It’s a Lab Rat’s Life: Searching for Satisfaction on Social Media:

 

Do you ever feel like a treat-obsessed lab rat when it comes to social media?

Back in November and December, I made a concerted effort not to spend a lot of time playing on social media. Social media is indeed both work and play for me—I use it to stay in touch with friends and fans. I love goofy memes, and finding or posting interesting news stories, and learning silly and serious details about my friends’ lives. For those two months, I felt pretty smug about only spending a few minutes each day on Facebook and Twitter, and letting my Instagram do a lot of the posting for me. (More and more I’m fascinated with the visual world.) I got a lot of writing done, Christmas shopping was handled, and homeschooling was humming along. When my friends would complain that they were spending too much time online, I felt pretty impressed with myself. After ten years of feeling like I was attached by an umbilical cord to the Great Social Media Gods, I finally felt detached. Rather above it all. Social media was my sometimes plaything. So often before I’d felt like I couldn’t stay away from it, couldn’t detach. You’re my bitches now! was my happy new thought.

Hahahahahahahahahaha!

 Since I’ve started blogging daily (fingers crossed—this post almost didn’t happen because my server ate the first draft I spent hours on) I’ve wanted to spread the word about it on social media every day. And I can’t bear to be one of those people who puts up a post about their own stuff and then runs away. I love to interact! Social media seems like a give and take situation to me. There are real people behind those profile pics. So having the blog has give me an excuse a reason to be on social media several times a day, justifying my presence as though someone were watching my every move. (That sounds a little crazy. No one is watching on there—really, everyone is the star of her own show on social media. Aren’t you the star of yours? And why shouldn’t we be?) What has the result been? Great fun! And, um, far fewer fiction words written.

Now I was once again the plaything of the Great Social Media Gods. I had to ask myself why I’ve had this change in my behavior. The blog really has acted as an excuse for me—but there are reasons why it feels hard not to keep going back to social media many times during the day:

–When I’m on social media, I’m busy, and I like to be busy. Sometimes busy can disguise itself as productivity.

–Social media is all about the feels. As a Cancer, an INFP, and as someone who was accused of being too sensitive as a child, I’m all about the feels.

–I’m an information junkie, and information is a good thing, right? If I’m educating myself, it must be okay.

–I do have genuine book news, and work to tell people about. And I love to be in touch with fans.

–Writing is a lonesome job. Social media is often socializing for me.

Here’s the lab rat part:

When I first started thinking about why social media is so sticky for me (and you, too, perhaps?), I thought of Pavlov’s Conditioning Experiments with dogs. When I have Facebook and Twitter tabs open in my browser while I’m writing or researching, I can’t help but notice when a little “1” or “2” indicates that SOMETHING IS HAPPENING IN MY FEED. It’s not that I begin to, um, salivate, but the pleasure center in my brain lights up telling me that I might just get a fun treat or surprise if I click on the page. I love treats! So I’m sorely tempted to drop what I’m doing and take a peek.

That’s the conditioning part. But what about the actual rewards when I get there—when I’ve abandoned my work in search of approbation or laughs? I might find “Marni C. liked your link,” or “Chris M. commented on your photo. Great photo! Genius!” But it’s equally likely to be something lame like, “Sandy L. shared Pottymouth’s post,” or something annoying like, “Mark R. added you to the group “We Have Important Opinions and If You Don’t Like Them We Will De-Normalize You.” (What is it with people being allowed to add you to random groups? Bizarre.)

This is where the concept of intermittent reinforcement comes in. Who knows what we’ll find—but we are hopeful for a treat every time. We’re the pensioner at the slot machine, or the junkie who doesn’t know if their fix is poison or good pharma. We are rats in a lab, conditioned to keep hitting the treat bar. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclick.

Sadly, the treats we get from social media are usually not very filling. Sure, there are the big drama moments. And there are times when it’s important not to feel alone. But those times are pretty rare for most of us. For someone like me, the instant gratification is dangerous to my ADD impulsive brain. My pleasure centers REALLY love that gratification. I am truly like a junkie that way. And eventually I end up jobless in a dark alley wondering what hit me. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic—but I do get behind on my work, and I find myself feeling empty and sad and behind at the end of the day.

True satisfaction is hard to come by, and we can’t find it on a social media site.

As a writer, there are few things more satisfying than having a publisher buy one of my novels, or a reader telling me, in person, how my work made them think about something in a different way. And that’s just external satisfaction. The lasting satisfaction comes from doing the work. From coming up with the idea, wrestling with it, shaping it, and writing The End. You can’t get that kind of satisfaction from someone putting a little heart by the picture you posted of what you had for lunch.

