By Katie Brockhurst

I am addicted to social media.

The itch to pick it up even though I only picked it up a few minutes ago.

The tightness in my tummy, the fluttering in my stomach, the anticipation as the app opens up and as the screen refreshes its ‘feed’. The butterflies as I await results; be it likes, comments, messages, new content, news, connection, valuation, appreciation. Hunting for that feeling, that sensation, as I mindlessly hop from app to app, email to Facebook, Instagram to Messenger, Whatsapp to LinkedIn, Twitter, News or YouTube… 

Coming round to the reality I’m hunched over a small bright rectangle, noticing I’m lost in an endless scroll, forgetting what I had come on to check or do. Time lost, energy drained. Cross with myself for doing it again.

Learning that I was hooked on my own chemical reaction to social media was a big one for me. Finding out that being on social media is producing dopamine, which is lighting up my system in all sorts of different ways – in similar ways to drugs like cocaine, alcohol and nicotine, which has been slightly sensationalised by the media, but things did start to make more sense as to why my body would crave this hit. The instinct to go hunting for it when in need of a lift.

In my twenties I was a parrrrty girrrl, I loved to rave with my friends at the weekends and I know that I do have some tendencies towards addiction. I have made sacrifices and lost some friends in putting those habits behind me. It concerns me as I recognise my addiction to social media and the effects that it’s having on my wellbeing and I wonder how this will affect my business.

I am not an expert of the science behind this but the research I have done has led me to understand that dopamine is not all bad. It can help with depression, with memory, with excitement and motivation. It can help us process pain and can help us to be more creative. But too much of it is also linked to addictive and repetitive behaviour, attention disorders and mental health conditions. In response to this, I started to take measures to cut back on my device and social media usage, taking note of how it feels when I do- looking at when I use my phone the most and when I use my phone the least. What drives those behaviours and what it feels like in my body. Looking for what gets me to want to pick up my phone; how long I spend on it and why.

Often addictions and shadows are things we can’t see or we ignore because they are in a blind spot. It’s uncomfortable to give some things up. Looking at our shadows can be scary and painful. That seems to be human nature. I doubt there is a human alive who doesn’t have something in their life to which this relates. I don’t believe any of us are, ever will or would want to be perfect. Our imperfections are beautiful, but when it is hurting ourselves or others then being honest about it can be a first step to making things better.

As a human (unicorn) being on this planet, I understand how we can all make mistakes; it is how we handle things once we are aware of the issues that I think matters the most. As I understand it, our response to a situation either clears or continues the karma.

It got me thinking, if Facebook was a family member, or a friend – and let’s face it, we spend as much time, if not more with our devices these days as we do with some of our closest people – could we forgive and forget?

By looking at the shadow side to social media, by looking at my own shadow side to social media, looking at the shadow side to social media for many of us, and for Facebook itself, I hope this will be part of our healing. I want to help clear the energy, get the digital sage out, roll our selves up, clean up, move forwards and start a new chapter, a new age.

Social media and digital technology is not all bad, I want to be aware of the pitfalls so I can kick my bad habits and use it that much more effectively. It requires some commitment and sometimes some tough love. It is so easy to get away with bad digital habits. I have been reading ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport, where he recommends taking a full 30-day break before reintroducing certain technologies and social media back into your life. In his book, I discovered how the main social networks and mobile app builders had actively employed companies and consultants (including casinos and gambling houses), to find the best ways to get us addicted to their apps. They worked to find the best ways to create that addictive dopamine hit with addictive design and persuasive technology.

That fluttering in my stomach, the sense of anticipation I felt when I was opening up my apps or app hopping, that physical reaction was cultivated, encouraged and programmed into my nervous system. The reaction made stronger and stronger over time due to the repetitive nature of it. Each time I open up my phone strengthening the neural pathway and re-igniting the release of dopamine or feel-good chemicals. My body over time changing, no longer producing these chemicals naturally, instead of leaving social media to do it for me. Maybe Facebook and co didn’t really think about what they were doing to us long-term by getting us all hooked.

