Sometimes it can be hard to leave social media alone, even if it’s just for a few hours while you type something out. You put your phone on silent, and stick it in your pocket. But you get that itch and suddenly you end up scrolling through Twitter. You might have a little voice in the back of your head saying “You’re so easily distracted. Whats wrong with me?” You’re not the only one and I hope I can explain some of that guilt away.
What you’re falling victim to is exactly what social media is deigned to do. Sites like Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram are constantly fighting to use up as much of your time and attention as possible. Social media sites have tapped into the way our brains reward us to make each app feel “rewarding” and engaging.
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” said Chamath Palihapitiya the former VP of User Growth at Facebook. Social media sites tap into the same biological trigger that gets gambling addicts to sit in front of the slots for hours.
While you passively scroll through your feed, you see small things that interest you, little facts to learn, and things to process. All of this gives you little doses of dopamine as you refresh the page to see if anything is there hot off the presses. That burst of dopamine is what rewards the brain, and keeps people scrolling.
Why Are You Using Social Media?
It’s important to look at why you are using social media to understand why you have a hard time resisting it. The Theory of Uses and Gratifications suggests that social media fills a number of needs like expressive, informational, social, and self needs. Most of the time sites can be meeting multiple of these needs at one time. When these needs are met, the dopamine is released and presto; you want to look at more content.
Are you on Twitter to read the news? Or did you open Instagram to look at an outfit layout? There are a thousand reasons you might want to open a social media site, but its important to keep in mind the goal you had when you first opened the app.
If you’re looking at what passes by on the feed, occasionally liking something, but mostly lurking. That is passive usage, and it has more of an effect than you might think. A 2015 study by Kross and Verduyn showed that just using Facebook passively for 10 minutes could cause you to feel worse than if you hadn’t opened it at all.
This negative reaction is thought to be caused by social comparison. Where upon seeing the best parts of someones life through their posts. You end up negatively comparing it to your own life. This leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction and envy.
Using Social Media With Purpose
Now that all the cards are on the table, it’s time to sort them out and with our new understanding help ourselves out of this dopamine fueled distraction minefield.
A place to begin is by paying attention to why you’re on a site. If you’re just idly scrolling looking at the same posts, you might be falling victim to that content cycle.
Instead try to ask yourself, “Why am I looking at this?” and “What do I want to see?”. Try to engage with the SNS that you are using, post comments, talk to friends, and interact with the communities you’re apart of.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with a bit of idle scrolling, but it helps to give yourself checks so you don’t end up wasting hour of time on something that at the end of the day is making you feel worse about yourself.