Addictive by design.
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.
Listen above or read below…
Last week I was interviewed by Cassie Widders for The Social Self Podcast where she asked me, ‘what did I mean by the ‘shadow side to social media’?’
As we are in the new moon eclipse in scorpio today, and with the run up to Samhain / Halloween, it felt like the perfect time (alongside being super busy with clients!) to follow my own advice and recycle and reuse some of my content.
In this months new moon-letter, I am sharing a chapter taken from Social Media For A New Age 2: The next phase 2020 and beyond. A Digital Self-Care Guide. This is my second book, which didn’t really see the light of day, because I released it at the beginning of 2020, just before we went into lockdown and so didn't promote it due to world events. This book was written in 2019, as I processed what I was discovering personally and professionally, with a strong desire to alert and warn others of potential dangers and pitfalls that I was learning about at that time.
I am addicted to social media.
The itch to pick it up even though I only picked it up a few moments ago. The tightness in my tummy, the fluttering in my stomach, the anticipation as the app opens up and as the screen refreshes its ‘feed’. The butterflies as I await results; be it Likes, comments, messages, new content, news, connection, validation, appreciation.
Hunting for that feeling, that sensation, as I mindlessly hop from app to app, email to Instagram to WhatsApp... 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 produces dopamine, which is lighting up my system in similar ways to drugs like 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.
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. In my thirties I made sacrifices and lost friends putting those things behind me and 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 or others, then being honest about it can be a first step 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.
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 and gambling houses) to find the best ways to get us addicted to their apps. They worked to find the best ways to create that addictive dopamine hit with ‘addictive design’ and ‘persuasive technology’.
That fluttering in my stomach, the sense of anticipation 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 Phone discussing this, which you can find on iTunes.
‘A movement to be “post-digital” will emerge in 2020,’ Mr. Fogg wrote last month. ‘We will start 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 determine whether screen time = long-term neuro- developmental risks, but they do strongly urge parents adhere to screen-based recommendations.
Source: Instagram; Danielle Shine @ChefShine (who I love and trust and who checks her sources and science.)
Addictive by Design
Tristan Harris is the man behind The Centre for Humane Technology. In an interview by CNN Business, How tech companies are addressing screen addiction journalist Lisa Ling asks Harris:
So this compulsiveness that we feel when we look at our devices... You’re saying thats by design?
Behind the screen are a hundred, in some cases a thousand engineers who go to work every single day, and their job is to figure out ‘how can I keep you hooked,’ using it for as long as possible, as frequently as possible and to make sure you come back tomorrow.
To reiterate this, Sean Parker, the founding President of Facebook spoke at an event in 2017 about the ‘attention engineering’ adopted by his former company.
The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them,...was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or post or whatever. Source: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
When I reach for my phone I now know to think oh hiiiii little Like (aka dopamine) hunter. I talk to this part of myself and I ask her what she is looking for when she is on the hunt. She’s often looking for connection, approval and validation.
The Opposite of Addiction is Connection. Source: Psychology Today.
My social media addiction is at its most active when I am by myself for long periods of time. As someone who has been single for much of the past decade, living alone, working alone and often travelling alone, I have periods of time where much of my connection to my friends is through my mobile device and social media. This unbeknownst to me has created an addiction that I am now actively needing to manage and which causes me some concern, considering it is also directly linked to my work.
And if social media addiction does exist, it would be a type of internet addiction – and that is a classified disorder. In 2011, Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University in the UK have analysed 43 previous studies on the matter, and conclude that social media addiction is a mental health problem that ‘may’ require professional treatment. They found that excessive usage was linked to relationship problems, worse academic achievement and less participationin offline communities, and found that those who could be more vulnerable to a social media addiction include those dependent on alcohol, the highly extroverted, and those who use social media to compensate for fewer ties in real life. Source: BBC.com Is Social Media Bad for You? by Jessica Brown.
