The Social Dilemma Dilemma

Last Sunday, Burke had won TV rights and so I was cleaning the bathroom while grumbling. When Burke has the TV, it usually means true crime or 90 Day Fiancée. History has shown that while I grumble about these shows, if I end up in front of the TV, I will instantly get involved. Who’s that? Wait, he’s with her? Oh, she’s a bi-atch. That guy has no neck!

I understand that this makes me something of a goldfish, but it is what it is.

On Sunday I made the mistake of walking in the room while Burke watched a docudrama called The Social Dilemma. Wait, who’s that? I asked. And it was over.

The brief: The Social Dilemma is about just how bad social media is for our mental health, for our productivity, and how extraordinarily addictive it is. Additionally, it points out how disturbingly intelligent the apps work to get you on the site and to stay on the site. It further went into how social media tailors information just for us and that it’s enormously manipulative. It was disturbing.

So disturbing that I had Burke pause it so I could get popcorn.

I related to every single point they made. Not since I fudged my answers to an Are you an Alcoholic? questionnaire in college have I been this freaked out. (NB: it didn’t matter. Are You an Alcoholic? 20 questions. If you answered 1 yes, you were an alcoholic. I didn’t help that the questionnaire made me feel a definite need to have a drink).

While I related to every aspect, there were two things that stood out to me.

First, whenever a task became the slightest bit difficult, the scrolling and capturing information of social media was right there waiting to offer me solace. This beats productivity and deep and critical thinking to death with a virtual shovel. In a two-virtual-birds-two-virtual-stones manner, it also creates a pattern of behavior – task gets hard, Momma Facebook is there to comfort.  

Second, there’s the perspective-warping memes and information. Let’s just label this under left and right leaning tendencies. The film asserts that no matter what camp you are in, you are fed information and memes that either confirm your bias and often points the blame at the other side. And the people you see on Facebook all seem to agree with you. The social psychologists and scientists demonstrate that this is why we can’t understand how the other side could possibly disagree with these facts. It is, of course, why the other side thinks the exact same thing about our side.

So, what to do?

Well, first I had a drink (box number 2!).

Possibly the best thing I’ve ever done for my productivity was to put myself on a strict system of time blocks for writing. The system is based on one called the pomodoro technique and it’s simple and ingenious for productivity. It involves setting out clear time blocks specifically for a task. You can do no other task (or anything) in that block. The idea is that you work on the task through enough time blocks until you complete the task, at which time you move on to the next task. The blocks are 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break (this can be modified). The idea behind the pomodoro system is to do 4 25-minute blocks, after which you take a 30-minute break. The overall goal is 10 25-minute blocks every day, which would mean just over 4 hours of focused internet-less, distraction-free work.   

So, my daily writing consists on work on a novel and sometimes smaller writing tasks, like articles for the magazine, blog posts, or a coursebook text. Since I am not going to finish my novel in a sitting, I specifically set time blocks for it and my other tasks that I need to do.

For example:

6-7 novel

7:05-7:50 novel

7:55-8:40 novel

8:45-9:20 article

It doesn’t matter how you break it up, what matters is that you work on a task until completion (or deciding to move to the next task) and that during the time blocks you are not allowed to look at your phone, Facebook, CNN or Fox News, or even Wikipedia. If you realize you need to do something or call someone in the middle of a time block, you should jot a note on a handy pad and deal with it during your 5-minute break.

I implemented this system about two months ago and it’s been a game changer. Because I fell directly into that category of ‘meet the tiniest obstacle in your work and go see what the same folks are you up to on Facebook.’ It was such a hard habit to break. I wasn’t getting into the deep work we need to do in order to turn out our best. And it was enormously frustrating to have very little to show for a morning of ‘work’ with the knowledge that it was my fault. Usually. Sometimes it was the cat.  

Now I accomplish at least 2-3 hours of focused work every morning. I have felt my creativity gain a foothold as well. If I run into an obstacle now, instead of going to Facebook, I figure out how to deal with the obstacle. Things are accomplished. The story moves forward. I can’t say enough about the benefits of this system.

The second issue – perspective warping and manipulation – is harder to deal with. On Facebook I view probably 20-30 memes a day, almost all of which point to flaws in conservative thinking. And I find myself agreeing with them fully and getting fired up with hatred for the conservatives. By the end of the day I’m ready to tie a conservative to an anthill and smother his jolly bits in honey.

However, I have also noted that my conservative friends say the exact same things about Democrats that we say about Republicans. I mean, to the word. They’re dangerous for democracy. They’re hypocrites. They hate democracy. How can they be so hypocritical? To. The. Word. It’s not only as if social media is trying to divide us, it’s as if that is its purpose.  

So, perhaps I’ll put away my honey and my anthill for the time being.

What to do?

I deleted Reddit and Facebook from my phone. My phone because that’s the device that is most likely to be slipped out of my pocket and used as a space filler in any given day. It’s a baby step, but formidable opponents such as these aren’t defeated in a day. I can’t recommend The Social Dilemma more. It’s eye-opening and terrifying and it might just help.

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