stomach, that gets quite tight. And there's a height to my breath, like a sort of hyper feeling. It's all at the top. I'm breathing at the top rather than breathing into my belly. It's a shallow top breath, and I’m holding a lot of tension. I have really noticed these changes in my body, and they've been creeping up on me.
In the last few weeks, I have been making a real effort to address it, but I'm also struggling with that. I noticed this afternoon, I thought of something I needed to get on Amazon, and the phone's back in my hand – I’m back on there, and the next thing I know, I'm in Telegram, I'm in Instagram, I'm in this, I'm in that. And I'm like, ‘Ugh, I'm doing it again! I don't want to be doing this!’
That's me as a conscious aware adult, who has problems with it because it's part of my work and it affects me, because I'm on it a lot. It is, after all, a hook method designed to hook into our hormones and our minds and our attention. It's designed that way, and so, of course, it's going to hack me to some degree, even though I'm fully aware of it.
I read a worrying report this week about teens, social media and technology in 2022 from the Pew Research Center. They’ve done a survey of American teens on their relationship to technology, and out of 13- to 17-year-olds they surveyed, 67% of them say they've used TikTok, with 16% of them saying that they use it almost constantly.
Let that sink in: 67% of teens are using TikTok, and 16% of them are using it all the time.
YouTube is also really popular with this demographic. Clearly, the video format with teens is big, which is probably why Instagram tried to change to be like TikTok and become all about video. They've been very clear about video being the direction everything's going in, but what I'm hearing from my contemporaries and those of maybe a slightly older demographic, is that we want the peace and quiet. We want the pictures. We want silence. We don't just want full-screen video in our faces all the time. That's what the next generation are used to. My last article was about TikTok and what I think about it and what we need to be really concerned about. The fact that 67% of USA teens are on that platform means they are open to manipulation, and that is a problem.
Furthermore, what short-term video is doing to our brains; reducing attention span, capacity for deep thinking and being creative, means the possibility of their brains developing differently and in a way we don’t understand. They're still teenagers. If they’re looking at short-form video content constantly, that’s a real concern. With YouTube, 95% of teens are using it, and out of that 95%, 19% are using it almost constantly. That’s even more than TikTok! And who's to say, they're not bouncing between YouTube and TikTok?!
I am worried about this. I'm worried about it on a multitude of levels, not only on a physiological level but what it means for society and culture long term.
That's not to say social media – YouTube, Instagram, even TikTok used in moderation – is not a good thing. I do genuinely think there are really good things about social media. Obviously, I work in it. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't, but there are some real issues here to take into account, around our digital wellbeing, on a personal and collective level.
However, no one seems to really understand what digital wellbeing means, despite it being a hot topic at the moment. I've been asked to contribute to articles recently in both The Metro and The Telegraph on our relationship with social media, and I've been reading the comments, and people don’t get it. I trained with an organisation called Consciously Digital and was having a catch-up with one of my fellow students last week, and we were talking about this, how people do not seem to resonate with, click with or understand what digital wellbeing is. Do you? How do we frame this really important work in a way that people will want to engage with it?
When I was at BoomTown festival last month, I gave a digital wellbeing workshop where I had much smaller numbers than the yoga and breath-work sessions. It's a topic that's difficult for people to acknowledge as it’s so endemic at this stage and it’s still very new. We’ve all got, I think, an unhealthy relationship with our mobile devices, whether we know it or not.
We have unhealthy relationships with all sorts of things as human beings. There's always an opportunity for corruption or excess, isn't there? Our mobile devices encourage instant gratification because, again, that’s what's profitable for the Big Tech corporations. And so they encourage us through addictive design, through gamification, through variable reward, through manipulation, through all sorts of things. They know so much about us through surveillance and all the data that they have on us. It is a really powerful tool.
I think that we need to have a big red alert, a big red flashing sign on these things that say ‘danger danger’, particularly when and where we go into excess. Balance is everything. The fact that 20% of US teens or thereabouts are constantly on YouTube says to me we have a big and growing problem.
And it’s not just the USA. These are sobering facts for us all to think about.
If you are interested in talking or sharing about this topic, please comment below or get in touch.
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If you'd like to find out more information about Social Media For A New Age or about me, Katie Brockhurst, your author and host, visit my website, www.socialmediaforanewage.com or support my work by buying the books, a seriesdesigned to support you and the collective on our journey with social media and digital wellbeing.