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Unplugging From The Drug: The Case Against Social Media Apps

“Captology.”

That’s a word that was created by behavioral scientist BJ Fogg. He uses it to describe the ways in which technology companies manipulate, persuade, and influence their users.

Captology is a good word. It’s the science of keeping people captive. That’s the goal of companies like FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube. They want you on their platform for as long as possible.

The bad news is that their plan is working. Millions of users are held captive every day and don’t even know it. You see it on the road when someone drives past you with one hand on the wheel, one hand on their phone, one eye on a screen, and, hopefully, one eye on the road. You see it in movie theaters where more and more people can’t make it through a two hour big screen diversion without checking the small screen diversion in their pocket. And you likely see it in your own home. We really are a captive audience.

Here’s the good news. You don’t have to be a prisoner to the tech companies. You hold the key. You can make your escape anytime you want. And that’s exactly what more and more people are trying to do.

But there’s a problem with the escape plan. Many people are waiting for developers to come up with new apps that make social media platforms less invasive, addictive, and creepy. While this is noble work, it’s a job that we shouldn’t wait to be completed before making our move. Remember, these companies rely on getting you hooked. We shouldn’t expect them to walk away from this business plan anymore than we should expect the local drug dealer to start selling diet meth.

Your escape is up to you. It’s up to you whether or not your phone will be a drug or just a device. You don’t need a new app to be developed for your rescue. You need wisdom and discipline. You need to take action. Here are three things you can do that will lead you to freedom and away from captivity.

1.) Take social media apps off of your phone.

Two generations ago, people lived with the fear of nuclear war. Just under one generation ago, it was the fear of a terrorist attack. Now, it’s the fear of missing out that has us in hysterics.

When you take social media apps off of your phone, you will miss out. You’ll miss out on extra stress. You’ll miss out on the need to take a picture of something great instead of just enjoying something great. You’ll miss out on the social media spat that gets everyone on edge before they even get out of bed. You’ll miss out on the latest, breaking news.

And you’ll be better for it. If the news is real important, it will still be important the next time you turn on your computer.

2.) At least one day a week, take a break from social media.

This will help you to see everything you’re missing. The look on your grandkid’s face while he’s playing with Legos. That feeling of accomplishment when you finish a book. A nap. That red light.

This might be difficult for you at first but if you stick with it, what someone liked, posted, or shared will matter less and less to you.

3.) If you have kids, keep an eye on them.

If you have small children keep them off of social media. If you have pre-teens, keep them off of social media too. My suggestion is that you not allow your kids to have their own social media accounts until they are sixteen years old. To some, this will seem a bit too harsh. But just consider the impact apps like Instagram are having on young girls. In their excellent book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt note that the rise in cases of anxiety and depression among teens and young adults directly coincides with increased accessibility to apps such as Instagram. By 2016, they report that, “one out of every five girls reported symptoms that met the criteria for having experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year.” Simply put, girls live with enough pressure from trying to live up to the filtered images in movies and on television. Add the filtered images of their “perfect” friends on Instagram and you have the makings of a mental health crisis.

Once your kids are on social media, keep a sharp eye on what they’re doing. This isn’t snooping. It’s loving. And you don’t have to hide this. Make them very aware that their account is your account. Again, this might seem restrictive. In reality, it’s far less restrictive than the pressures they will have to endure from hours of unregulated access.

Sean Parker was the first president of Facebook. He once said in an interview that their basic business plan was, “Exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” He added, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains” (The Coddling of the American Mind, Lukianoff and Haidt, 147).

It’s not just our brains. It’s our relationships. And it’s not just our children. Adults are just as susceptible.

Captology is a good word to describe our phones and the apps on them.

But it doesn’t have to be a word that describes you.

You can be free from captivity.

All it takes is a little discipline.



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