On a redeye flight last week, I was trying to sleep as the woman in the seat next to me was scrolling through her timeline. Facebook, Instagram—it doesn’t matter which app. Having a glowing screen right within reading distance is irresistible! So, forgive me please, but I read over her shoulder and judged what she was posting.
From grammar to spelling to clarity, I was surprised to notice that her posts were practically unintelligble. Of course, I’m hardly one to brag. Last night I woke up from a nightmare, screaming in horror at the realization that my timeline was that vapid, too. I just didn’t notice because I was too busy being addicted. And so are you.
Quit to save your brain! Yes, YOU!
QUIT THIS FOOLISHNESS!!!
Social media is turning your brain to mush. Ever notice you can’t read anything longer than 300 words any more? And somehow all your creative writing goes into short, forgettable social media posts instead of really saying something? And by the way, if you don’t notice a general degradation in your thinking when you’re using social media, it’s possible you can’t even really judge. One of the first things to go is your ability to notice how surface your thinking has become. And none of that is coincidence.
It’s deliberate. Facebook founder Sean Hayes has even admitted that it’s deliberate. When developing Facebook, they read the latest brain science research. They figured out how to make Facebook explicitly addictive. BJ Fogg of Stanford’s “Captology” lab and Nir Eyal in his book Hooked then taught those principles to all of Silicon Valley, so they can addict (that’s you and me) and get us to click on ads and mindlessly buy stuff.
Addiction jolts your brain with pleasure juice brain. You see your friends’ pictures, along with their names, at irregular intervals. Sometimes they’re sharing headlines of articles that get you all steamed up. (The headlines, not the articles. The articles are often a disappointment.) The pictures, the names, and the headlines all give you a brain surge.
Since it’s at irregular intervals, that activates “intermittent reinforcement” and you get psychologically hooked. It’s why people play slot machines for hours in Las Vegas. Meaningless, bright, shiny stimulation plus intermittent payoffs equals time lost from your life. Forever.
While your brain is busy being addicted and cognitively impaired, the evidence is that Russian bots are then manipulating you. If you’re conservative, they feed you scare stories about liberals and immigrants. If you’re liberal, they feed you scare stories about guns and religion, and they try to sow divisiveness between liberal candidates.
The key to manipulation, whether it’s by ad companies or enemy psyops, is to bypass your higher brain functions and activate older brain structures. That’s why I didn’t realize how idiotic my own timeline was. The pictures and names had me feeling good, so when I read the vapid content, it felt good. The clickbait headlines got me feeling self-righteous, or curious, or angry, so by the time I read the vapid, poorly-written story (if I even bothered), I already felt like it was worth reading.
Quit for moral reasons
There are also moral reasons to quit. Even as I write this, another news story (the fifth or sixth in as many weeks) has come out showing that Facebook compromises privacy by silently giving preferred partners access to data that it claimed it wasn’t giving out. It secretly gave access to all your private messages, all of them, plus the ability to read and delete them, to Netflix, Amazon, and a few other partners.