Why I quit the social media and technology status quo...

 Photo: Marc Schäfer

A couple weekends back I binge watched "Wild Wild Country" on Netflix. A documentary on the cult of Rajneesh and the members who took over Antelope, OR for a time in the early 80s. The film depicts this altruistic group of people trying to buck the status quo while forcing societal consciousness to rise and become enlightened.

 

Wait isn't the title of this article on quitting social media? Why is she bringing this up? We will get to that in a moment if you can bear with me.

 

This group purported to bring people together and prove that we can work together to create a beautiful society in which there is no crime, no harm, and everyone is accepted as they are. It was meant to be the solution to the humankind problem. The documentary while captivating, conveniently leaves out the nastiest bits, ending with a positive "it's been misunderstood" light on the Rajneesh cult. Not unlike many of the articles I've read regarding social media and human psychology/sociology, wherein the authors leave you with a tidy wrap up of social media moderation. Watching "Wild Wild Country" piqued my interest in watching more documentaries on cults, in which I indulged in the following week. As I watched these various tales of utopia gone mad I couldn't help but start to draw some parallels between these groups and social media. It may be a bit of a stretch to some, still there are some consideration worthy hallmarks between cult behavior and the social media as status quo behavior we have submitted ourselves to in this era.

 

When I first started using social networks I saw right away it's potential for damage. I used to laugh it off, half-seriously, half-jokingly describing it as wholly voyeuristic-narcissistic endeavor. I could see these elements in it's use but I never fully considered how this practice would come to warp society as a whole. I now see that social media doesn't just instill aberrant thought process as normal behavior…

Social media is like a cult.

There are various characteristics that cults have in common, here's how the main four might be seen in social media:

Charismatic Leadership - While some of the leaders of social media companies may not be seen as charismatic, they certainly do pull strings from behind closed doors. If there is a problem it is glossed over and reframed into something acceptable to the masses. Meanwhile the masses never get a look behind the shroud to fully understand how things are really working (where exactly is their data is going?). The leaders also very likely started their networks in the same manner as a cult leader. They started with a small group of followers and then grew by having those members become advocates/ambassadors/etc., charging them with the task of finding more followers in a never-ending pyramid of indoctrination. This creates an aura around the leader and the early adopters of somehow being "in the know," lends them a sort of special social status. The status solidifies them as something to be followed and thus group think may begin…

Transcendent Belief System - Many social media platforms started with a mission statement promising a better life the world over. They promise that their platforms will make us "more connected", give us the "power to share", make us "more productive and successful", "help us discover what [we] love", and to "remove barriers" in our ability to "create and share ideas." Seriously? We couldn't do any of those things before social media? Talk about hubris… There isn't a single thing in the mission statements that wasn't already available and working well before social media caught on.

System of Control - Social media platforms are designed to control our behavior. Whether through the user use agreements that we all accept and few actually read or through utilizing addiction methodologies to keep us on the page. Social media platforms are constantly in control of what is happening on their platform. They can ban people for anything they choose. They can also gather data on your use and everyone else's. This data is then used to create an ever more addictive product and ever more targeted ads. You may not want to believe it but it is in their best interest to control just how much you use a given platform. You and everyone on your friends list is a valuable source of revenue and/or stock value and they are going to do everything they can to keep you on their site as long as they can.

Systems of Influence - They create a sense of exclusivity or membership to a group. They measure your relevance in likes, hearts, shares, pins and retweets. The use and participation in which is reinforced and praised by the group with more likes, hearts, and more shares. Joining, aka indoctrination, usually happens peer to peer, perhaps a friend kept on about it so you joined, or your boss expects it, or you felt left out, or… However you ended up on social media it probably wasn't without some form of peer or social influence.  Social media encourages group think and other-ification on a scale we have never before seen. Lastly, leaving the group is unthinkable to it's "true" members and doing so can cause social stigma.


Other-ification:

An exclusionary behavior in which a person or group of people define another person or group of people as "others", different from the first group and in some way inferior for their beliefs, thoughts, behaviors, sexual preference, etc.

As a society, as humans, we are ill equipped to deal with the demands of this staus quo, so many of us just keep on towing the line and playing the game that has been set for us.


