Is social media hacking your brain?
It’s certainly hacking mine.
No, I haven’t watched The Social Dilemma, that documentary everybody’s been talking about.
But it’s been clear for a while that social media isn’t doing good things for my peace of mind.
So recently, I’ve been trying something new. There’s an app called Freedom you can install on your phone and computer, and essentially, block anything you want.
I think I first heard about Freedom from Neil Strauss, the mega-best-selling author, who uses it to block the internet so he can spend blocks of time writing.
I signed up, but originally didn’t use it much. A few weeks ago, though, it occurred to me that I could use Freedom to limit my time on social media. I set it for 23 hours and…
And proceeded to spend the rest of the day picking up my phone and clicking on the Twitter icon every 30 seconds, to no avail: it was blocked. I couldn’t open it.
Originally, I blocked Twitter, Facebook, La Vanguardia and El País – social media because it sucks, and the news sites because, well, most “news” is painfully useless anyway.
Suck it, legacy media…
Think of life for someone 100 years ago, in a smaller town or city. You’d probably get news once or twice a day, from a newspaper. You’d talk to people you knew, and a few people you didn’t.
You most certainly wouldn’t have immediate access to the unfiltered opinions of every old high school classmate, ex-lover, coworker, celebrity, journalist and politician on the planet, 24 hours a day.
Your inputs would have been pretty limited.
Even a decade or so ago, you wouldn’t have had the constant grind of opinionated outrage.
Remember when Bush was President? Sure, people were pissed. But there basically was no way of knowing what Meryl Streep thought, day to day, about the invasion of Iraq.
Sounds pretty relaxing, actually. But those days are in the past. Now you can just check her Twitter feed, and find out exactly where Meryl Streep stands on the news of the day.
So far, then, my experiment of blocking social media has been a success. I’ve been doing it for about a month. I use the app for sessions of a few hours, or up to a day – leaving myself some time to manage my online empire.
I soon found that with nothing much to distract me on my phone, I was feeling calmer. Then I started spending more time on Instagram, because I’d reflexively pick up my phone every 30 seconds, and Insta was the only thing that wasn’t blocked.
Oh well. Now I block Instagram, and I feel pretty good about it.
Now you may say, “Daniel, why don’t you just use willpower to stop yourself from scrolling?”
Well, funny thing about willpower: it often doesn’t work.
And why leave things up to willpower if you don’t have to?
This morning, in fact I woke up and realized I’d forgotten to turn on the Freedom app last night. So instead of “using willpower” and immediately activating it, I spent the first part of my morning checking social media and the news.
Soon I found myself scrolling through my Twitter feed for the 11th time, checking the trending topics, and, basically, hating most of humanity.
I’m not exactly sure.
Joe Rogan’s got Covid and he’s taking a medicine people don’t like, so everyone on the internet is outraged. Biden may or may not have fallen asleep in a meeting. Hurricanes in Louisiana, floods in Tarragona, wildfires wherever the wildfires are this week. There’s a whole long list of things “happening” – none of which are actually relevant to my life, but all of which are being endlessly commented on by a bunch of halfwit boobs online.
So this morning, when I realized I was just hating everything again, I took a deep breath and blocked everything till lunchtime.
Then I went and had coffee. I felt better.
I may never know what my former coworker in California thinks about the new abortion law in Texas… and that’s just fine. Because who cares?
My dogg Naval Ravikant says (and I’m paraphrasing) something like “No part of your brain developed to keep track of every awful thing happening everywhere in the world”.
And it’s true.
Which brings me to another point, one I’ve been thinking about for several years now.
I guess I could summarize it in three words: have fewer opinions.
Personally, I try not to form opinions about things I know very little about. And if it’s not really affecting my life, well, why spend time forming an opinion anyway?
But but but but…
But I have the RIGHT to have an opinion about everything!
Sure you do.
But (and this is a really really big but) do you really want to?
Why waste your time thinking about people and things happening on the other side of the planet?
I was surprised a couple of years ago when suddenly everyone had an opinion about the election of this Bolsonaro guy in Brazil. Lots of people I knew, suddenly experts on Brazilian politics. A former boss. People I went to the gym with 12 years ago. Some girl I made out with twice back in the day… all opining about an election in a far-away country.
And why? I don’t think any of them had ever expressed much interest in Brazil before. So why now?
Well, because the media works on clicks, and to get you to click they have to create drama out of thin air. Constantly. Twenty-four hours a day.
New right-leaning President in Brazil?
“OH MY GOD IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD.”
Some people want to get vaccinated for Covid and others don’t?
“BLAZING SHITBALLS IT’S AN OUTRAGE.”
Folks in Florida protesting about something you’d rather they didn’t protest about?
“THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH HUMANITY OH ME OH MY WHY CAN’T EVERYONE JUST AGREE WITH ME ALL THE TIME?”
I personally have no opinion about the President of Brazil. And somehow, the world manages to go on turning.
But plenty of people who basically do nothing with their lives are on social media, constantly, opining. “I’m angry about these 2412 things, and if you’re not equally angry about every single one of them, you’re a REALLY BAD PERSON.”
Well, okay then. I guess I can live with that.
What’s even worse, though, are the people who actually have careers based on opining. Because you can bet your sweet ass they’ll come up with some new clickbait every day. They got rent to pay… better cook up a scandal!
I’m pretty convinced that constant clickbait is ruining lives.
Think about the economic crisis back in the last decade. Without the constant media freakout about Greek debt or credit-default swaps or whatever, would we even have known there was a crisis?
Sure, some people lost their jobs and homes. But the narrative of the huge economic crisis – the story we told ourselves – was by far the biggest thing that happened to most of us.
You get what you focus on, I guess.
Or more recently…
Without the constant stream of panic online – or on TV if you’re still into that sorta thing – would we have had a global psychological meltdown over Covid?
I’m guessing we wouldn’t have.
George Orwell once wrote about being a schoolboy during World War I, and remembering basically nothing of the war itself. Millions died, but he remembers margarine. Yes, margarine. It was only the books and movies that came later that gave him, he says, a real sense of the epic importance of the Great War.
Then again, Orwell didn’t have a smartphone constantly sending him notifications.
Today we’ve got smartphones and notifications out the hoo-haa, and screens everywhere we go.
It’s easy to panic, or wallow in righteous indignation, or feel bad because your butt doesn’t look as good as someone else’s on Instagram… someone who probably doesn’t give two shits about you anyway.
Pay for the Freedom app, and start blocking.
Hell, you could even leave your phone at home and go outside.
See you out there.
P.S. The links here are affiliate links, so if you decide to drop 24€ or whatever on the app, I’ll get some small amount of money. And if you buy a book by Neil Strauss with that Amazon link up there – which you definitely should – I’ll also get a few cents. Looking for a way to send money internationally? Sign up with my Transferwise link. You see where I’m going with this. Also, check out my article about how to monetize a blog for much more. Have fun!