An Antidote to The Social Dilemma

This is a true story: Last week, after using Instagram I closed the app. Within a minute I’d opened it again. And closed it. And opened it.

This happened about four times until I came to and realised the absurdity of the situation.

Unconsciously I had opened the application again and again — a behaviour I put down to habit and the well-known addictiveness of social media.

Working in digital media and privy to the inner workings and commercial potential of social media, I limit the use of Instagram and Facebook in my personal life as much as possible.

And yet, despite intentions, here I was opening the app time and time again.

This had me thinking… 

Is social media, however problematic, simply an unavoidable part of modern life?

How did it become this way? Is there a better way?

Let’s look at why social media is problematic in the first place…

Social media is addictive by design

The social dilemma(s)

The Social Dilemma, a 2020 Netflix documentary, suggests social media use poses three major problems:

  1. The mental health dilemma which suggests higher social media use is correlated with declining mental and physical health and lower levels of life satisfaction. 
  2. The democracy dilemma whereby misinformation campaigns are proliferated to sow political unrest and divisions. 
  3. The discirmination dilemma where algorithms disseminate hateful content to amplify biases amongst impressionable audiences.

Prompted by my own experience a week earlier, I was particularly interested in the first dilemma which pertained to the role of social media in behavioural science and psychology.

The effect of social media on psychology

Psychologist Sherry Turkle, in her 2012 Ted Talk Connected, but Alone, suggests that technology, more broadly, influences not just what we do but who we are.

She suggests that our preoccupation with our phones and by extension social media promotes avoidant behaviour, and provides an opportunity to disconnect with the environment and people around us. Of course this affects the way we relate to others but also, she says, our capacity for self-reflection and connection with ourselves: ‘‘we're getting used to a new way of being alone together.’

Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world with 2.23 billion monthly active users, writes in their Newsroom, "We want Facebook to be a place for meaningful interactions with your friends and family — enhancing your relationships offline, not detracting from them."

This, however, is contrary to popular experience and the findings of leading sociologists and psychologists like Turkle.

Social media can make us feel isolated with authentic connection

In reality we no longer connect authentically but rather we use social media to connect en-masse, often performatively, and with little consciousness.

This behaviour is then reciprocated by other users and amplified by push techniques, persuasive design and an intricate feedback loop designed to keep us engaged, satisfied and returning for more.

All of which, in turn, leaves us feeling evermore isolated.

One antidote discussed in The Social Dilemma is ethical design.

What is ethical design?

Research firm Gartner ‘defines digital ethics as a system of values and moral principles for the conduct of digital interactions between businesses, people and things’.

Small but influential not-for-profit works in ethical technology and penned the 2017 Ethical Design Manifesto.

Ethical design manifesto
See the full manifesto here.

A notable line from the manifesto is:

It respects the limited time you have on this planet.

This, I believe, is really the crux of the social dilemma.

Social platforms are typically designed to be insatiable and all-consuming with their algorithms, targeting and dopamine-driven feedback loops. Their use diverts our limited time from authentic connection, self-reflection and real-life experiences.

As the dangers of social media, data use and technology are more widely understood, ethical design continues to grow in defiance. In an organisational setting, 92 percent of C-suite executives interviewed by Avanade indicate that digital ethics guidelines need to be established in order to be successful and 43 percent of business and IT leaders state they are developing new roles that focus specifically on digital ethics.

Until big business and Silicon Valley catch up how can we personally create boundaries and prioritise more authentic human relationships and experiences? How can we limit our precious time spent aimlessly using social media?

How to redefine our relationship with social media 

In her TED talk Sherry Turkle says ‘we grew up with digital technology and so we see it as all grown up. But it's not, it's early days. There's plenty of time for us to reconsider how we use it, how we build it. I'm not suggesting that we turn away from our devices, just that we develop a more self-aware relationship with them, with each other and with ourselves.’

Here are some simple steps to create boundaries and reconsider how we connect with social media…

1. Connect consciously 

In The Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz writes ‘Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.’ 

In 1997 Ruiz published this book many years before the social media stronghold, yet the sentiment is ever relevant. Social media, for all of its problems, can be a powerful and wonderful tool to connect authentically with like minded people, friends and family. 

Rather than sharing or conversing with reckless abandon, we suggest delegating set times each week (for example Wednesday evening and Saturday morning) for social media where you can read messages, consume content and respond with full attention and care. 

2. Create tech-free spaces 

Rather than falling into the trap of filling idle time with social media (like myself mindlessly opening Instagram over-and-over), become accustomed to moments without tech — expanses of time to reflect, think and take in the environment around you. 

Sherry Turkle suggests that certain places in the home or at work should be kept tech-free, “start thinking of solitude as a good thing. Make room for it. Find ways to demonstrate this as a value to your children. Create sacred spaces at home -- the kitchen, the dining room -- and reclaim them for conversation.”

3. Find the right platform for you

If you are reading this it is likely you’re a lifelong learner, high performer or interested in self-development. In which case, is Facebook or Instagram the right platform for you? 

We aren’t asking you to forgo social media all together, instead why not explore some other mindful or productive platforms where you can connect with purpose and feel enriched (not feverish for more) after time spent on the app? 

Here are some we use often…  

  • Medium — an open platform where readers find dynamic thinking, and where expert and undiscovered voices can share their writing on any topic.
  • Behance — is the world's largest creative network for showcasing and discovering creative work. 
  • LinkedIn — designed to build and engage with your professional network (in fact, we’d really love to connect with you here)
Social media can be a tool for conscious connection and authentic relationships

When we created myhaventime, our intention was to develop a mindful multimedia platform for those who seek new knowledge and have a desire to learn in their personal and professional lives without distraction or intrusion… A place for lifelong learners and high performers to use their time efficiently and intentionally to learn, ideate, create and grow.

It wasn’t until after launch that we realised myhaventime was inadvertently the antithesis of Facebook. It also echoed the philosophies of the Ethical Design manifesto. 

Unlike other social media and sharing platforms, myhaventime has no advertising and your data is 100% secure and never sold to 3rd parties. 

Our interface is also intentionally simple and calm. There are no intrusive pop ups, glaring notifications or persuasive feedback loops or algorithms to keep you hooked.

So in a world where addiction is the common objective of software design, why do myhaventime users keep coming back? 

Because unlike the relentless and isolating effects of mainstream social media, myhaventime provides a safe space where you can authentically connect and collaborate with others, think freely, pursue passions and grow our self-awareness. 

To conclude with Sherry Turkle, “now we all need to focus on the many, many ways technology can lead us back to our real lives, our own bodies, our own communities, our own politics, our own planet. They need us. Let's talk about how we can use digital technology, the technology of our dreams, to make this life the life we can love.”

We believe myhaventime does just that. 

Try our mindful multimedia platform for yourself and experience the difference in our free 30 day trial now

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