There’s some truth to the sense that social media can feel like work.
Back in the 1970s, the communication researcher Dallas Smythe said that television doesn’t sell entertainment to the audience — it sells the audience to advertisers.
Just by watching television — and posting, liking, tweeting, etc. — we “work.” As in, we do what counts as work in a capitalist society: we produce something to be sold, in this case our attention.
That’s Silicon Valley’s entire business model: capturing our attention — and information — and turning it into a commodity.
Case in point: 98 percent of Facebook’s $16.9 billion in revenue during the last three months of 2018 came from advertising. A whopping 93 percent of that came from advertising on their mobile app.
No wonder we’re glued to our phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 grey t-shirts depend on it.
That’s all to say that using social media in a mindful way is almost impossible. A multibillion-dollar industry is invested in trying to distract you in increasingly seductive ways. Hell, a whole lifestyle is — Silicon Valley is reshaping the global economy.
Yet, short of a mass of people demanding that social media be a public good operated by and for the people, not profit, you should try. You’ll feel less scattered, restless, and stressed out because of it. You’ll also have a little more time for all that makes a good life off the screen: friends, new experiences, love, music, community, politics, etc.
What does a mindful relationship to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., look like?
It’s not about deleting apps, unfollowing toxic people, knowing the sources of the news you consume, etc. — though those can be useful tactics.
It’s about being in a mindful state before you even pick up the phone.
Then, when you find yourself unconsciously scrolling Instagram, you’ll almost automatically follow the four steps of mindfulness: notice that you’re glued to the screen, accept that you’ve lost control, let go of what you’re thinking, and open up to what you’re feeling in the present moment.
These happen to be the four “muscles” in the mind strengthened by regular mindfulness meditation. When a story about the past or future sweeps your mind away, the practice is to notice, accept, let go, and open up. And then do it again and again and again.
Noticing is seeing that you’re lost in thought. Accepting is avoiding the tendency to criticize yourself for not doing meditation “right.” Letting go is releasing the story. Opening up is noticing the feelings, sounds, smells, and tastes of the present moment, right here, right now.
The more you strengthen these “muscles,” the more you’ll be able to put down the phone in the moments that need your attention. The more you’ll be able to stay engaged on date night with your wife. The more you’ll be able to fully show up for your children. The more you’ll be able to listen to the voice inside of you that you know is telling the truth—about your job, relationship, etc.
Remember, it’s not your fault you’re almost always distracted. Your attention is a commodity in capitalism. Someone is selling it to someone else, and they’re constantly fighting for more of it, even while you’re on the clock working for someone else.
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