Franciele Cunha Unsplash Couple Mountaintop

Social Costs? Four Reasons To Spend Less Time Online

The irony of the title of this blog is not lost on me, given the piece is intended for broadcast on social media among other places. Even the structure of it, you could say, is ‘blogg-y’ – X ways to do stuff. Pop will eat itself.

A few weeks ago we spent five blissful days in coastal Suffolk. The bliss was prompted, partly, by a decision I took to leave my tablet at home and only check my phone once a day for emergencies. Sally’s (non smart) phone was also available to adult children on both sides. And as it happened the wifi didn’t work, so she couldn’t access her chromebook either. We were device-free. Time slowed and life richened.

But the lessons haven’t been learned. We’re back home and more online than ever.

And despite the joys and amusement and insight I get from many, most, of my lovely online friendships, life overall seems no happier for it.

Is it time to take the lessons of five days of RLO (Real Life Only) and recalibrate more comprehensively? It’s risky saying that kind of thing on social media, where you’ll be held to account. Actually that’s part of the point, a personal manifesto of sorts: shoot me if you see me here.

But first a brief look at the four ways my social costs are getting too high.


Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

1. Reduced writing time and energy

If you check this website you won’t see any evidence of a new blog post in recent months. I haven’t written anything, beyond paid professional work. No fiction either: nothing on the so-called and much-heralded (by me) novella.

I’ve certainly talked about writing a lot on social media. Oh yes. Sketches, outlines, ideas, promises, commitments, ambitions, even character names: everything but the actual writing. #Nanowrimo is a great invention, I am sure, and probably helps thousands of people actually put pen to paper; but it also generates a lot of ‘metascript’ – discourse about the discourse.

One reason for the timing of this blog is the new IoS app which tells you how much screen time you’ve had this week, and the X% that was up or down on last week. I won’t reveal my own numbers – which actually I have no way of judging objectively, in the way you can count portions of fruit & veg or units of alcohol.

Put it this way – I could easily have knocked off 1,700 #Nanowrimo words a day if I’d spent just half my screen time on it.

What’s more, the emotional energy you invest in social media drains your writing resources. If you’re anything like me, you really love your social friends – perhaps too much. You’re always looking out for them and wanting to play. And perhaps wanting likes (though not always getting the ones you want – more on that in a minute).

But in the end social media disappoints at least as much as it thrills, and depletes the emotional tank along the way.

2. Dopamine addiction

Ah yes, the likes. And absence of likes. What do likes matter when you’re 54 and a high court judge or top investment banker – or even, let’s call it, a ‘respected freelance trainer, editor and sometimes writer’?

Really they don’t. Nor do retweets, new followers, positive comments on LinkedIn or other signs of the holy grail engagement. But they seem to matter. Who unfollowed me and why? I’ll never know but really I shouldn’t care either – easy come, easy go.

David Brooks, Natasha Dow Schull and Simon Parkin have all written in the last year about the unfavourable aspects of our dopamine addiction.

Brooks notes that tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops’: social media operates and succeeds using irregularly timed rewards.

Schull, for her part, observes that this is the secret to Facebook’s era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound.

If your personality type is such that things like likes matter, perhaps it’s better for your mental health not to expose yourself to their whips and scorns. Nor, for that matter, to the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love or the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes. [Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1].

Yes, yes, yes and yes. I’m aware I missed a couple but Shakespeare – among his other universal insights – clearly saw social media coming.

Credit: Charles Schulz, Peanuts

3. The great imposter

Many of us who are freelancers working in the creative industries are prone to a certain insecurity – do we really belong here and is what we’re writing, editing, designing, teaching, whatever actually any good?

I have experienced this myself: imposter syndrome is my companion. I even talked about it in my SfEP 2018 conference workshop. Which as it happens (i) few attended; (ii) those that did marked down or damned with faint praise on Twitter; and (iii) didn’t justify a write-up in the SfEP magazine.

See what I did there!

I half-jest. The workshop probably wasn’t that bad, and I got some kind comments from people I respect. The point is that the social media echo chamber can resound silence as well as noise, and the sensitive ear hears it.

Not to mention LinkedIn, which purports to be just a place to connect with fellow professionals, where you don’t boast about your brilliant career. To me it sometimes seems like you’re in a room with the modern day equivalents of Henry Ford, St Francis of Assisi and Groucho Marx, such is the scale of brilliant, funny, socially useful commercial achievement.

In this company I feel like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts strip with Linus and Lucy watching the clouds: “I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsie but I changed my mind”.

For some people social media feeds their imposter syndrome, and if it does you might be better off without it, or reducing your exposure to it.

4. Room for walk and talk

Literally. In Suffolk the other week we spent a lot of time walking and talking. And our eyes and palates were open: to sunrises, sunsets, estuary views, pub lunches, coffees and evening pints. We listened to Radio 3 the entire time in the absence of Classic FM – side benefit no ads. We read lots and watched some telly. It was no panacea but it restored some perspective, which has dripped away again in the time back.

Isn’t one reason for going on holiday to do things a bit differently and maybe try some of them out when you’re back home?

Work commitments for me will soon escalate to a degree not seen since I started freelancing. This is no bad thing, from some perspectives, but may also be a contributor to the mindframe of this post. It will be another good reason for my relative absence for a while.

So I mean no ill will or judgement on my many admired online friends, who I hope will understand if I am less present on social media for a while. I am easily contactable via ways expressly set out on this website. Or maybe we’ll even meet IRL which is always rewarding, as I discover time and again with the SfEP local group and conference.

And – contrary to what I said earlier – don’t shoot me if you do see me around on Twitter or LinkedIn, but gently remind me about the content of this post and ask how many words written this week!