Get off your phone you lazy piece of sh*t

The other day someone recommended a Netflix Documentary to me, called the Social Dilemma, and as a lazy third year that loves procrastinating, of course, I watched it the same evening. Here is what is it about and what can we learn from it.

The film with a run time of an hour and a half is mostly consisting of interviews with some of the minds from silicon valley, that helped build social media platforms to the size they are today. The documentary explores the features that make Insta, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and co. addictive and why. 

We all know that we have a strong relationship with our phones and that they are highly addictive; we often catch ourselves mindlessly scrolling, as the minutes and hours waste away, yet we just can’t seem to be able to put them away. This is obviously what they want, the manipulation of our behavior is for one reason, and one reason only: to make a profit in the shape of advertising. If you don’t check an app for a day or two they try to lure you back in with a push notification, if you don’t engage enough they bring you more personalized content. Your data, stored by these tech giants, doesn’t only record your behavior, it is also used to predict and change your behavior. Just let that sink in for a minute. These apps, originally designed with good intentions, changed billions of lives, and it is time we actually think about the ethical impacts behind these algorithms. 

Furthermore, the documentary exposes the relationship between suicide in kids and teens, and the rise of social media, as well as warns us of the potential dangers of fake news and extremist ideologies. Conspiracy theories can be spread so much easier through social media algorithms, in the era of knowledge, never has there been so much confusion about what the actual truth is.  

All in all the film gives incredibly detailed and eye-opening explanations of the mechanism behind the so-called “surveillance capitalism” that we are experiencing, where we are not the consumers but the product.  

I can’t explain the whole thing, as well as the actual experts, can, so I just suggest you go and watch it

If you are anything like me, then right after you watched the documentary you will feel the sudden urge to free yourself from the addiction, you’ll unlock your phone, delete a few apps, maybe deactivate your insta for a couple of weeks. But a few days down, you will find yourself bored, maybe you are waiting for a friend, or you are on public transport or at the doctors' office, and unconsciously your fingers will guide you to that colorful icon, to release that dopamine rush you crave so desperately. Like any smoker who has an „I’m going to quit smoking, this time for real“ phase every few months, just to buy a pack the next time he is around people and alcohol, this method of cold turkey social media withdrawal is probably not going to be extremely successful. 

Here are a few things you can do to actually decrease your social media use: 

  1. Turn off the notifications
    The apps are less likely to distract you while studying, being with friends, or when engaged in an activity, if you don’t receive a loud „ping“, accompanied by a vibration and a bright pop up telling you so and so has sent you a snap. The fewer pop-ups, the less salient the app is going to be in your mind, the less often you check it.

  2. Delete apps you don’t use, keep the ones that are actually valuable
    Try and reflect: Which social media app is your favorite? Which is the one that provides you with the most genuine human interaction? Which one just makes you feel like a worthless ugly loser who has not achieved anything from their life? Delete the negative one, keep one or two apps that help you stay in touch with those far away. 

  3. Unfollow people and pages
    Go through the list of pages/people you like/follow/are „friends“ with and delete those that are no genuine friends. That one person you met at the party of a friend once, who you’ve never seen again, do you really need to watch all their stories? That one model who’s constantly on yet another beach, in another bikini, eating an açai bowl, what does she really add to your life? 

  4. See more people in real life
    Instead of keeping a snap streak or constantly replying to each other's insta posts, maybe try and actually meet in real life more often. Maybe surprise yourself and actually (video) call a friend instead of sending a WhatsApp message. I know it’s hard in times of corona, but organize (virtual) Game Nights, sit in cafes, go for (social distanced) strolls in the park, or try a new sport together using the super affordable Groningen Student Sport Organisation ACLO.

  5. Get a life, äähh hobby
    The more occupied you are, the less likely you are to fall back into the old habits. Once you consciously reduce your screen time, you will be surprised by how much free time you’ve had all along. Use that free time to learn a new skill, try a new sport, try your creative writing skills by writing an article for slash, improve your cooking skills so that on your next tinder date you can cook something that isn’t pasta for your bae. 

  6. Try mindfulness meditation
    The next time you are waiting somewhere, instead of hitting up Facebook, try and take in your current existence: What do you see, hear and feel? How does your body feel right now, any pain or discomfort? How are you breathing, quick and shallow, or deep and slow? What are you grateful for today? 

  7. Put your phone on airplane mode or leave it at home
    If you know you will be meeting a friend somewhere or just going to the Albert Heijn, try and leave your phone at home. If you are with people, in class, or at the gym, put your phone on Airplane Mode to be less distracted.

Social Media and smartphones are very recent phenomena and few studies have been done to find the implications of gadgets on our lives. While I don’t deny they have a lot of benefits, I do think we need to be more aware of the amount of control they possess over us. You don’t need to smash your phones and move to a cottage in the forest, which there isn’t a lot of here anyway, just be a bit more mindful of your usage, what you interact with, and whether the hours you give to those apps is time well spent.

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