The Real Reason We’re Addicted to Social Media

image

Yesterday, this is the number of times I checked the following applications, whether on my phone, tablet, or laptop:

  • Facebook: 9
  • LinkedIn: 5
  • TweetDeck: 17
  • Instagram: 4

Now, let’s say I spent an average of 4 minutes on site every time I checked one of these social media platforms:

35 x 4 minutes = 140 minutes = 2.3 hours

Unbelievable.

Now, let’s say, on average, I can produce $1,000 in revenue with an hour of my time if I’m working on the right project.

That means I lost $2,300 in revenue in a single day in order to check social media platforms that generated a return of exactly $0 for me. This does not even begin to account for the time I waste click on the link bait I find via Twitter and LinkedIn, or the time it takes to switch tasks and move in and out of a flow state (which is when all of us do our best work). 

I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, you struggle with a very similar issue. Even if you aren’t tracking the time you spend on social media, you probably suspect that it’s too much. I’m guessing you feel like it’s wasted time, too. 

But, even intuitively knowing that, most of us don’t do anything differently. And I think it’s because we aren’t addressing the reason why we are so addicted to social media in the first place. 

We don’t constantly check these platforms because it’s a purpose-driven activity. And often, we aren’t really checking them to see what else is going on in the world and with our friends, even if that’s the excuse we dole out.

We check them because they fulfill a core human drive for connection and meaning. 

When we go on these sites, our underlying drive is to satisfy that innate need to connect to others. It comforts us and fulfills us to know that we are not alone. Unintentionally (but unavoidably), we also use what’s going on in other people’s lives to create context and meaning for what’s going on in our own. Social comparison is a real and dangerous thing.

That’s why so many research scholars are reporting on the correlations between social media usage and low self-esteem or depression. We all want people to see the best sides of us, rather than all sides of us. It’s like an ongoing, inaccurate first impression of how perfect we all are that just isn’t aligned with reality. So there we are, all looking at each other’s highly curated snapshot lives, and judging our own realities accordingly (usually as “less than”). 

We’re also addicted to social media because we crave meaning—feeling like we matter to those around us. To be totally honest, ever since I started writing daily blog posts and sharing it with the world on Twitter and Facebook, I check both platforms more frequently. It gives me internal comfort and satisfaction to know that what I say matters; that I’ve had a positive impact on those who read my writing.

In some weird, twisted way, we associate “likes,” comments and shares with self-worth. 

This is not good. 

It’s not good for a host of reasons:

1.) Everything we process and put out into the digital ether is merely a perception. 

We enable people to create mental constructs about who we are that aren’t fully accurate or representative of our hearts, souls, triumphs, and struggles. They aren’t representative of our humanness.  And it surely distorts our reality—not just about others, or others about us, but also how we view ourselves.

2.) It distracts us from real work. 

The math above says is all. Wasting literally hours on an activity that has been shown to decrease self-esteem, cultivate gross feelings like jealousy and envy, and generate an ROI of $0 for us personally? That’s outrageous. And it distracts us from doing the really incredible work we’re all capable of producing and shipping every day. We are able to create incredible stuff to make other people’s lives and the world at large better…and instead, we squander our time to feel some short-term, shallow variation of connectedness and meaning. 

3.) We start to believe it’s all about us. 

But here’s what I think is the biggest problem of all: the overuse of social media perpetuates our focus on self. It trains us to make snap judgments about others, as well as our own self-worth in context of who we paint others to be. 

It’s time for us to step back—physically, emotionally, intellectually—and realize that no matter what our minds are thinking or feelings are feeling, we’re not on this planet for self-validation.

Honestly, think about that:

You’re greatest purpose on this planet is not simply to validate yourself.

And if you believe it is, you are grossly underestimating your potential and limiting your capacity for genuine joy. 

I truly believe that those who lead the richest, most meaningful lives spend the least amount of time focusing on or worrying about themselves and what everyone else thinks of them. Basically, they engage in behaviors opposite of the behaviors we engage in when we’re processing the world via a social media platform.

Obviously, we’re human. None of us are perfectly efficient or rational. I’m not going to turn around ban social media from my life, and I know you probably won’t either. There is true value in it—these platforms can be a source of genuine offline connection and understanding if used appropriately. But deriving value from these platforms doesn’t require 2.3 hours (or more) of my day. Spending that much time immersed in an illusory world is simply not healthy. 

