I have been reflecting critically on my social media use. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is reach for my phone and feverishly scroll through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I was pulled into compulsion loops fueled by a dopamine high every time I got notifications. Regardless of increased frequency of these dopamine hits, I was feeling the cognitive consequences of social media overuse: a pervasive hum of anxiety and a looming sense of emptiness.
I decided to do some research. I learned that dopamine plays an integral role in memory, attention, mood, cognition, and sleep. Social media was manipulating the wiring of my brain, ultimately interfering with longterm goals. Maybe I want a relationship, a meaningful career, satisfaction with my art, to travel... None of these things are achieved through the hours I spent scrolling, dopamine receptors afire. My life seemed to be standing still, time was passing, and my comprehension of my own emotions were blinded by blue light.
I dove into a 5 day social media detox in the name of self care. I'm not talking about bath bombs or retail therapy, but self care in the form of intentional time use. I took to care for myself mentally and physically in order to prime myself to have the capacity to tend to other things I truly care about. I cut out social media and for the most part, I was successful.
Specifically, I cut out Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Spotify. Yes, even Spotify has a way of manipulating via easy picking, on demand music that doesn’t require attention or critical listening. It's too easy to slap on some pre-made playlists generated by algorithms, made by a corporation that denies artists proper monetary compensation.
Since I care so much about music, I decided to restrict myself to Bandcamp, Resonate, and physical media like the vinyl and CDs that had been collecting dust on my shelves. I found myself listening to things I wouldn't normally take time for: longer songs, instrumentals, entire albums, and deeper cuts.
Maybe Spotify plays into that dopamine loop by playing exactly what you want to hear, delivering ear candy. However, there's something to be said about the way your favorite verse loses luster the 500th time you stream that song you love.
The truth is that social media developers use irregularly timed rewards like notifications to hook people on these apps to the same degree as certain drugs or gambling. I came to the realization that the most positive way to utilize this information was to co-opt these systems to produce beneficial effects on my life. I formed positive, intentional habits that also produced a rush of dopamine when completed.
I found that I had clearer ideas, improved creativity, and more emotional awareness. I was falling back in love with music, writing, and photography. I also felt liberated from having to broadcast my activities to my "followers." I woke up in the morning and instead of reaching for my phone for an hour of scrolling, I would fire up an album on Bandcamp and go on a hike, delve into a project I'd been meaning to work on, or simply read and write.
I took this opportunity to reacquaint myself with the hiking spots in my neighborhood. If I know anything about myself, it's that hiking is essential to my mental health and that I had been ignoring that fact. Nature is humbling, grounding, and a way for me to get in touch with reality in times (like recently) where I am working 7 days a week. With all the time I saved from cutting out scrolling, I finally got outside. Luckily, with a trail head located as near as a block away, Mission Trails welcomed me with open arms as she always has.
Again, the best part of most of these hikes was that I didn't feel obligated to take out my phone and share it. It became a sacred space and time for me to heal. My Instagram persona, though rooted in natural scenery, isn't real. It's highly curated and formulaic, and I'll admit that this stems from my desire for dopamine via likes, comments, and follows. I'll also admit that I've become more apt to playing with manipulation on social media. This comes naturally in my field of filmmaking, photography, sound design, and content creation in general. It’s my job to project an ideal, to configure sound, image, light and color to manipulate perception.
I asked myself: how do I repurpose that manipulation for positive purposes? Like I talk about in my "about me" section of this website: I believe that before one can get the general public to truly care about an issue, their interest must be piqued and a desire to care ignited. I’d like to get to a point in my career where my work may embody this philosophy. For now, I'm simply learning the ins and outs of my mediums and trying to find a foothold for activism. Please excuse the timer camera beach selfies for the time being.
If irregularly timed rewards are what get people hooked on gambling and social media, why not natural wonders? Exploring new places can fuel this desire, whether it be an interesting plant, rare animal, or simply a view that takes your breath away. During this five day hiking streak, I came across coyotes on the trail for the first time in my life. Coyotes aren't necessarily dangerous and rarely bite humans. Therefore I was more struck with awe than with fear when I came upon a pack of three in the early morning. I felt lucky, as this is a sight few come across. They glanced my way briefly as if to wish me good day, then scampered about their business down the hillside.
Other instances like this have sprinkled my life with moments in which I felt Earth was giving me a gift. From the time my family and I saw wild bears at Lake George in Mammoth to the time I found a glittering slice of abalone at my feet one beachy Valentine's day. It's moments like these that flood my mind with more good feeling chemicals than any form of electronic manipulation could ever produce. It's hard to remember that when I've been glued to a screen for so long. I expect something from my screen and waste hours waiting for that thing, whatever it may be. Perhaps this expectation is a flaw in human character and a seed of heartache. Unexpected joys should be celebrated, but not demanded.
What I know: social media has it's positive sides too, and for that I could never totally cut it out. It's just about finding a balance. Beauty and happiness are found in a certain state of mind, fresh air and good company are better than any drug, and I will never cease to love this planet.
Nature and the unparalleled beauty of landscapes, unknown and untamed. Woven into the fabric of what we witness, there is a connection through what is unspoken yet completely real and tangible to anything alive. The pure love and joy found in simple existence. Breathe in and breathe out a cycle of energy. Exchange, cooperation, collaboration, mutuality. Remember: life is a flow of love and Earth is technically a closed system ~ tread lightly.
Next: I'll be traveling around the Pacific Northwest early this September.
Here is a link to my Bandcamp profile.
Dopamine playlist: bit.ly/StrangeDopamine
What Fiction Is For - DYAN, Action/ Adventure - Andrew Bird, Drive - Lost Girls, Stargazer - Nap Eyes, We Used to Wait - Arcade Fire, Sun Beholds Me - Hand Habits, Vacation - Sobs, My Little Wish - toe, Digital Witness - St. Vincent, High Writer at Home - Lilys, Solitary Daughter - Bedouine, Generation Why - Weyes Blood.