The day after Valentines’ Day, I got a two day head start on facing some restlessness, at least temporarily, by removing one of the things I often use to cover up neediness and give comfort.
I gave up social media for Lent.
That restlessness, neediness and comfort-seeking has another name: Addiction.
These traits have been with me since childhood and with the benefit of addiction recovery and hindsight, I have been purposeful in the last couple of years about autopsying them, especially as it relates to my early adult years, when, though blind to it, the addiction was in full bloom.
The result is a book, creative nonfiction memoir. During the last 48 days, I put the finishing touches on what novelist Anne Lamott calls the “sh---y first draft.” The manuscript is now in the hands of beta readers and I’m feeding chapters to a copy editor. A graphic designer is hard at work on cover concepts.
The autopsies, and hopefully the book, will illustrate how restlessness, neediness and a dozen other not particularly attractive behaviors revealed themselves in my early adult years, in attitudes, outlook and actions. It’s about having close friends, but lacking the skills to keep them, when you need them most. It’s about destruction, loss and eventually – healing. The intent is to publish this summer.
Before Lent, my restlessness translated into a need to “keep up” with social media. Then it hit me. What, exactly, did I feel compelled to keep up with? Blowhard societal commentary? Knee-jerk over-reactions? Uninformed bloviating? Bad grammar?
The other thing that struck me is, how in the world did I end up with 4,800 Facebook friends?
Which begs the question, am I addicted to social media? Regardless of whether social media platforms were purposefully designed this way, constantly accessing them creates dopamine-driven feedback loops. Dopamine is a human ‘feel good’ hormone and neurotransmitter. It enables us to not only see rewards, but then take conscious action to get them.
For people like me, genetically predisposed to addiction, that hits close to home. Carry that biological determinism argument one step further.
Our little brains apparently cannot resist technology that is “smarter” than we are, giving social media platforms the power to wreak havoc on our capacity for attention. “Attention” is a personal choice, layered and infused with human values. People make values-based choices every day. For Lent or for keeps.
The autopsies and experience have taught me the inner restlessness is here to stay. Social media simply exacerbates it. Abstinence isn’t the cure, but it is the key to clearing the psyche to allow for the vital introspection. Which is sort of the whole idea behind Lent.
I could walk away from social media forever and live happily ever after. But I have a newspaper column and soon a book to push, a totes adorbs grandson, another one on the way, the two most photogenic dogs in Kansas, and “actual conversations” with my wife (a reputation management tool that has sort of become a thing) to share.
Why, 4,800 of my closest friends and those pesky dopamine-driven feedback loops are counting on me.
The justifications and rationalizations die hard.
Finally, there’s the Adam Smith microeconomics argument. Solutions to the problem of Internet or social media addiction should tackle the demand, not just supply.
If your life is fulfilling, if your culture is nourishing, if the heart and soul are fed, the brain will react accordingly.
That’s what I’ve been shooting for the last 48 days.
Mike Matson’s column appears every other weekend in The Mercury. Follow his blog at mikematson.com.