During the last month or two, I’d gotten into a habit of trawling through Imgur, looking for memes I could spin into humorous tweets about networking. It became a game to see what tweets I could create that people would find funny.
That game was successful, in that I had many tweets that were liked and/or retweeted dozens or, in a few cases, hundreds of times. But there was a downside. I was spending a lot of time on Imgur seeking inspiration. I was also spending a lot of time composing tweets and checking reactions.
I Hurt Myself Today
This led to the familiar cycle of Internet addiction. I was hooked on Twitter…again. I’ve been through this with Twitter off and on for many years now. My use of Imgur was also obsessive, opening the app on my phone multiple times per day and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling while looking for new fodder.
Using social media in the context of addiction is subtly different from simply wasting time. Addiction, for me, means using social media when I didn’t plan to. There’s a compulsion that would drive me to fire up Tweetdeck and check out all of my carefully curated columns, review mentions, and review performance statistics.
The issue isn’t just the time used. It’s also the issue of interrupting whatever it was that I was working on. Interruption takes me out of flow, reducing productivity for the day.
Engineered Synaptic Engagement
Lest you think I’m just a whiny bugger with a personal problem, the issue is far deeper. Social media is meant to hook you and compel you to click. It’s not merely a recreational activity that an unfortunate few lose control of like compulsive gamblers or alcoholics who can’t tame their vices. Andrew Sullivan wrote the following in New York Magazine.
“Do not flatter yourself in thinking that you have much control over which temptations you click on. Silicon Valley’s technologists and their ever-perfecting algorithms have discovered the form of bait that will have you jumping like a witless minnow. No information technology ever had this depth of knowledge of its consumers — or greater capacity to tweak their synapses to keep them engaged. And the engagement never ends.”
Even more disturbing, I’m not entirely certain how addicted I was. I knew I was going through days of not getting nearly as much done as I thought I should have. I’d grind away for ten or more hours with seemingly little to show for it.
I knew I was dropping out of flow state when checking the socials, but it seemed like checking here and there shouldn’t have been so impactful. Again, Andrew Sullivan offers a clue.
“A small but detailed 2015 study of young adults found that participants were using their phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. Most of these interactions were for less than 30 seconds, but they add up. Just as revealing: The users weren’t fully aware of how addicted they were. They thought they picked up their phones half as much as they actually did.”
For me, using my phone was one part of the issue, but the primary screen I interact with is my Mac workstation. So, I had a couple of issues to resolve if I wanted to break the cycle of addiction one more time.
My phone is easy to resolve. I don’t run any social media apps for the most part anyway, so I just removed Imgur. That broke that habit.
Staying Focused With Stayfocusd
The workstation is more of a challenge, as I spend most of my time working in the Chrome browser. Hitting Tweetdeck is just too easy. To help with this, I’ve employed the Stayfocusd extension for Chrome.
Stayfocusd has a lot of features, but I have kept it simple so far. I went into Blocked Sites, and added linkedin.com and twitter.com. That handles LinkedIn, Twitter, and any subdomains that might be under them such as tweetdeck.twitter.com.
There’s another feature of Stayfocusd I really like, which is that the blocks don’t have to be absolute. Because I operate a media company, I do actually need to check the socials now and again. People communicate with us using Twitter and LinkedIn. But I’ve found I can do all the checking I need to do in two minutes.
I like the “max time” feature because I can do the minimal scan of Twitter mentions and LinkedIn notifications I need to without getting mired down in mindless scrolling or checking stats. The two minute limit keeps me honest while checking, and also curtails the number of times I kick off a social session.
But Does It Work?
What’s the end result of all this? Stayfocusd is a good addition to my social media defense arsenal. I’m back in my groove of getting a lot done in a sitting. Being able to focus more deeply and for longer periods of time. More flow state productivity.
I don’t think Stayfocusd is an absolute cure. That will only come when I delete my two remaining social media accounts. But for now, I’m pleased that Stayfocusd has assisted in breaking this latest cycle of addiction.