Rosh Hashana resolution: breaking my Facebook addiction

by Brian on September 29, 2017

in In the News,Mindfulness,Technology

The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur presents an opportunity to reflect on how the last year went and what we could do better in the year to come.

In that spirit, I need to come clean: I’ve got an addiction problem … to social media.

Sure, we all are hooked on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to a certain extent. But lately I’ve seen the other – some might say the darker – side of Facebook, and my obsession with the platform has grown increasingly unhealthy.

If this is the time of year to make a New Year’s resolution, then my soul is calling out for an intervention.

I have long been a frequent Facebook sharer and I’ve accepted that the dopamine hit of excitement I feel whenever someone “likes” one of my posts is just a part of being a digital citizen of the 21st century.

But in the last few months, I’ve been using social media in a new way: to publicize my recently launched book.

The problem is that, once Facebook knows you have something you want to sell, it comes at you doggedly with offers, suggestions, nudges and analyses. And in my experience so far, Facebook has proven to be very good at extracting both my time and my money.

This is not to say that Facebook is doing anything wrong. It’s a business and this is how you support a platform that has some 2 billion members: by selling advertising.

It starts when you open a business page. Facebook helpfully “suggests” what it calculates would be your best strategy.

Would you like to “boost” a post that you’ve written? “For just $5, your post could be seen by up to 2,000 more people.”

Wow, all that exposure, you think. I can afford $5.

But Facebook is as rapacious as it is relentless. After the post goes out, the site tells you how well it did, and assembles strikingly detailed demographics of just who saw it – where, when and for how long.

And then: Would you like to do another? And another? Each time the suggested price and duration seems to rise just a bit.

I dutifully followed the bait. And it seemed to be working. My page was being liked and shared; people were buying the book. But personally, it was taking a toll.

I was sleeping even less than I normally do. I was constantly looking at my phone, heart pounding, checking how well my ads were doing.

It was just at this moment that Manoush Zomorodi’s new book, Bored and Brilliant, was released.

Zomorodi, host of the popular podcast “Note to Self,” proposes that we have lost the capacity to be bored. We are never without our mobile devices with which we fill our every spare second with something to read, watch or listen to. But it’s during the moments when we are bored that our most profound thoughts come to us.

Now, my issue isn’t boredom. But Zomorodi’s 7-step program for breaking our tech additions might help me, too, I figured.

One point spoke to me in particular: Take a “fakecation,” she says. That’s where you go incognito for a certain period of time – maybe a day, maybe only an hour – while not actually going out of town.

Now, the Jewish people have a weekly “fakecation” day: it’s called Shabbat. And last week, it was Rosh Hashana – essentially a triple length Sabbath.

For the observant, turning off the computer on Shabbat and holidays is a given. For someone less pious like me, it meant I’d need to voluntarily decouple from social media.

Could I do it?

I was OK for the first part of the holiday. I’d reach into my pocket to take out my phone – but it wasn’t there. I gazed longingly in the direction of my office computer while remaining steadfast, sitting on the couch reading The Jerusalem Post in – gasp – print.

But by evening, I began to falter. I’d sneak a peek at a screen – surreptitiously in some cases, with guilty deliberateness in others. By the second day of Rosh Hashana, I’d given up entirely and was checking like it was a regular weekday.

But where willpower waned, Facebook prevailed.

The social network had helpfully suggested that I “invite” my friends to like my new page for the book. So I started clicking. At a rate of one invite per second, I should be able to get through everyone on my list in under an hour.

And in came the responses. “Great job.” “How exciting.” Multiple thumbs up.

And then a message I hadn’t expected.

“It looks like you were misusing this feature by going too fast,” Facebook informed me. “You’ve been temporarily blocked from using it. Blocks can last a few hours or a few days. We can’t lift this block for any reason.”

Facebook had done a better job at booting me off social media than Jewish Law.

“Your phone is like a baby,” Zomorodi says. Sweet and yet also incredibly time-consuming. “They want your attention all the time and the minute you leave them alone, they squawk and yell and drive you absolutely bananas.”

My baby, apparently, had decided to take a nap right then and there. I had no choice but to accept it.

And that, ironically, is how I made my High Holiday resolution come true. Will it last? Probably not. But for a few hours I had a happy, Facebook-free New Year.

I first wrote about Facebook addictions in The Jerusalem Post.

Here’s my first article about Note to Self’s Bored and Brilliant program from 2015.

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