Over the past several years I have been going through a significant period of awakening and transformation brought on by a series of ground shaking events. The primary result of which has been a deep analysis of my inner world and what habits I have held that support or diminish my desire to live with a positive mindset. This introspection has gone into every aspect of my daily life. I've looked at diet, exercise, sleep, relationships, work patterns, and other activities. Where applicable I looked at scientific research to inform changes in my habits. In other areas I simply went with "did I feel better or worse after having engaged in an activity?", if I felt better, I kept doing it. If I felt worse, I let it go. In that process I discovered the bullies and trolls that I had let into my friends/family sphere and I kicked them out of my life. That was step one, it helped a ton but I still had some lingering anxiety and I needed to discover why. So I started searching for more answers in my usual place (google) and I landed on social media. It was the only thing lingering in my life known to cause anxiety in some. I read article after article documenting what social media can do to us psychologically.

 

Below are some of the key concerns I experienced:

 

Comparing yourself to others

Some articles will say it's about your objective when you go online, insinuating that you only end up in comparison mode or negative side-effects if you go there with the intent to compare. This belies the truth that many of us experience. When I would go on social media my objective was simply to see what was up, curiosity, wanting to see how my friends are or what current events are being discussed. I never hoped online thinking, "let me just compare myself to so-and-so", no, never. However, after seeing post after post from around the world of idyllic life I would often come away feeling as though mine was not enough in some way, or if not my life, me. Comparison of yourself to others is never good for mental health and for me regardless of my objective when I went on social media I would come away having compared posts, people, things, myself, others, you name it. I wasn't even aware this was happening until I started meditating daily. Then with the ability to witness more of my thoughts throughout the day came the witnessing of what was happening when I hopped on social media. So how does this subconscious comparison occur? Via likes, hearts, shares, retweets, etc. Whenever you make the choice to click that button you are making a decision, determining if it is worthy of that click or if you should promote something else that day… You are hitching your identity, to that thing, cause, moment, idea, etc.  So regardless of your intention when you hop on, you will be comparing and judging every time you click one of those options.

 

Triggers sadness more often than well-being

At least one study has shown just 20 minutes of time on Facebook will  lower moods.1 So as if feeling low because your life doesn't seem as idyllic as those Instagram posts from your friends list isn't bad enough, you can add in a negative thoughts loop. One study conducted by Facebook on users in 2012 showed that emotional contagion can occur in an online social network, just as it does in real face-to-face interactions.2 The bottom line of which is that Facebook can choose to alter the feeds and make us feel how they want us to, when they want us to, for any reason they like. 3 And while it's true that more positive posts in their feeds will drive users to post more positive things, this should not be taken as a sign of overall happiness in the individual. It could be a simple ego move, or a way to shore up unhappiness and insecurities by convincing everyone that they are just as positive or more so than next person. It also goes both ways, a feed with many negative posts will cause the user to post more negatively. Another study found that just one negative post can influence 1.3 more negative posts. 4 At one point during my social media usage I naively thought that simply posting more positive things would lead me to have better experiences. I made a resolution about only posting positive things or exciting things. This attempt to keep myself happy and on social media did not work. It didn't matter if I posted positive things, tragedies and injustices still happen on a local and global scale and if I wasn't inadvertently comparing with my friends and their friends, then I was brought down by these events. As one person, even adding my voice to the din of the mob didn't make me feel I could fix or help with anything. So I would feel more helpless and hopeless after having engaged in these stories through social media than I would if I'd just read the news articles or blog posts.

 

False feelings of social connection

How many people do you have on your friends list? How many are just business contacts? How many of those people still email, call, or text message you? How many can you rely on to take care of your kids or pets if you should end up in the hospital or with a rare disease? In my case the answers are an average size list, perhaps about 25-50% business contacts, not many of which try to communicate directly to me. Perhaps I could count on 2-5 of them in an emergency/tragedy.  Part of this has to do with how many times I've relocated to a new state, it takes time to cultivate deep trusting friendships and it's hard to maintain those from thousands of miles away. I do think it's compounded with the modern era of social media though. What social media has done is given us the delusion that we are in deep connection with others when in fact we very rarely talk directly to one another. We don't really pick up the phone to find out how they are, to let them know we care and are interested in their life. No we just look them up on social media. We learn only what has been broadcast to everyone. We become deluded, thinking we know the whole story. It's like that saying about loneliness, you are never as alone as you are when you feel lonely with loved ones in the room. That's social media. A room full of loved ones who rarely engage back in a deep meaningful way. There you are shouting and screaming and sharing all you can about how positive and awesome life is and the events in your life that mean something to you and most of the room has no response. You don't really know who saw your post or if they liked it, or had thoughts on it. Not unless they think it's worth a like or a comment. Let's say you have 100 people on your friends list, if you post a happy fun picture of your goings on you might get 10-15 people liking it, if it's super awesome or with a witty comment perhaps up to 20 or 30… that's still less than half of your "friends". Sure some of those people might be like me, in the process of leaving social media but still very much interested in your well-being. Those people won't show up in likes, but they will show up in email and direct texts or phone calls.

