Social media is a funny thing. Facebook feeds and Tumblr dashboards are like an endless supply of channels to surf; there’s always new entertainment, and it’s an easy way to pass huge chunks of time. But this ease of entertainment access can come at a price.
I don’t know about you, but once I start keeping up with something, I feel compelled to keep on keeping up with things. I start to worry about missing some ever-so-slight quantum of information. True, most of it is forgettable filler that won’t be remembered for more than a few seconds, but the compulsion is surprisingly strong. I’ve wasted entire days catching up on my feeds. I’ve gotten annoyed when a browser crash makes me lose my spot in an infinitely-scrolling cornucopia of information. I’ve become, in essence, trapped by my obligation to READ ALL THE THINGS.
But an interesting thing happened to me recently. One that may have made this compulsion work for me rather than against me.
Last week, as I was trying to get several projects finished before the weekend, I found myself spending less and less time at my computer. It so happened that after a while of this I had gone an entire day without checking Facebook or Tumblr. And while this isn’t that notable in and of itself, what happened next was really intriguing: I began to feel guilty about missing out on my feed.
More specifically, I started to feel that so much time had passed that I wouldn’t be able to catch up on my feeds before they overwhelmed me again. As a result, I did what has worked so well for me in the past when it comes to issues like postponed responses: I ignored it. I ended up not checking Facebook or Tumblr for days, just because I was worried about the futility of catching back up.
Luckily I’ve since had something of an epiphany: I don’t necessarily need to be caught up on anything. Just because something is there doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it. In fact, it’s likely downright impossible (and I don’t like using that word as a general rule) to read/watch/play all the books/movies/games in the world. It just can’t be done. So why should I worry that I missed an infinitesimal part of humanity’s greater cultural output? In other words: if I’m inevitably going to fail in the long run, why worry about it?
With that in mind, I dipped my toes back into Facebook. And I successfully controlled myself, scrolling for a few minutes rather than the hours (days) it would have taken me to “catch back up.” I just created a new starting point for myself. I haven’t been back to Tumblr yet, but hopefully I can achieve similar results. The Skinner Box that is social media can be broken, without throwing it away completely.