I read a headline the other day (on my Facebook feed, of course) about teens and social media. I wrongly thought it said that teens checked social media on average 900 times each day. Fortunately, I did read it wrong (it was more like 100 times or something), but it got me thinking about how many times I check Facebook every day (I’m still the lamest Twitter user ever—I just don’t GET it). And it got me thinking that I might not want to know how many times I check Facebook every day, whether via the tab that remains perpetually open on my laptop or via the little numbered notifications that show up on the Facebook icon on the home screen on my phone. I check it while I’m writing, while I’m researching, while I’m working on client files, while I’m watching TV, while I’m exercising, before I go to bed, when I get up in the morning, when I get in the car, when I park the car, and I’m even now still trying to rid myself of the habit of checking at stoplights.
Here’s the thing: WHAT THE HELL AM I LOOKING FOR?
Seriously, what do I think I’m going to find with all of these dozens (hundreds? *gulp*) of times I’m checking my phone (or less, frequently, the computer)? Does some part of me believe that one of these times the notification is going to say, “You’ve won a billion dollars?” Why on earth is it such a compulsion?
I remember reading this article from the Psychology Today blog a few years ago about social media addiction and the dopamine loop. Dopamine gives us the desire to “seek” and the faster we can find what we are looking for, be it through a Facebook notification, or a Tweet, or a text, or a light flashing on our phone indicating an email, the quicker the reward, which leads us to seek more and more.
And even worse, dopamine does not have satiety built in—our brains go even nuttier just anticipating what we are looking for than when we actually find it, and the dopamine makes us keep looking even after we’ve found it (not unlike my addiction to Coca-Cola, but that’s a different blog post.) The article mentions how you might go to Google looking for one piece of information, then thirty minutes later find yourself still Googling for more. Does this sound to anyone else like the compulsion to scroll down your news feed as far back as the last time you stopped looking, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything? Just a little farther down and I’ll come across the article or essay I’d be sorry if I’d missed, right? Don’t stop scrolling! Don’t stop!
And worst of all, the article notes, dopamine loves both unpredictability and Pavlovian cues. A text message dings? The email light flashes? A Facebook notification pops up? DOPAMINE LOVES THAT SHIT.
I suppose on the one hand, the news is good. Maybe, at least to some extent, my Facebook addiction is not entirely my fault. It is dopamine’s fault. Stupid dopamine.
On the other hand, I’m still checking my damn phone dozens (hundreds?) of times a day. I really do feel like Pavlov’s pathetic dog, like I can’t stop myself.
The article does offer one partial solution, though. Turn off the cues.
It won’t solve my problem, because of course, I’ve done it before. Many times. And there’s always the laptop, although it’s much less portable. But hopefully uninstalling the Facebook app on my phone, again—I mean, is it really critical that I post that hilarious picture of the kids the second after I take it?—and blocking the Facebook website from my phone’s browser (because that’s always the workaround, right?) will help me break the dopamine loop long enough to try to reset my brain.
But first, let me check it just one last time. Really.