 

What you think you're doing on social media

 Photo: Phil Coffman
 

vs

What you are actually doing on social media

 Photo: Becca Tapert

 

It's addictive

Many articles shy away from fully poo-pooing social media altogether. They point to the sometimes experienced benefits of social media, always with the caveat of moderation and limiting your time. It is very important to note however that the goals of these networks is not to limit your time on them. Quite the opposite. Their goal is to keep your eyes on their pages as long as possible so they can present you with advertising from their paying participants. They do not want you to have to go anywhere else, you are part of an enormous captive audience… Tech engineers use the same strategies that have been used for gambling machines to keep you on their device, website, game, or platform longer. There are books and articles you can find by  former tech and game design employees alerting us to this fact. 5 They have been doing it for years and we can logically assume that it will only get worse as designers utilize more and more user data to optimize design and algorithms to keep you hooked. Even if gambling is not a problem for you it doesn't mean that you are not susceptible to these tactics on social media. I have no gambling problem I can count the number of times I've legitimately gambled on my hands, and yet I got hooked on social media. Checking it multiple times a day for no good reason or just to see if a post was gaining traction of any kind. This is probably due to the following:

"In 2015, a research team from UCLA published a paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, showing that when the human brain is not actively engaged in something, it tends to start focusing on other people to “see the world through a social lens,” – a process called “mentalizing”. In terms of neuroscience, the “dorsomedial prefrontal cortex”, the part of the brain that engages in social interaction, creates empathy to other people’s thoughts and feelings, and help us make judgements about other people. Such judgements are vital– the speed of judging if “the man with a spear will throw the spear at me” has been the reason we exist today, and any activity that engages the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex is perceived as being important and thus non-optional. The fact that social media sites engage the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex could be a reason for the natural proclivity to social media compulsive use." - from Biological & Psychological Reasons for Social Media Addiction

 

more to consider and witness

The more we learn about the brain the more we will not only be susceptible to brain hijacking by our beloved devices and services, we will also be able to combat those intrusions on our freedom. Right now all we need to do is seek answers to some simple questions. Before using a service, program, or device, (especially free ones) ask yourself "What are they really selling? How are they making their money? Does their platform rely on users to be valuable?" The answer to this question will help you to see the true motives behind the service or device and will help you decide if you want to be their unpaid button monkey or not.

 

At the same time I was doing all this evaluating and resetting of habits, I was noticing how I felt constantly pressed for time, like I never had enough for what I really wanted to do. Even though intellectually I knew this to be a falsehood I couldn't shake the feeling and so I started reviewing in detail how I spent my time. Facebook and social media in general came up as the #1 thing eating unaccounted for hours in my weeks. Without realizing it I would start by looking for an event to take my daughter to or wanting to post a meetup I would host and I would wind up responding to or commenting on other posts that distracted me from my purpose and gobbled up minutes to hours of time. Once I realized just how much time I was wasting each week on this mindless time suck, which disguises itself as a series of mindful connections, I decided I needed to be done with it.

 

If I think about the first time I realized social media wasn't doing it for me and I wanted to quit it was a few years ago. Back then I was starting up as a yoga instructor and had been told that social media was the only way to get students. I had also discovered that someone very close in my life was a sociopath, replete with a following of minion bullies. All of which had various ways to contact and harass me. As soon as I understood the implication of this I chose to start fresh by rebooting my social media accounts. I decided that henceforth I would use social media for work only. Sounds good right? Yea, I thought so too. Then I started reading articles about marketing your business online, the advice given is that you must give something of your personal-self online in order to be perceived as an authentic business. It's not enough to just announce what you are doing. You have to drive "interest" and "connection". That the content creation needed to be a "steady stream" and it needed to be "relevant."  It led to a feeling that I had to post something every week to stay in some way worthwhile. I fell for it, I started trying to "engage" and it was a slippery slope down to the weekly hours of lost time mentioned above.

 

Fact is I don't need to post anything to be relevant and worthwhile. I don't need likes and hearts. Social media needs me to need likes and hearts. They need user engagement to make money. They need subscribers to create a value in their stock. These platforms may not have started out as an advertising project but that is where they all seem to have landed. They sell advertising which may get a company name in front of potential customers who have been targeted via their user data and proprietary algorithms. Many companies swear by it, however it has never worked for me to see more people in the door at the studio. Same thing can be said for Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. In fact, in my experience none of these networks has increased the quality of my connections as they purport to. Perhaps this is because even when I was using it a bunch I wasn't using it "correctly". Which just further confirms for me that it's useless to society as a whole. If it's so helpful there shouldn't be a magic recipe for getting results using the platform.

