Maybe not quit social media altogether; I’m not a total Luddite, as evidenced by these weekly posts and my – ahem – daily posts on Facebook and Twitter as well.
But computer scientist and professor Cal Porter makes some compelling arguments for why the harms of social media – to the brain and to our quality of life – may outweigh the positives. Please take 13 minutes to check out his clear analysis in this very worthwhile TEDx talk Quit Social Media. For those of us in a hurry, I offer a Summary of his talk and some useful exercises below.
I’ll be teaching some of this same philosophy in upcoming trainings on the East Coast:
Recovering from Digital Addiction: Helping Clients Rediscover Real Life
Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, Washington D.C.
March 24, 2017
Brain Care is Self-Care: The Neuroscience of Well-Being
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Stockbridge, MA
March 30-April 1, 2017
Resilience: The Neuroscience of Learning to Cope with Disappointments, Difficulties, even Disasters
Learning and the Brain conference, Arlington, VA
April 8, 2017
Bouncing Back: Rewiring the Brain for Resilience and Well-Being
Cape Cod Institute, Cape Cod, MA
June 25-30, 2017
And on the West Coast:
Shift Happens: Learning to Bounce Back from Disappointments, Difficulties, even Disasters.
1440 Multiversity, Santa Cruz, CA
June 7-9, 2017
Key points of Cal Porter’s TED talk: Quit Social Media
Multiple research studies show significant, well-document harms from over-use of social media:
That social media functions fundamentally as a source of entertainment rather than as a source of information. The harm is that bytes of personal data are trolled by the providers of the technology, then re-packaged and sold to companies who want to profit from knowing our personal data.
That social media is designed to be addictive. “Attention engineers” borrow principles from Las Vegas gambling establishments to provide lots of stimulation with intermittent rewards, evoking a craving for the next hit of dopamine over a moment of connection.
That social media encourages superficial communication, not the deep concentration required to say, create a powerful algorithm or write a persuasive legal brief or analyze statistical data to create effective strategies or write elegant best-selling prose. Creating posts on smart phones is not the kind of deep concentrated work that propels people to be produce something rare and valuable and be successful in an increasingly competitive economy.
That excessive use of social media, any of our digital devices throughout the day actually, fragments our attention, permanently reducing the brain’s ability to concentrate on the deep work people need to do to be successful. [LG bold] Our brains are not wired for such sporadic bursts of attention all day long; too much fragmented attention leads to cognitive impairment and a background hum of anxiety.
Young people especially, saturated in technology, tend to feel lonely, isolated, inadequate and depressed when comparing their lives to the carefully curated portrayals of their friends on social media. Porter cites a correlation between the introduction of smart phones and an explosion of anxiety disorders on college campuses.
My practical suggestions for spending less time on digital devices altogether:
For individuals: I suggest a periodic “digital detox” – a vacation from devices for one to three days. (At least turn off the ping on the computer and phones so you can work on a project for 2-3 hours without interruption. We need to both rest and energize the brain by focusing on (flowing with) one project at a time for a significant stretch of time.) Trying to comply with such a suggestion can be very diagnostic, bringing to conscious awareness all manner of fear, shame, anxiety, loneliness, etc., that can be consciously addressed, even if the attempted digital detox lasts only two hours.
For couples: I suggest the homework of carving out time, at least 10 minutes to start, where you sit face to face with each other, television off, cell phones and computers off (preferably left in a different room) and talk with each other eye to eye, voice to voice, heart to heart about anything. The 7% content of the words is not really as important as the 93% nonverbal communication and resonance.
Because the brain learns best “little and often,” small experiences repeated may times, it’s more productive for brain and behavior change for couples to talk with each other 10 minutes a day everyday than to talk together for one hour on the weekend. (Doing both, even better). The physical proximity to activate the neuroception of the social engagement system can generate-recover experiences of safety-trust-love in the relationship.
For families: I recommend a modified digital fast, carving out spaces where use of all digital devices is prohibited – the dining room, the kitchen, the car, so that family members actually talk with each other while sharing the activities of daily family life. And carving out time, half a day on the weekend or one full weekend a month, where pleasurable and nourishing family activities like picnics, camping, playing board games or badminton, playing with the dog, can be rediscovered.
For everyone: powering off all devices and media thirty minutes before going to bed (60 minutes is better for the body’s circadian rhythm) and allowing 30 minutes to wake up in the morning and engage with the day and the real people in our lives before we turn the devices on again.