Everyone and their grandmother uses social media these days, weather it is Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or whatever else there is out there. For a lot of people, being engaged in social media is a part of their daily life and for some it is the only social part of their day (this is very bad). Social media does bring people closer and does allow us to live in a global society where physical distance between people does not matter as much, but it’s not without consequences.
One of the major issues with social media is that it is built to keep users engaged, by tapping into our brain’s feedback loop and rewarding us by getting dopamine flowing in our brain in the form of likes and comments and hearts. Every time we get likes or equivalent interactions in social media, our brain gets a small rush of dopamine which is the chemical responsible for creating the sensation of pleasure. Yes, this is the same chemical that creates the sensation of pleasure when you fall in love or when you are on drugs or alcohol. But just like drugs and alcohol, your brain starts getting used to the constant rush of dopamine, and adjusts the levels of it to compensate for the extra dopamine thats rushing in because it thinks something is wrong. What happens then? Well, you start craving the sensation more and more and start craving more social media interaction to keep your dopamine levels up. This is what addiction is, and this is exactly how you get addicted to drugs and alcohol as well.
That addiction is how it all starts, you keep wanting to use social media more and more. Have you even stopped to think about how many times you pull your phone out of your pocket just to check Facebook or Instagram even though you didn’t get any notifications? I bet the answer is “a lot” for most people. Once you get into the habit of checking your phone a lot, you start craving more and more content to consume and keep your engagement levels high. This is when social media starts affecting your attention span, you want to keep scrolling through your feed and find more and more things to look at. You do not want to miss out on any content on social media that will provide you with that rush of dopamine, so you keep flying through the contents just to keep the rush going. Meanwhile your brain is constantly trying to adjust the flow so the more you keep this behaviour going, the worse things get. At a point, even when you have engaging content right in front of you, you start to only pay attention to the part of the content that is interesting and skipping through other content to keep that rush going. This all might seem like a normal thing, but have you tried reading a full article or a full book or watching a long video end to end without getting distracted recently? If your answer is no, welcome to the club, you are officially addicted to social media and your attention span is getting shorter and shorter. Things like Twitter where there is a small character limit on the posts exist because we have a hard time digesting larger content because of our short attention span. Social Media companies know all of this really well, and keep finding ways to keep this going because you spending time on their platform means more money for them. Ever thought about why all social media platforms are completely free? It’s because you are the product.
So the big question is, what can we do about it? Whether we like it or not, the social framework we live in has us tied to social media in one way or another. Everyone uses it to post updates, create events, communicate (Facebook Messenger) etc. and it’s not easy to just quit social media completely because we do not want to miss out on anything (there is a term for it, FoMO or Fear of Missing Out). It’s hard to go cold turkey and just delete your Facebook or Twitter or whatever because for a lot of us, it’s the only way to contact a lot of people we know. So how do we approach this?
The solution is right in front of us. Just like any other addiction, discipline is the best way to deal with social media as well. Discipline yourself, next time you feel like pulling your phone out to check social media, remind yourself about this issue and put it back. Remove the shortcuts you have to social media on your browser and your devices, and make it hard for you to easily access them. It’s like being an alcoholic and not buying alcohol, it’ll really help you cut that craving down. If it’s right in front of you readily available whenever, its hard to refrain yourself from constantly trying to use it. Don’t keep your phone by your bed, leave it on the next room or somewhere hard to reach when you go to bed. Stop checking for notifications the first thing in the morning, make a routine to do other things (like take a shower, get ready, breakfast etc.) first before checking your phone. Not only will this help you stay away from social media, it will also make your other morning activities more rewarding because your brain will know that after the activities you will be able to check your social media.
To get your attention span back to normal, try to get a book or e-book reader like Kindle that does not have access to the internet, and go out to a park or somewhere without your phone and try to read. At first your mind might get all fidgety and try to find other things to do, but once you dive into the contents of the book things will get better. Try to do this for at least an hour or two everyday. Maybe try to take a hike or go for a run without your electronic devices instead if you do not want to read. Next time you are out with friends, put your phone on airplane mode and try to focus on the conversation instead. Live in the moment. Turn off the notifications for all the apps other than the ones that you absolutely need, here is a guide if you do not know how to. Even when you use social media, next time you come across a long article or a long video, try to stick through it and finish it completely. If you are watching a movie or tv show, try to turn your phone off or at least put it in airplane mode or do not disturb mode and try to keep yourself from checking it again and again.
Congratulations if you made it this far, you are already one step ahead of most people when it comes to fixing your attention span since you made it to the end of this article without getting distracted. Now keep it up and start changing things, trust me, life will feel much better. It’s like snapping out of a bad dream that you didn’t even know you were in. I am not saying stop using social media completely, just don’t let yourself get addicted to it. Now go out there and enjoy life, it’s is so much more than a constant stream of memes and funny videos and rants from people. Good luck, and feel free to leave any suggestions or any other ways that have helped you overcome this issue in the comments!