Small Steps to Addiction
Slowly but surely you’ve felt a mild Facebook addiction creeping in. At first, you didn’t even want to join Facebook. Perhaps you felt that it was a useless platform – well with email and all. And then – suddenly you thought – OK why not? Time passed and pretty soon you were messaging, status sharing, and even posting those trendy new photos from your latest trip to China. When you left that horrible job with the racist or sexist boss, you even posted the new change in your career – proudly announcing – “I’m off to a new and wonderful beginning, y’all”.
Then it happened…
You started checking Facebook 2, then 3, then 4 times a day. When Smartphones became smart enough to handle a Facebook app you got on-board with that too, and would check it whenever you had a spare moment – before your morning shower, while you’re on the metro, at lunchtime, whenever your new and (supposedly) cool boss would post anything, just so that you can “like” his/her status.
Then things began to get strange for you. You stopped liking to check Facebook – you started needing to check Facebook. Some phase transition occurred – slowly, and without your conscious knowledge. You became addicted.
That’s a familiar story for many these days. Social media sites are designed to create incentives for repetitive and regular use. For every like, share, heart and emoji, our brain releases endorphins equivalent to a small ingestion of Cocaine. How can you not get addicted?
Will this ever end?
Many people, once realizing this, try to figure out a way to kick the habit – knowing well that an addiction to anything is not healthy.
Some resort to temporarily disabling their accounts, only to make up for lost time through very high activity levels when they ultimately re-activate their accounts a few days, weeks or months later (been there).
Some delete the smart phone app to force limited Facebook usage, then end up having a Facebook tab open at all times on their laptops or tablets (I tried that).
And of course, some delete their account – only to recreate it later (I tried that) and try to reconnect with their friends – only to have all their friends be mad at them for what appears to have been de-friending – a huge social faux pas these days.
At all times – just like a drug addiction – you and I seem to find a way, a reason, to come back to Facebook.
Change Your Embeddedness, Bro!
So what is the solution then? Can we rebuild our ability to reconnect with others in meaningful ways. How can we stop giving away our data only to be used, sold, abused and traded without our consent or knowledge?
Enter the concept of Network Embeddedness – developed by one of my favorite scholars, Mark Granovetter – of which I’ve described some of his theories in other posts. You can see him talk about it here.
Embeddedness, as it is described in network theory, is essentially the measure by which individual actors in a network will be constrained (i.e. bought into) their existing structure, dynamics and position of the network. The deeper you are embedded in a network the harder it is to leave that network or change your position. There’s just a larger and larger economic and social cost in trying to change your network position or leaving the network altogether – maybe your friends get mad at you – or your colleagues begin to think that you’re an opportunist.
The point is there’s a cost to trying to “get out” – sometimes the cost is not even extracted by our network alters (our friends and acquaintances); sometimes the cost is purely internal/psychological exacted by ourselves…on ourselves – things like depression, self-loathing and self-resentment. [If you have any of these symptoms please consult a professional. I’m not a medical practitioner]
Thus, for most people – the cost – both external (friends hating you) and internal (psychological, and biological) is often too high for most people to sustainably get out of their social media and specifically Facebook addiction.
But what if we can – like any addict trying to kick an addiction – take a more realistic and sustainable route. What if we simply tried to decrease, over time, our network embeddedness by decreasing the density of our network connections and moving the most valued and treasured connections to other, less harmful mediums. In other words, what if we can remove some of the reasons we want to log-in to Facebook in the first place?
What worked for me
Here’s a process that I’ve already begun to apply, and it seems to work for me:
Start by identifying a number of people who you have in your life, and that you tend to see on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, or even yearly). For those people there is really no need to be friends with them on Facebook. You see them anyway, and I think you’ll find that if you’re not friends on Facebook you will have much more interesting conversations when you do see them thereby strengthening your relationship – and you’ll find that you get much more joy out of seeing them now than you did before. If you’re not friends with them on Facebook they’ll slowly start to go back to being “novelty”, new and exciting. As a bonus, you might forget all about their ridiculous political views as well.
Once you’ve identified them, make sure to save their contact information (emails etc.) in whatever email platform you use, and set a reminder to contact them every 3 months if you don’t see them more often than that. For the more emotionally temperamental of them, send them an email explaining that you’re removing them from Facebook to get rid of your addiction – not because you suddenly started hating them.
Then comes the truly hard part – you have to go your Facebook UI and REMOVE them – not unfollow, not hide, REMOVE! And then only use email, text, phone and face-to-face interactions to communicate with them going forward.
This will – for some – cause heart palpitations. It’s ok! Calm down. You will see them soon. You can call or text them. Don’t worry.
Pretty soon you might find that in-person conversations with those people occur more often – you text, email and call more often – and most importantly you will likely log on to Facebook less. At least that’s what happened with me. I successfully changed my method of contact with at least half of my close Facebook friends utilizing this method and there is no comparison between how often I get on Facebook now and before.
Next, you move onto the acquaintances on your friends’ list, and so on and so forth.
So who do you keep on your Facebook friend’s list, then? I mean I did say that you should not delete your account, right?
Well as it turns out, Facebook is perfect for staying in touch with very far-away people – like in other countries entirely, that you will probably not see for another 10 years. You’ll find that because those friends are much lower on your list of social searching priorities that you don’t have an incessant need to log onto Facebook every single day to see what they’re up to. Out of sight – out of mind.
p.s. feel free to share your story with me in the comments or ask questions, and of course tell me if this method has worked for you as much as it has worked for me.