Viewpoint: Social Media as Problematic Life Addiction

A Word on “Viewpoints”

Since everyone’s blogs can be overly negative or overly positive at times, given the context and emotional situation of the author, it is important to keep in mind that one person’s voice is just that – it is likely they are ignoring certain variables, filtering the information in specific ways, and writing to guide the reader towards certain conclusions using emotional “cues” in their writing.

Many of the posts that I have written and shared publicly will have other potential arguments and conclusions left unstated in my few short paragraphs. It is up to the reader to critically analyze the information that I provide to them.

That being said, I thought it would be logical to present two articles back-to-back with contrasting viewpoints on a weekly basis. This series will examine an issue from two sides, though it may not always be an argument about the good versus bad qualities of the issue under discussion. Sometimes it may by two contrasting issues which seem to have no apparent relation to each other, but which I have decided have more meaning together than separate.

I will begin this viewpoint series with a discussion on social media and technology.

A Word on Social Media

It has recently come to my attention that I am ‘addicted’ to social media. Now, the word ‘addiction’ is hard to quantify – does it mean that it negatively impacts my day-to-day work life and productivity? Does it mean that I’m ignoring real-life relationships in favour of online ones? Do I value less the beauty of nature, and spend less time outdoors?

To me, this addiction to social media means that I am consistently called to my computer to check email, Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress on an hourly basis, if not every 15 to 30 minutes. Having a Blackberry with a social media plan also means that I receive prompts or reminders of my online life through cheerful dings, vibrations, and other alert notifiers. Sometimes, I turn these notifiers off, but then the phantom in my pocket vibrates, I have a spare moment waiting for the bus, or someone else checks their phone and I feel compelled to do so also.

For some, the path to removing these distractions from their life is to disable internet access to social media sites or adding extensions to their computer browser such as StayFocused. Others get rid of their smartphones, referring to them as a “toxic compulsion”, while the posts on social media made them feel “unsatisfied…unproductive and uncool” (De Groote, April 9th, 2013). While it is true that seeing your old high school chum receiving top academic honours at Yale might make you feel like an unproductive member of society, I am convinced that these superficial methods of changing your habits will not take in the long term. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at your friend’s latest iPhone 5S (or whatever version is out by the time you’re through with your technology cleanse) with longing and you’ll be making plans to stop into the nearest tech store for an upgrade.

This urge to be stimulated by technology is a natural one for people because we have what  the Buddhists and this article refer to as the “monkey mind”. The monkey mind is “attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices” (Pang, August 17th, 2013).

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is the author of “The Distraction Addiction” and is well-versed in the philosophical methods for overcoming a toxic relationship with the overbearing presence of technology in society. He notes that people have been reflecting on the connection between their mind and the world around them for thousands of years in the form of religious doctrines. In Buddhism the “everyday mind is like churning water; learn to make it still…and its reflection will show you everything” (Pang, August 17th, 2013). Consequently, he suggests that contemplative computing can make us in control of the relationship between our mind and technology – a venerable goal (ibid). Contemplative computing he describes as:

“Contemplative computing isn’t enabled by a technological break­through or scientific discovery. You don’t buy it. You do it. It’s based on a blend of new science and philosophy, some very old techniques for managing your attention and mind, and a lot of experience with how people use (or are used by) information technologies. It shows you how your mind and body interact with computers and how your attention and creativity are influenced by technology. It gives you the tools to redesign your relationships with devices and the Internet, to make them work better for you. It’s a promise that you can construct a healthier, more balanced relationship with information technology” (ibid).

Essentially, he breaks contemplative computing down into 4 big-picture principles (ibid):

  1. Information technologies are poorly designed and thoughtlessly used, but they could be allowing us to extend our bodies and cognitive capacities (the ‘extended mind’ which blends brain, senses, body, and objects).
  2. Contemplative practices offer more than just a way to con­trol the monkey mind or curb compulsive multitasking. They can also be adapted to allow you to regain control of your extended mind.
  3. You have to reexamine taken-for-granted assumptions about how you interact with information technologies and how you think about those interactions in order to understand how your extended mind develops and works.
  4. Understanding the extended mind, having a better grasp of how to choose and use technology, and being familiar with contemplative practices let you find ways to be calmer and more purposeful when using information technology.

Thanks to Pang’s wonderful and philosophical take on technology use, everyone can have the internal (rather than superficial, technology-based) tools needed to combat the presence of shiny, flashy, and persistent social media platforms in their life.

Good luck!