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.
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)