My mobile does make it a lot easier to not have to go out and meet people, especially when I am travelling, because my people are in my pocket. The truth is, sometimes I don’t want to meet and hang out with people all the time. I want that alone time. I enjoy being in retreat mode, where I can create, concentrate and cultivate. Yet the urge to reach for the phone and see which of the people I love or am connected to have sent me a message, liked a message, left a comment etc. can be much stronger when I don’t have physical interaction with others.
I have access to my soul tribe across the world who have gravitated into my life naturally, both through being out in the world and through being online, which I see as a good thing. However it does enable me to go into hermit mode and I have noticed how I can hide out for quite long periods of time, longer than I would without my device. I find myself lost in an endless scroll and think, What am I doing?! Get out of the house right now! But I don’t. I feel nervous or afraid to go out, especially at night by myself, and more so as I get older. I choose instead to pacify myself with social media,YouTube, Netflix etc.
As I talk a lot about in book one, there are so many positives we get from social media, but those positives do not cancel out the negatives I now see. They co-exist. The Like-hunting and constant checking is not a good thing for me. It can become a nervous tic at times and it can actually make me feel physically nauseous when I pick my phone up for what feels like the 50 millionth time that day.
By researching and writing about where I am out of balance, by saying the truth of these things out loud for this chapter and by becoming more aware of it, this work is helping me to heal it.
I decided to get more informed. As well as reading books on the topic, I have taken a Digital Wellbeing course created by the University of York. They share:
In a nutshell, when it comes to mental wellbeing and mental health, digital media is like a gust of air; it can fuel as much as blow out a fire. Source: FutureLearn; Digital Wellbeing Course by the University of York. Author Lina Gega.
Some of the best ways I have found to stop myself from checking or relying on my phone so much is to switch the phone into airplane mode or to put it in another room and give myself time with activities that don’t involve a screen. Spending time with my cat Crystal or sitting in the garden, leaving the phone inside sound like such simple things, but it is crazy how much my phone was always coming along for the ride and then distracting me.
Reading a book with my phone off. Learning a musical instrument. (I’m learning to play the Kalimba, a small handheld instrument, at the moment.) Going for a walk without my phone. Or calling up a friend and asking to hang out in person. Making sure my phone is always in my bag on silent mode and not given attention when with people. Simple but effective.
Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.
Source: New York Times: Opinion; Stop Googling. Let’s Talk by Sherry Turkle (who has been studying the psychology of online connectivity for more than 30 years).
Our mobile device is so many things: our safety net (phone), memories (camera), access to all the information in the world (Google), our navigation (maps), our friends (Whatsapp), a currency converter, time buddy, calculator, etc. The list goes on and on...
Having the phone so close all the time also means having the dopamine hit and addiction of social media available too. It is difficult to remove social media from the mix without deleting the apps from the phone. I also tell myself social media is important because it’s my work, which is true. This has stopped me from removing the Facebook and Instagram apps, although I know if I removed them my usage would drop massively and my addiction would have some time to detox. Maybe that is the next step for me, but I know it feels uncomfortable. My device is such a support tool in living life on my own, and I worry that I would feel lost and alone without it. It is empowering and it is connective. But perhaps deleting these apps is an experiment I really need to try in order to strengthen my wellbeing and lessen social media’s power over my mental health.
It is a double edged sword. In Digital Minimalism - On Living Better with Less Technology, Cal Newport recommends instead of taking time to declutter our technologies to instead:
...just go for a rapid transformation, by having a break from all ‘optional technologies’ for 30 days, using the time to rediscover activities and behaviours you enjoy outside of tech, before reintroducing the optional tech and deciding what value it serves in your life.
I recommend his book if you are wanting to learn and understand ways to liberate from technology overload. Another book that is currently blowing my mind on this topic of digital mindfulness and balance is by Dr Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist with 25 years of experience working with people and their relationship to technology. Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World is lighting me up, calming me down and healing my digital imbalances with all that she shares. We have a collaboration brewing in the ethers thanks to Instagram, reminding me just how good social media can be and that total abstinence is not the answer.