 

Speaking of useless to society, think about the last presidential election in the USA. Social media divided us as a nation and it's now become well known that much of the "shared information" was actually fake news created abroad. One of the reasons I convinced myself to continue to use social media was for the news links. I duped myself into believing I was "more informed". Little did I know nothing could be further from the truth. I probably read several fake news articles unknowingly and formed many opinions off of that information. If I want to find news, ideas, or information a simple web search or RSS feed subscription is all I really need. Furthermore social media causes us to create pockets, tribes of the likeminded in which we rabble rouse our choir and other-ify anyone who thinks differently, creating toxic tribalism. The fighting and arguing that can happen amongst "friends", family, and/or colleagues is sad and detrimental to our society. People get fired up in a fervor of "knowing truth" and mindlessly write comments that they would likely not have said in a face to face interaction… In my opinion this certainly had a huge impact on the outcome of our election. As a fact I know this toxic tribalism has affected myself and friends with damaged familial relationships or friendships from differing opinions causing the other party to become toxic. The things we used to be able to say and let go of, the attitude of it's ok you think one way and I think another… It's not available to us on social media. On social media there is a sense of being part of something larger and so when you try to convince others of the "wrongness" in their beliefs online, you can become more convicted than you would have otherwise. Your convictions are stronger because you have "your group" behind you. To what end? How right do you need to be? Right enough to put down friends or family? Or is it just the ego being encouraged by group think? Either way it is a perverse and immature aspect of our culture that has been amplified to the point of societal harm. This loss of relationship due to comments on social media in-and-of itself should be enough impetus for every level-headed adult in our nation to just dump social media altogether.  So why is it then that many of us still haven't left en-masse?

 

In my experience, it isn't as easy as deleting accounts. For me even once I realized it was damaging to my psyche it was hard to stop the habit. It wasn't so easy to just say "I'm not going to look anymore, not for at least 4 weeks".  I tried and failed. To really shake it I had to remove the app from everywhere and logged out of all my browsers. That's when it became apparent just how ubiquitous social media has become. Let's take Facebook as an example. Just quitting Facebook is not as easy as deleting your account or just walking away. They have barriers and hooks in everywhere that you may not realize until you start trying to leave the cult. Perhaps you linked various other accounts using your Facebook login. If you just delete your Facebook you will have a difficult time or may not even be able to login to those other services, sites like Strava, Feedly, and Quora to name a few. If you have a business page you can't just dump Facebook altogether, not unless you're ready to have your business do the same, many would consider doing so marketing suicide. Perhaps you linked your phone contacts to Facebook and other sites and untangling them is another process in itself.  Then there is what I found to be the most difficult reason. Societal status quo. Everyone else is still doing it.

 

Want to meet people? You'll likely find more groups on Facebook than on MeetUp.com. Looking for info on a local business? It's possible they don't have a website they only have a Facebook page, which means you can't get all the info you need sometimes if they haven't set up their page to display all info publicly, you might have to login to get that phone number or address. Then there is the friends and family component, you will find that they discuss things that they posted and expect that you saw the threads when you all hang out. At first they might even be a little perturbed that you weren't "watching."  For me this proclivity to instill narcissistic-voyeuristic behavior as a cultural norm is yet another reason to leave. There is even a study that indicates narcissism is higher in college millennials than in previous generations.6 Way back before groups and businesses joined the fray, people joined these networks thinking they would be more connected to their family, friends, and relations. The reality was that you could easily boil down your seemingly rich interactions into two categories: either checking up on your friends without them knowing you are doing it (voyueristic); or posting about yourself and expecting people will notice (narcissistic). Now it's that plus an egoistic who's-who for events and brand support. It's sad really. We have allowed our culture to become ever more dependent upon revolving around advertising platforms without a single thought to the repercussions to society as a whole.

Just consider this:

"Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction." - from A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel

 

Engaging in communication via technology is the status quo and it's broken. It doesn't work. It's no real surprise to me then to see that anxiety and bullying are on the rise throughout the population, especially amongst kids. Kids killing themselves as young as 10 years old over things put on social media about them. 7 As an adult, can you imagine the kind of peer pressure and scrutiny our kids are under? All we had to worry about was catching the bus on time and not forgetting your homework. Nowadays kids have to worry about becoming a viral video joke among their peers for just about anything that happens to them. Developing anxiety or becoming the bully/abuser are the natural reactions to abuse. It's no wonder then with the increase in narcissistic behavior in adults stuck on devices and social media that the children in society are showing the symptoms of this type of abuse. 

