Ground rules: No Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest
In the book ‘Immortals of Meluha’ Amish Tripathi narrates the story of ‘somras’, a drink that guarantees immortality. This tale talks about the mindless production of somras which causes more pain than gain to the people and environment at the time. Every generation has a story of an excess; of boon becoming bane. Our generation too might have a story of one such excess and I for myself decided to find out if our somras is literally in our hands — in our smartphones, in the form of social media.
No different than any other average smartphone user, I too spend an insane amount of time on my phone. I was made aware of this by my own traitor phone when it told me I spent “4 hours a day” just looking at the screen, of which 3 hours were on plain social media apps. I felt sick. Was this a developing addiction or a lack of self-control? The need to reach out to the phone while sitting idly was getting just too intense. I immediately decided to chuck these apps; well at least start by chucking them for 7 days and this what I found out —
Good Morning, Instagram! (And all the other apps)
It went like this — open all social media apps one by one immediately after waking up. Which means spending a good 10–15 first minutes of my day on my phone looking at other people’s last night’s stories, opinions, and learning ‘what the true meaning of their name is’.
So naturally, on the very first day I replaced social media apps with the next best thing which would get me in touch with the outside world a.k.a. news. I was aware that looking at things on phone is the cousin of this problem so I quit checking anything on the phone at all. And yeah, initially things got boring AF.
The need to reach out to the phone
Even when I write this sentence I feel this itch to reach my phone.
It is not news that media apps are designed to make you spend more time on it. In Buzzfeed’s documentary on Netflix called Follow This, the producer spoke to Aza Raskin who invented the infinite scroll for the web (pull-to-refresh button). In hindsight Raskin regrets inventing this function because it ignores any triggers to stop and gives in to the impulse of wanting more in that millisecond. And if that wasn’t scary enough, me cutting short of a task-on-hand to check a new post was a full-on validation of it. It was pathetic.
According to Manoush Zomorodi, “The average person checks email 74 times a day, and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day.” Five hundred and sixty six times. On an average, I picked up my phone 403 times a day.
Zomorodi also mentions in her talk, how we have increasingly become afraid of getting bored. We don’t look outside the window or stare at our nails, we just reach out to our phone leaving out any opportunity of introspection or fruition of ideas. She believes, best ideas come when one is bored. I can live with that.
Most people I have spoken to about this topic have mentioned how the Fear of Missing Out aka FOMO keeps them from deleting their social media apps. “I want to know what my friends are upto.” or "I need to know what's new." Maybe so. But how much, how deeply do you need to know it? I recently moved to a new city and I thought if I did not even have this, I would totally be out of loop. To be honest, I did not miss out on anything. Because, I wasn’t there anyway. In fact, not knowing most things made me feel peaceful. It assuaged my anxiety.
If it did not happen on Instagram, did it happen at all? Our generation deeply suffers from validation issues. This isn’t just true for millennials, this includes my mother who once was just sitting confused because no one had ‘liked’ her picture on Facebook yet. After I looked at it, the post was set for private viewing which means it wasn’t publicly available. You should have seen her face when I changed it to “view for all” and explained it wasn’t her, it was a glitch. Why do we subject ourselves to this? And yes I am no different — after 10 years, I still care about these damn ‘likes’.
We might be getting manipulated
From telling us what to buy to fantasising about a celebrity wedding to winning presidential elections, social media dictates the way we function. Tweaking our behaviour day in and day out. It knows what you like, what you care about and feeds you more of it. As a marketer I am excessively aware of the algorithms — and I am no different. I use this algorithm to direct people to our business. I pay Facebook to show my ad to a relevant reader, mostly in form of content. This is how the social media makes money.
1/3rd of Indians are smartphone users and this number is only growing. As it reaches critical mass, this medium could influence opinions and create severely toxic environments, especially political ones. As a society we are already polarised in our opinions. Social media only makes one more and more polarised by triggering the brain. Imagine living in a country that believes more in WhatsApp forwards or Facebook posts than their scientist children. There is something very systematically terrifying about this format.
Is it time to say goodbye? Forever?
Maybe not forever but surely till there is a better system put in place. Social media apps do provide significant information, exchange of ideas and need not always be a negative story. TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, Zomato are too all by definition social media but still serve a very transaction and effective goal. It gives small businesses a chance.
My plan is to wait for a better algorithm that does not manipulate my thoughts and make me spend critical time outside of what is necessary — till then, no apps on phone, but the accounts stay active. Well, I will need a place to post this article too, wouldn’t I?
Keeping the irony alive, as always.