In an interview I watched with by CNN Business, How Tech Companies Are Addressing Screen Addiction, journalist Lisa Ling asks Tristan Harris, the man behind The Centre for Humane Technology, “so this compulsiveness that we feel when we look at our devices, you’re saying that's by design?”

Harris replies: Behind the screen are a hundred, in some cases a thousand engineers who go to work every single day, and their job is to figure out 'how can I keep you hooked?' Using it for as long as possible, as frequently as possible and to make sure you come back tomorrow.

To reiterate this, Sean Parker, the founding President of Facebook, spoke at an event in 2017 about the attention engineering adopted by his former company: The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them,…was all about: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or post or whatever.”

Source: “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport.

When I reach for my phone I now know to think, “Oh hiiiii little like (aka dopamine) hunter.”  I talk to this part of me and I ask her what she is looking for when she is on the hunt. I’m often looking for connection, approval and validation.

My social media addiction is at its most active when I am by myself for long periods of time.  As someone who has been single for much of the past decade, living alone, working alone and often travelling alone, I have periods of time where much of my connection to my friends is through my mobile device and social media. This unbeknownst to me has created an addiction that I am now actively needing to manage and which causes me some concern, considering it is directly linked to my work.

There are so many positives we get from social media, but those positives do not cancel out these negatives I now see. They co-exist. The like-hunting and constant checking is not a good thing for me. It can become a nervous tick at times and it can actually make me feel physically nauseous when I pick my phone up for what feels like the 50 millionth time that day.

Some of the best ways I have found to stop myself from checking or relying on my phone so much is to switch the phone into airplane mode. To put it in another room and give myself time with activities that don’t involve a screen. Like going to see my cat, Crystal, or sitting in the garden, leaving the phone inside. Such simple things, but it is crazy how much it was always coming along for the ride and then distracting me.

Reading a book with my phone off. Learning a musical instrument. (I’m learning to play the Kalimba, a small handheld instrument.) Going for a walk without my phone. Or calling up a friend and asking to hang out in person. Making sure my phone is always in my bag on silent mode & not given attention when with people. Simple but effective.

Our mobile device is so many things: our safety net (phone), memories (camera), access to all the information in the world (google), our navigation (maps), our friends (Whatsapp), or a currency converter, time buddy, calculator, etc. etc. The list goes on…

Having the phone so close all the time means also having the dopamine hit and addiction of social media available too. It is difficult to remove it from the mix without deleting the apps from the phone. I also tell myself it is important because it’s my work, which is true. This has stopped me from removing Facebook and Instagram apps, although I know if I removed them, my usage would drop massively and my addiction would have some time to detox. Maybe that is the next step for me, but I know it feels uncomfortable. So perhaps that is an experiment I really need to try. My device is such a support tool in living life on my own, and I worry that I would feel lost and alone without it. It is empowering and it is connective.

Finding a new balanced way forward has to be my future.

Industries and corporations want us “hooked” so that they could make bigger profits, without considering or really truly caring about the effect it is having long term on us humans, our bodies, our mental health or our overall wellness and wellbeing. There is a reason we have anxiety and health issues on the rise. Although we are waking up to this, I believe people-power and consumer action will be what make the most difference in the long run. Money talks.

We do have power. We are their product, their commodity, their consumers. We are the data. We are the users. We are the drug. I have the power to face up to my social media addiction and make a change. We all have the power to stand up and make a change.

This is a time for change. The great unveiling, the great shift, the ascension, the wave which so many different civilisations and cultures and religious texts speak of (as well as most of the spiritual community on my social media timeline and filter bubble) – if this is happening now, during this period we are now in, bringing everything into the light collectively, we might just change the trajectory to a betterment of ourselves and mankind.

The Holy Grail is us.

By Katie Brockhurst