You don’t have to be a writer to want and experience deep satisfaction. It’s possible in almost any kind of work, vocation, or art. But it takes patience and perseverance to find it.

Many of my friends have recommended Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I guess it’s time I read it. I watched his Ted Talk on Quitting Social Media and wasn’t persuaded by it. He seems to be a really smart guy who found an approach to work that worked well for him. But I suspect the social media aspect is just a portion of the book.

My bestie, J.T. Ellison also writes frequently and eloquently about the disconnect between creativity and distraction. Her latest post on the subject is here.

Lots to think about this week. Do tell me how you protect your creativity and find satisfaction.

 

January 15th  Words

Journal:  525 words

Long fiction: 0 words

Short fiction: 0

Non-fiction: 0 words

Blogging:  1180 words

Exercise: 9K steps, lots of housework. 

(photo credit iStock)

10 thoughts on “It’s a Lab Rat’s Life: Searching for Satisfaction on Social Media:”

  1. Adrienne says:

    Excellent article, Miss Laura. And thank you for the link to your bestie. She’s already safely ensconced in my Feedly. Both you and Miss J.T. are in the category titled “inspiration.” I know – the pressure!

    I’m a new reader and am presently half way through Bliss House. Confession: I was about 20 or so pages in and wasn’t “feeling” it. So, as I usually do, I headed for Amazon to see if it was me or you that was the problem. Swanning about on Amazon eventually led to your blog. I do believe this is the first time I’ve actually witnessed an author, or anyone of some import (more pressure), who “talks” to her commenters. Whoa!

    I picked up Bliss House and continued and quite quickly found myself hooked. Yay! I have two more of your books waiting patiently in the queue.

    Social media can, indeed, be a time trap. The only thing I use Facebook for is linking my blog posts, but I can still manage to waste untold amounts of time sort of “spying” on other people. The result is what I call “Facebook envy.” It doesn’t take long to start feeling like everyone else has a nicer house, better husband, cleaner and better behaved kids, and no weeds in their garden. Bummer.

    My biggest time waster yesterday was sitting here reading about 20 or so of your posts, which in no way could be considered a waste of time. They were all delightful.

    Have a wonderful week. I’m off to do my morning pages which I’ve neglected for over a week. Oh, the shame!

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      “Facebook envy.” I can so relate. There are lots of studies out there about the adverse effects of social media on teenagers and how it causes depression. No doubt it affects adults as well.

      I’m so delighted you stuck with Bliss House. Thank you for the kind words!

  2. skyecaitlin says:

    This was wonderful to read, Laura~! For someone with ADD, you are certainly prolific with your books and writing and completion of all tasks. Most of my friends are more than addicted to social media, so it seems to be a normal thing; whatever gives you pleasure and satisfaction and doesn’t bring you harm is good. I personally loved BF Skinner when I was working on my psychology degree and discovered him again when I later changed over to English; we can be conditioned by many triggers ( Pavlov). However, I am not part of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, out of personal choice. I believe my convictions to stay anonymous are due, in part, to teaching at a university and seeing the pros and cons that can arise on social media, and there are as many pros and there are cons.
    Thanks for the excellent links and your candid sharing; I can’t wait to purchase all your novels ( so far I only have your first), but we are alike in many ways, and where you claim you’re impulsive, I can attest that I am compulsive. You have imparted a wealth of wonderfully meaningful ideas on your blog~

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      Ooooo, completion of all tasks? *casts side-eye at pile of unfinished embroidery projects*

      My husband teaches at a university as well, so I’m very familiar with the pitfalls involved in engaging on SM in that environment. (He is much happier when he’s off.) You’ve made a wise choice.

  3. Brandee says:

    One of the best things I ever did was turn off notifications for my social media. That way those little numbers can’t taunt me.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      The key for me is to close my browser when I’m working. J.T. does a great job with Freedom, but I really like to be able to do research immediately if something comes up in my writing–or else I’ll forget. Though it’s a big rabbit-hole risk.

      You always have such great links, Brandee. The librarian’s librarian!

  4. J.T. Ellison says:

    Fabulous — and so dang true. WHY do we keep doing this to ourselves? It’s like smoking. I truly think it’s just as insidious as cigarettes.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      “Insidious” is the perfect word. Maybe it should have a warning on it like cigarettes do.

      I 💜 cigarettes. If only they didn’t make my breath, clothes, and house smell…

      1. skyecaitlin says:

        🙂

Leave a Reply