A New Walden…or a Life in the Woods…Free from Social Media

“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up” Page 389

“Chanticleer Gives a Wake Up” by Nan Lehnert

About a month ago, I read a story about a woman who decided to take a break from social media for the Winter Solstice.  While it sounded like a terrific idea, I believe she lasted less than two weeks. Now, I have friends who’ve given up Facebook for Lent — but, a winter break — a hibernation from social media? Ha! That sounded not only supremely symbolic, but the perfect amount of time to retrain the brain. After all, winter is the time to let things die on the vine…right?

Reflecting upon my days spent mindlessly checking tweets, status updates, and pictures, I came to the realization that not only was my brain mush, but my relationships shared an equal consistency. I’d wasted hours with my face in a zombie-like stare, parallel to the screen, reading meaningless posts, political rants, watching vapid videos, and perusing pictures of other peoples’ food. What was it doing for me? Were my relationships any more authentic through social media? Was I taking care of my soul? Was I truly living?

But, wait!  Could I safely jump off the social media treadmill? Would life be meaningful if I didn’t post what I was doing, where I was, or what I was eating? If it wasn’t a status on Facebook…did it really happen?

I mean, seriously — I’d forgotten what it was like to eat a meal without mindlessly snapping and posting a photo of the dish. Everywhere I went, I made sure to “check in.” I even began to think in statuses — rephrasing my thoughts into something that might generate a “like” or a “comment,” whether or not I even posted. But why? How is this the new normal?

Insert a thumbs down…no likey…hashtag blah blah blah.

So…I gave myself and my friends a warning, “I”m going into a self-imposed hibernation from social media from the start of Winter Solstice through the start of the Spring Equinox.”

“WHY?!” some friends begged to know. “Why not just take off Sundays?” Sounded reasonable. However, from what I’d been reading about social media and its effect on the brain, a Sunday respite was not enough.  I needed a good winters rest…a self-imposed rehab for myself…a Social Media Addict.

I did some research.

In a 2012 article from Psychology Today, Sarah Weinschenk, Ph.D. discussed the findings of researchers Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson on social media and “dopamine loops”  — the reward we receive when we get email, texts, or even find information on the Internet. According to the article, the “dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.”

What freaked me the most was that brain activity increases when we are waiting or anticipating a response rather than receiving one. It’s like the thrill a gambler receives — not so much from  the end result of winning, but through the anxiety of playing the game. According to Berridge and Robinson, “Dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability.”

To add more fuel to my freak out, Berridge and Robinson found that “dopamine is most powerfully stimulated when the information coming in is small so that it doesn’t fully satisfy.” Wonder why tweets are limited to 140 characters? There’s your answer. We need more! Anything around or even smaller than the 140 characters, is simply feeding your inner dopamine-starved rat for more tasty tweets!

So how do I get off this “dopamine loop?”  How do I reconnect with my friends and family in a world filled with my other rat friends seeking their dopamine high?

That is what this blog will seek to find…along with the answer to my big questions: what could I do with the time I waste on social media? Is technology keeping me from living out my passions, being creative, and having full, meaningful relationships?

…so, like Henry David Thoreau, I’m jumping off, and I’m retreating to the woods.  When the Spring Equinox arrives, I will wake up my neighbors with my journal and experiences of this social media detox.

”Cock-A-Doodle Do!”


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