 

Social media and our current use of technology is abusive of human nature in the same way a cult leader uses group think to abuse the followers. The adults in the group are so busy working for free to fulfill the mission of the cult of social media and devices that the kids are getting neglected. The parents/caregivers functionally have less time and attention to give. Worse is that even less thought is being given to the experiences we are providing them with while we are "taking a minute to post" or "just checking social media." With these little actions we are setting examples, being role models, for how they should frame their thought process and actions for adulthood. We are training them to revere likes and shares. Do we really want them growing up preening and primping to get the best selfie for the most likes or whatever? 

 

In my view one simply cannot be posting to social media or using a device and be fully engaged with their kid, to think otherwise is another self-delusion. I have yet to see a child who looks fulfilled while a parent is on their device tweeting something "real quick" to the "world" that isn't watching. We are humans not advertising robots. There is a reason a phone call is superior to a text or email, and there is a reason a live, in the same room, face-to-face meeting is superior to facetime or skype. People embody energy. That energy has a feeling to it, it's something we can't fully explain that is nevertheless real. The "vibe" someone has when they convey a message to you is important. Using technology to connect eliminates that "vibe".

 

To come to terms with that much self-delusion is really difficult. It’s a long, slow, painful process.
— Jane Stork on waking up from cult life

What we can do

The cult of social media and technology is rife with self-delusions, as is any cult. I only hope that every reader here has the courage to take the time to honestly and objectively review how they feel after using social media. To take a break from it for a week, a month, or more. Reflect on how you feel the same or different about things after that break. You might just find a new door of perception in doing so, one that finds you seeing the light of day shining on the cracks in the status quo of this digital era.

 

Digital disentanglement is a process. A worthwhile, life affirming process. I believe in you dear reader, I believe with each person waking up to this message we can formulate a new way forward. It's time for web 3.0 and devices that really work FOR us not ON us.

 

 

Namaste,

-rp

 

PS - I currently still have accounts that sit unused most of the time. I plan to publish this article to social media and delete most if not all of my pages in my spare time through 2018/19.

 

 

 

Notes:

1 http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180104-is-social-media-bad-for-you-the-evidence-and-the-unknowns cites this 2014 Austrian study on Facebook https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214001241

2 http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full

3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregorymcneal/2014/06/28/facebook-manipulated-user-news-feeds-to-create-emotional-contagion/#58a548b139dc

4 http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180104-is-social-media-bad-for-you-the-evidence-and-the-unknowns

5 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/boundless/201801/technology-designed-addiction and https://www.cbsnews.com/news/brain-hacking-tech-insiders-60-minutes/ and https://www.computerworld.com/article/3014439/internet/social-media-addiction-is-a-bigger-problem-than-you-think.html

6 https://qz.com/1004612/social-media-is-as-harmful-as-alcohol-and-drugs-for-millennials/ cites this study on narcissism in college students http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550609355719

7 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/12/01/a-10-year-olds-schoolyard-fight-was-posted-on-social-media-she-hanged-herself-two-weeks-later/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6ae48ebe6010

 

Other links regarding psychology of social media and addiction used to create this post:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477910/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/

https://www.brookhavenretreat.com/cms/blog-22/item/3040-effects-social-media-mental

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/biological-psychological-reasons-for-social-media_us_58c279a7e4b0c3276fb78388

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-04-04/social-media-use-bears-similarities-to-drug-addiction

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/04/25/social-media-addiction/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.84f2d9ee5a63

https://www.northshore.org/healthy-you/how-social-media-effects-teenagers-mental-health/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/social-media-contributing-rising-teen-suicide-rate-n812426

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/

https://www.psycom.net/depression-teens-social-media

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/12-signs-addicted-social-media/

https://adaa.org/social-media-obsession

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563216307543

https://qz.com/1004612/social-media-is-as-harmful-as-alcohol-and-drugs-for-millennials/

https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/03/13/519977607/irresistible-by-design-its-no-accident-you-cant-stop-looking-at-the-screen

keywords: psychological effect of social media, social media addiction, are most people addicted to social media, and social media symptoms, game addiction, tech addiction, tech designed for addiction

 

Links regarding cults used to create this post:

http://cultresearch.org/what-makes-a-cult/

More from Jane Stork, a former Rajneeshee https://www.smh.com.au/world/escaping-the-bhagwan-20090411-a35u.html

keywords: what makes a cult, what cults have in common, rejneesh, rajneeshphuram, rajneesh abuse, rajneeshphuram abuse