Day Sixteen of Everyday Inspiration course is about mining my material. I should dig through my social media, looking for inspiration for a new post.
I like to be a first user of apps, social or work platforms because technology is fascinating and I don’t want to miss the new developments. I joined Facebook in 2007 when I jumped ship from MySpace. I still regret not having bought shares when they went public in 2012 because I felt from the onset that they would go places. Well, that is a long story that stands between my husband and me, but better not mention. He reads my posts! Hello, schatje!
In hindsight, I am the best investor of all times, as I had the same hunch about Apple, back in 2002, when their share prices were affordable. No, I didn’t buy shares either, just a G3 laptop. And as I don’t have a career as a financial advisor, everyone is safe.
I am a social media frequent flyer, though, I make infrequent use of Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Flipboard, LinkedIn, Twitter and a few others. My interest is mainly to publish my blog post and photos, connect professionally, and to read what’s going on in the world, after the cues from news’ agencies.
As a good ‘passive user’, I became slowly, but surely, annoyed with the use of Facebook for selfies, and minute by minute registration of life’s events accompanied by photos of lunches, dinners, etc. I haven’t yet developed a taste for that, and I don’t mind who does it, but I don’t stop by these posts for a ‘like’. My annoyance reached a peak when some years ago, a colleague from work posted his photo at the toilet. Just half body was more than enough information. I shouldn’t have accepted him as a ‘friend’, as he didn’t qualify not even for a virtual friendship, but I was embarrassed to refuse and look arrogant, as I had a higher position in the firm’s hierarchy.
Ever since, I rarely go to Facebook except for checking birthday’s reminders, or to use it as a lost-and-found for school friends. I know that my behavior is counter to rule number 259 of all posts and articles teaching bloggers on how to increase audience, but still, that is what I do.
I am not digressing. There is a part of the social media world that I like a lot. No. I love it. Let me be more honest and boldly admit: I am addicted to WhatsApp, the chat app. There I connect with friends and family on a daily basis and hardly use e-mail anymore. I also use it for phone calls, which is great.
That would be all good if I hadn’t started feeling unease with my compulsive need to check for messages. I assumed code orange and removed the notification sound, to stop being conditioned to instantly look at every message I got. Then I had to admit the threat of code red when I had the urgent need to check messages, as the first thing I did in the morning. After resisting for a few months, I took the phone from my bedside and bought an old-fashioned digital alarm, as that was my only excuse to keep the phone there. Months later, I brought it back for a few days but finally admitted to being a conscious addict, and removed the phone again from my bedroom, also because it disturbed my sleep.
If by now you thought I was avoiding the prompt, you are mistaken. While mining my posts, I found an article from Jean M. Twenge ( that I had shared on Twitter), published by American magazine The Atlantic, which affected me and inspired this post: ‘Have Smartphones destroyed a Generation?’ (that is the title of the article, with this headline: More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.)
I won’t go through the content of the article, as the title is self-explanatory, also because I added the link for you to have a go if you are interested in the subject.
The point I want to make is simple: I’m not a millennial, nor post-millennial, but my smartphone was more apt to destroy my social life, even if in a very small-scale than to enhance it. I am the annoying aunt, who asks the teens to stop looking at their smartphones, and really talk to each other, or to me, for that matter, if they are visiting me. But, If being connected to my smartphone accounts only for 10% of the time they spent with theirs, and I find it already too much, I wonder how disconnected from one another they are becoming, and worry about their emotional balance.
Perhaps it worries me more because I grew up in a world without tablets, smartphones, and laptops. I played with real friends, in a real street, in real-time. I have made friends, old and new, throughout my life, and keep in contact with most of them, even if living in different continents. Technology brought them closer to me and I cherish that. But I still prefer to hear their voices, look at their eyes, and give them a warm hug, than to look at their photos or videos on a screen or send a hug’s emoji.
Is this an alien concept to most of these millennials? Apparently yes, and they’re missing it but don’t know yet. They cannot compare what they have with my non-technological childhood world, which they never experienced. From that perspective, we the pre-millennial, are luckier, as we have a choice. Still, as social animals, who seek for social contact, we are subject to the same influences, the same magnetic attraction to our smartphones. For that we need to watch out, particularly for the illusion that when making online connections, we are, on the contrary, detaching ourselves from real relationships.
Signs that we may be addicted are easily recognized. We constantly check our smartphone for new messages. Our phone distracts us from work, friends, parents, children, or spouse, even if they are in front of us. If they complain that we are not giving them enough attention because of our phone, be aware, we are addicted. Our behavior has changed. Why do we allow that? Some say that it is an addiction to the sound of the smartphone, just like gamblers who react to the sounds of slot machines. It is dopamine in our brains that compels us to react like that.
What is dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one of those chemicals that is responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain. One of the roles for dopamine neurons is in learning about rewards and to become activated when something good happens unexpectedly.
Keep that in mind as we will get back to this.
I remember when I studied Psychology and the theory of the variable schedule of rewards by B.F. Skinner in the 1950s. I have studied mice’ behaviors in a lab to demonstrate this theory. What I didn’t know back then is that I would be behaving like one of those, as today’s addiction to phones has been linked to Skinner’s theory.
Skinner submitted lab mice to three types of treats (rewards) when pressing a lever. Sometimes a small treat, other times a large treat or nothing at all. The mice that received random rewards (as opposed to those who got the same treat every time they pressed the lever), pressed the lever more compulsively.
Simply explained, just like mice behave when expecting to receive treats, we check our phones at the unexpected notification sound, and dopamine compels us to answer, because we too, will be rewarded.
The small mice treats are equal to the phone calls we get. The big treat we get when receiving that unplanned nice message from a friend or a loved one, and that is what we get addicted to. And want more. As these are unplanned messages, and we want more, we constantly or compulsively look for them.
Is the smartphone bad for our emotional and psychological health? Tough question.
I believe that if Skinner is right, every generation had and will have its demon’s device. Social media has undoubtedly fulfilled and improved the human need for social interaction. Our smartphones, tablets, and laptops are vehicles that offer the possibility to satisfy those needs. The way we use them is what will determine the level of harm that it can cause to others and ourselves.
There is no simple explanation, nor toolkit and formula to change because there are many variables in the background, which also are a strong influence in our behavior towards social media. Our need for social interaction will vary and be less or more harmful if we are happy, unhappy, depressed, introverted, extroverted, married, single, etc.
I for one know that when I felt addicted the most to my smartphone, I was longing for my relatives who live abroad, but forgetting my husband in the pillow next to me. It was time to stop.
The YouTube video below “I forgot my iPhone,” is a caricature of our recurrent social behavior.