Finding a new balanced way forward has to be my future. But oh, how some of what she writes hits some tender spots for me.
We are not consciously aware of how our dedication to our devices might have limited our talk time and social opportunities in our embodied spaces. Source: Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World by Doreen Dodgen- Magee.
Her book is full of wisdom and practical things to try, with buckets of love and kindness. If you are struggling with any of this kind of stuff too, I highly recommend it as a healing tool to test you and support you.
This addiction to social media and screens is not the only out-of-balance or potentially toxic scenario on our planet at this time. If we took a proper look at things we would see so much that needs changing. The areas of our food industry which confuse us with chemicals, often with a view to get us ‘hooked’. The pharmaceutical industry with millions ‘hooked’ on painkillers and opiates. The diet and beauty industry with their products full of chemicals, their marketing focused on shaming natural bodies and ageing in order to sell products. How badly we can treat the environment. How badly we treat each other. When you look into the ‘tricks of the trade’ there are multiple levels of manipulation and toxicity to see. Capitalist business. Patriarchy. Profit over people, over animals, over the earth.
This is part of a global human journey and the issues we currently face are not just a social media or Facebook issue. If we think of ourselves as one big organism, the holographic universe, the oneness, then where we are, and what I see, makes more sense to me.
Industries and corporations want us ‘hooked’ so they can make bigger profits, without considering or really truly caring about the effect it is having long-term on us humans, on our bodies, our mental health or our overall wellness and wellbeing.
There is a reason we have anxiety and health issues on the rise. Although we are waking up to this, I believe people-power and consumer actions will be what makes the most difference in the long run. Money talks.
We do have power. We are their product, their commodity, their consumers. We are the data. We are the users. We are the drug.
Governments and telecoms companies are soon going to be installing 5G in many parts of the western world, if they have not already started, without properly testing what it does to our physical bodies or to the environment long- term, to the bugs, the bees, the animals and the trees. From research I have seen, it is still unclear as to how these shortwave frequencies will affect all life over time, which is why places like Brussels and Japan (and Glastonbury!) are saying no, not until more testing has been carried out.
As we move out of the Piscean Age and into the Aquarian Age, it is going to be up to each of us to play our part in cleaning up, healing up and growing up. Upgrading our timelines to the prophesied Golden Age.
The Aquarian Age will be dominated by networks, and information. The key to the astrological sign Aquarius is ‘I know.’ This is the age of information. Nothing is secret anymore. All information is available at your fingertips. Where the Piscean Age was organised in a vertical, up and down structure of hierarchies, the Aquarian Age is organised in a horizontal network, opening the world up to true equality. Source: 3ho: The Aquarian Shift: What will be Different? by Santokh Singh Khalsa, D.C.
With this happening at many levels of our society in lots of different ways, it may feel like some kind of planetary destiny. The old patriarchal energy has been at play in the shadow of industry and culture for as long as both the history books and I can remember. The birthing and return of the Mother, of feminine energy in 2020 is prepping to be powerful.
In this next Wave sweeping the Event Horizon - the 2020-2030 Great Transformation - we are entering a time when transparency, authenticity and openness are going to be critical. This is not wishful New Age thinking but the only safe way to thrive. If you want to live peacefully, abundantly and congruently in the years to come, you must walk your talk. Why? Because your walk will be visible. If there is any degree of hypocrisy in your life, you are in danger of exposure. But think of it as having a wound cleaned or a bone reset when people expect you to operate in a way that is consistent with the values you express. So, wherever there is a dissonance between your value system and your actions, close the gap. Source: Lorna Bevan, Hare In the Moon Astrology. Monthly 5D Report for creatives, empaths, solopreneurs and outliers.
Is this the apocalypse, the great unveiling, the great shift, the ascension, the wave which so many different civilisations, cultures and religious texts speak of? (As well as most of the spiritual community on my social media timeline and filter bubble.) If this is happening now, during this period we are now in, bringing everything into the light collectively, we might just change the trajectory to a betterment of ourselves and mankind.
The Holy Grail is us.