Motherhood & Family

Reclaiming My Brain & The Pull of Social Media

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I had a Sherlock Holmes moment a few years ago that captures the foggy haze of the mind on momma hormones and sleep deprivation. I was standing in the kitchen, and as I swooped my arm downward, forgot what I was doing. Without stopping mid-motion, I looked at my hand, saw a mug, figured “Ah, I must have been getting a drink!” and proceeded to smoothly finish my task. Any onlooker would not have noticed my mental lapse and I impressed myself at my powers of deduction.

Mommy brain is a real thing, friends. A combination of lack of sleep, increased demands, and brain-altering hormones from past pregnancies, force my mind to run on low power mode all day. In other words, I can push through, but functionality is significantly decreased.

As a mom, I am constantly making assessments about the best use of resources: money, space, time, energy (physical, emotional, mental), and attention. So with a brain that often feels like mush, I’ve been learning that just as I get choosy about what apps I use when my battery is at 2%, I need to be strategic about how I use the limited resource that is my mind. I’ve discovered, for example, that I only have about a 2 hour window each day where I can think clearly enough to write, that at a certain point trying to read is futile, and that I think more rationally when I’ve had a good breakfast. And I’ve realized that I need to get serious about my use of social media.

Many people talk about social media use in terms of time, but as my family has grown, I have become increasingly convinced of my need to reassess how I use social media not primarily because of how I’m wasting my time (though that matters too), but how I use my mind and heart.

A Mini-Series

I know I’m not the only one who has a love-hate relationship with social media– sometimes really wanting to delete my accounts and go off the (social media) grid, other times sucked again into the vortex that is Facebook. So I’m starting a three-post series for those who’ve also found themselves wondering about how to manage their relationships with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like.

I’ll walk through three questions I’ve been finding it helpful to think through regarding social media. I’ve chosen to write them in separate posts to keep them short and to make it easier for self-reflection. And whether you can relate to mommy brain or not, you’re invited to join me in considering your use social media. Maybe you’ve got it figured out and this would be an encouragement for you. If you’re like me and still working through this, I hope these posts would serve to challenge and help you in the right direction.

Coming along? Here goes! Question one for us today: What’s the pull?

The Why Behind The What

As people, there are always reasons behind our actions– a “why” behind the “what” we  do. We never do things “just because.” We make decisions out of our hearts and wills, and they always say something about our desires, hopes, wants, needs, beliefs, and anxieties.  Social media is no exception.

It is part of human nature to want to share things about our lives with others. God made us for communion with him and other people, so it makes sense we’d want to let people know about the things we’re happy, sad, excited, or angry about. Social media taps into that, giving us all a way to instantly broadcast our thoughts to our friends and networks. We get a chance to receive feedback on what we share in the forms of hearts, thumbs ups, comments and retweets. And we connect with others by reading and responding to what they share. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

There are plenty of ways social media can be used to enrich our lives, so I’ll say from the get-go I’m not yearning for pre-internet days. I myself have been helped by content shared via and the interactions I’ve had on social media. I’ve laughed at my share of fun videos and cried and prayed through heartbreaking status updates. I love that I can gush over my friends’ children and have them do the same over mine. I know one older woman who prays for people who show up on her Facebook feed.

But if we were only drawn to social media for the good it does for us and others, why is it so many of us spend more time on it than we’d want to admit? There has to be something else in the mix here.

Before getting a handle on our use of social media via self-imposed boundaries or time-limiting apps (apps to control our use of other apps!), we need to understand not only what is good about social media, but what in particular is drawing us to use it as often as we do.

The reasons are vast and vary for each person, so it’s important to know what it is in particular that is drawing me. For me, there can be good reasons I’m signing into social media, like wanting to share a resource I know will be helpful to others or staying connected to friends who are far from me. But more often than not, when I’m signing into Facebook, I’m being pulled by something else and I’m not even aware of it.

My Personal Slot Machine

One analogy that has shed light on the appeal of social media for me is social media as a slot machine. One former Google employee spoke about the pull of our apps as powerful psychological conditioning by variable rewards, and it makes so much sense. (Especially to me since I studied psychology and learned all about B.F. Skinner, variable ratio, and operant conditioning!)

Here’s an excerpt of the article:

The most seductive design, Harris explains, exploits the same psychological susceptibility that makes gambling so compulsive: variable rewards. When we tap those apps with red icons, we don’t know whether we’ll discover an interesting email, an avalanche of “likes”, or nothing at all. It is the possibility of disappointment that makes it so compulsive.

It’s this that explains how the pull-to-refresh mechanism, whereby users swipe down, pause and wait to see what content appears, rapidly became one of the most addictive and ubiquitous design features in modern technology. “Each time you’re swiping down, it’s like a slot machine,” Harris says. “You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.”

(Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia)

With social media, it’s the possibility (or promise) of reading something interesting, receiving comments and “likes” (described in the article as “’bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’ that can be as hollow as they are seductive”), or catching up on important relational news that draws us back again and again. Often (and probably more often than not), we don’t find anything– but it’s the varied, scattered times we do that keep us pulling on our personal slot machines. There’s a bit of hope mingled in here, and I think the varied results coupled with the furious pace of ever changing content causes many of us to carry an unverbalized fear that we’re missing out on something (a possible reward) if we’re not up-to-date with what’s happening on our social media networks.

So for me, I’d say, a bit of interest in what other people are posting plus the possibility of positive interactions (whether feedback about my shared posts, hearts on my photos, or responses to my comments) keeps me checking in.

For Your Consideration

For you, it could be something else. You may be on social media wanting to be kept in the loop (plus FOMO) or looking to connect with friends. Or the nature of your job might require you to be on social media. It may be your entertainment or your platform. Your social media use can be born out of love (staying connected), boredom (entertainment), anger (airing grievances), escapism (zoning out), or more.

If you’re like me, your social media use is driven by a host of desires with a few major ones leading the pack. These reasons are not necessarily all good or all bad, but identifying the pull and promise social media holds out for you is important.

Why do you find yourself on social media? What are you looking for when you tap that app? Are you lured in by the possibility of being liked, favorited, commented on? For the feeling of being in the know? Curiosity? Care? Pride? Fear? Homesickness? Discontent? Joy? Boredom? Habit?

We need to know why we’re doing what we’re doing before evaluating whether we need to tweak what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We need to know the promised and actual rewards of social media before we go on to examine the costs.  So whatever your reasons, here’s the first question I offer for your reflection today on our road toward a wise, intentional use of social media: Why do I use social media as much as I do?

(Next up: What’s the cost?)

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