Social Media Slot Machines

The first time I took a week off Instagram was about 3-4 years ago. I had read Jen Hatmaker’s book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” and during the experiment focused on media consumption I did a week without Instagram. While I don’t remember exactly how hard or easy it was, what I do remember is the habit my fingers had formed to open the app on my phone when I got bored. I was shocked at how often my fingers scrolled to open Instagram without me even realizing what was happening.

That realization is what started my pursuit to be more aware of my social media intake. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest I don’t care about. I don’t have the apps, don’t spend time on then, and honestly don’t care what happens on there. Instagram however is my social media refuge and retreat.

Because of this, over the last 3-4 years, I’ve tried to carve out intentional ways for my phone and the apps on it to be less distracting. I’ve listed a few of them below:

  1. Turn Off Notifications
    I do not have notifications for anything on my phone except for calls and texts. No weather, calendar, email, Instagram, or any other app notifications. (I tried to remove the texting vibrate but then would go hours without checking my phone and I’d actually missed somewhat important things so I turned it back on.)
  2. Use “Downtime”
    I use the “Down Time” feature in the Settings to turn off access to apps from 9:30 PM – 5:30 AM. I can still technically “use” the app, but I have to enter a passcode and say how long I want to use it for. The hassle to even get into the app is a great reminder that I should be asleep rather than on my phone.
  3. Turn On Airplane Mode
    If I have something I need to get done or don’t want to be distracted, I turn on the “airplane mode” on the phone. It prevents incoming texts, calls, and notifications so helps me stay focused on what I’m are working on.
  4. Hide Your Phone
    In Atomic Habits, the author James Clear suggests deterring a bad habit by making it invisible. I have implemented a version of this by turning my phone off completely putting it in my kitchen cabinet (out of sight). Because I’ve made it invisible, I’m much less inclined to go grab my phone and check it than I normally would be.

A few months ago, I listened to one of Nancy Ray’s podcasts on how to be less attached to social media. In the podcast, Nancy shares a few ways app designers make the app “deliberately addictive” through the like button, infinite scroll, and pull down refresh.

Similarly, in the book “Peak Performance” by Brad Stuhlberg, the addicting pull down refresh on our devices is referenced as a “social media slot machine”.

Brad shares, “When a gambler awaits her next card at the blackjack table or pulls down the lever on the slot machine she gets a hit of the powerful neurochemical dopamine. Dopamine excites and arouses us. Under the influence of dopamine we feel revved up and alive. Unlike other neurochemicals that are released when we’ve achieved something, the far more potent dopamine is released prior to the payoff of an event. when we are longing for or desiring something deeply. In other words, we don’t becoming addicted to winning, but to the chase.”

He goes on to share that when we pull down to refresh, while we may not be waiting on cherries like in a real slot machine, we are waiting on new likes, comments, or messages to come through. And even though aren’t rewarded every time, we are rewarded enough that keeps us continuing to pull down and refresh our devices.

In the podcast, Nancy mentions author Andy Crouch and his suggestion to combat these addictive habits. In his book called “The Tech-Wise Family“, Andy shares this suggestion, “So I suggest a simple, minimal pattern of Sabbath: we chose to turn our devices off not just one day every week but also one hour (or more) every day and one week (or more) a year”.

This idea of limiting my addictive social media tendencies coupled with Sabbath rest was huge for me. I started off a few months ago by turning airplane mode on every night for an hour after work. Then I took a month off Instagram last September. I did it again for a week later that year and at the beginning of 2020, decided to really embrace Sabbath on Sundays and have completely phone free days.

Which brings us here, about 10 days into February, with no social media. Here’s what I’m finding 10 days in:

  • Contentment with what I have rather than with what I don’t
  • More reading when I’m “bored”
  • More depth to my texting conversations
  • More real Facetime dates with friends
  • More quiet. There’s a radio silence which I love.
  • More of my own ideas, less of theirs.
  • More joy.
  • And more time with Jesus.

Technology and the social media on it isn’t bad or good. It just depends on how it’s used. I try very intentionally to only follow those online that challenge me, make me think, and encourage or convict me to be more like Jesus. Even with following those types of individuals, I still need a break every now and then from the scrolling.

When I’m not filled with other people’s new ideas, I am a lot more creative. When I’m not filled with other people’s lives, I can more easily focus on what I want in mine. When I’m not focused on filling my time of boredom, I spend a lot more time in quiet reflection and rest.

If you’re considering a fast from social media, here’s your nudge. It’s always worth it. ESPECIALLY when you don’t want to. When you find yourself saying, “I’m not sure this is the right time to do it”, I would argue that that’s the exact right time. When God shared with me that I should disengage from Instagram this year, I told him April or May sounded good. He told me that I wasn’t listening. He shared through a bible reading that “delayed obedience isn’t obedience”. I asked him if he wanted February to be the month and he confirmed that was when my social media fasting would be. I didn’t want to do it then, but delayed obedience isn’t obedience. Not on my time, but His.

I share this to let you know that yes it can be hard. As much as we don’t want to admit we’re addicted and use social media for false connections, for a boost in confidence, and for boredom, we do. And we need to admit it. Then we need to do something about it.

We cannot not rely on social media for connection, or for inspiration, or for learning. There are so many other ways to connect, be inspired, and learn. They include getting outside. Reading books. Listening to music. Meditating. Inviting a friend for coffee. Facetimeing. Those are all worthwhile endeavors. Scrolling Instagram as a “cure-all” never cures a thing.

If you still aren’t sure about this social media and technology fasting concept, I’ve included a few resources below on the topic.