What I will suggest is that we take a lot of the time we’ve been spending on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, you name it—and instead, use that time to connect to the real reason we’re all here:

  • To love people as best as we possibly can. 
  • To honestly and vulnerably share our entire story with others, complete with triumph and tragedy, knowing that’ll give others the courage to do the same.
  • To show others and ourselves enormous amounts of grace in times of hardship and fallibility. 
  • To give a ton of love to situations and people, even and especially when it’s truly difficult to do so.
  • To understand that forgiveness is the profound capacity to recognize the innocence in everyone. 
  • And to be deeply compassionate and invested in the highest well-being of those around us, above and before the desire for our own self-validation.

If we did all of these things at least 2.3 hours a day, I can only imagine how exponentially more incredible the world—and the quality of our own lives—would become. 

Why You Can’t Walk Into a Bookstore Without Buying Something

image

I can’t walk into a bookstore without buying something. And I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in. As you can imagine, these two problems are a deadly combination. 

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I’ve taken StrengthsFinder 2.0 several times (you’re not supposed to take it more than once, but I guess I keep thinking it’s a magic 8 ball kind of test, where I can come back later for a better answer). And, every single time I take the test, this comes out as my top trait:

Input: You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives.

Great. A hoarder of information? Guilty as charged. Thanks for seeing right through me, StrengthsFinder.

It sounds like a nice “strength” though…right? Well, it is.

Until it’s not. Until you wake up one day, realize that you have 100+ unread books on your shelf, and you still can’t walk out of a bookstore without buying several more.

I know so many people who are right there along with me. We love books. I suppose we all make easy fun of it because it’s an acceptable addiction. It’s one that we’re proud of, even.

But, I read a quote recently that struck me:

"If you can’t give something up, you don’t own it—it owns you.”

Damn it. I can’t give up my books. So I guess, in some weird way, they own me...

And that thought started to get to me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be owned by any *thing*. So, I began to dig a bit deeper. I began to think about why so many of us can’t help but buy more books—even when we have a feeling we’ll never open them; even when we have dozens of other new books waiting to be read at home; even when there is a public library just as close as the nearest bookstore.

For me, I’m realizing it’s because I see every book as a truffle of knowledge. I regard education as a source of ultimate power. I worry that if I don’t buy the book right then and right there, I’m never going to have the information. I secretly love buying physical copies even though digital versions are cheaper (and faster to obtain), because looking at books on my bookshelves (plural) makes me feel smarter, somehow. That sounds dumb to say out loud, but I’m just being honest. I love how they tell a story about what I care about, what I’m interested in. I love how the books I own reflect a big part of who I am and what I love and how I think.

Books are all of those things: truffles of knowledge, sources of education, great artwork, and prized possessions. If life was one big playing field, books are the ultimate leveler. They make it possible for all of us—regardless of financial circumstance—to learn. They give people power, a voice, and a better sense of world- and self-understanding.

And still, while I am in full recognition of how incredible books are, I do not want to be owned by them. I do not want to be owned by anything.

This is what troubles me: that we’ve become a culture of people that can’t give stuff up. We keep buying more and more. Almost all of it, we really don’t need. And, in the process of us rationalizing overconsumption of anything and acting on every purchase impulse, we’re slowly becoming people who are owned by the stuff we think they own.

That’s scary.

I look at my shelves full of unread books and see all of the stuff I can’t wait to learn. A part of me gets excited when I look at them. But, a part of me also feels overwhelmed. Gluttonous. Anxious that I haven’t created more space in my life to sit in silence and read. Ashamed to be owned by random possessions.

I’m guessing a lot of you out there feel the same way.

So, I think it’s time to snap out of my book buying daze. And mostly, of the idea that I need books to prove to myself that I’m intelligent. The truth is, I know I’ll be happier if I read what I’ve got and then share the books I love with others. I only limit their potential by hoarding and holding onto them. Heck, I limit my potential when I hoard and hold on to them.

As with anything else in life, too much is too bad. Less is usually more. And, while accumulating book knowledge is a fun and worthwhile endeavor, it gets in the way when we forget that the more important thing is to have unforgettable experiences. We can’t do that sitting in a bookstore, buying more stuff.

We must remember the proper order of things…

That, at some point, it’s not about buying another story.

It’s about making room to live a story worth buying.