Joanna Cannon’s top 5 reads of 2019

Joanna Cannon, author of Breaking and Mending has written a blog for Waterstones with her top 5 reads of 2019; and she’s only bloody picked Bird Therapy as one of them! I’m proper buzzing.

She says this kind and clever yellow book is filled with practical advice, as well as Joe’s own story. A perfect example of how the smallest things can make the biggest difference.

Antisocial media – the warning signs of an addiction

One of the topics I write about that isn’t directly related to birds, is my long-standing and largely one-sided battle with social media use. On November 28th I finally decided to permanently stop using twitter. This (seemingly) ominous conclusion has been festering away in my brain and eroding my mental health, for the best part of 2 years. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve proclaimed that I’m taking a break, deactivating my account or in an attention-seeking, pathetic way, have threatened it like I have a right to expect people to care.

In the many blogs I’ve written about this, a number of observations and theories have arisen, the majority of which have been resonant with my own behaviour on Twitter and the behaviour of some of the people I followed. I’ve written about some of these: vanity metrics, dopamine hits and ludic loops, for example – and I’ve reflected on how I became so obsessed with my social media profile that, ultimately, I was taking less care of the real me.

Taking a step back, I could see that social media was starting to take over my life yet again and although it has been incredibly difficult to fight the mental urges to log back in, every time I overcome that neural force, I feel like I’m a step closer to being me again. I’d been sucked into a cycle of shameless, egotistical self-promotion; and in truth, felt like I had to keep doing it. What I really needed to do though, was stop.

So I’ve done just that and I thought it would be useful to collate some of the behaviours I observed in myself, which when combined, are warning signs of an unhealthy relationship with social media. These are also some of the elements that feed its addictive nature, as per my previous posts on the subject. They are also the things that I still observe people doing on social media, as still look at what’s going on, but from afar, as being a nobody sure feels better than trying to be somebody you’re not. Here are my notes:

  • Posting something on social media and not attaining the levels of interactions through likes, retweets and comments, that you think it should; then either deleting it completely or deleting it posting it again. This would seem to mainly be for the dopamine hit and feelings of acceptance that mass interaction can bring.
  • Retweeting your own tweets because you feel they haven’t had enough of the above. I called this ‘recycling’ a tweet. Also, repackaging an old, popular post of your own, to garner attention and interaction.I was so guilty of doing this and I see many others do it too.
  • Feeling like you have an obligation to respond to everyone that tweets you. I used to set time aside to do this, which in itself is quite absurd. A lot of ‘famous’ people employ others to do this for them, or simply they just don’t respond.
  • Being out somewhere, seeing something aesthetically pleasing or interesting, and thinking oh that would make a good Instagram post or that would get a load of likes on twitter. By doing this, we are disconnecting from wonder and beauty.
  • Checking social media when you wake up in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, when you find yourself on your own in an ad break or meal, on the toilet – basically anywhere and all the time.
  • Taking and proclaiming you’re taking a twitter ‘break’ – then returning after a few days or weeks, because you feel ‘ok about it’ again, when actually it’s an addiction you need to feed.
  • Thinking that your twitter friends really do care about you. I’m sure many, many do. However, I had over 15,000 followers and since I came off there last week, no-one has checked in to see if I’m ok. I could’ve taken my own life – the signs were there – but literally nobody has checked. I was once told that my book was only ‘popular’ because of celebrity endorsement. I can tell you now that these people are not my friends. I’ve not heard from any of them. I probably won’t.
  • Spending time editing and editing to try to compose the perfect tweet. What you have to say ALWAYS has value, no matter how you package it up.
  • Knowing that ‘insert something’ day is coming up and then planning posts for attention even though, invariably, that ‘something’ has nothing to do with you at all.
  • When you’re going on social media just to look at your own notifications, likes, retweets and interactions; and not really paying attention to other people. Taking the ‘social’ out of ‘social media’
  • When you change your profile picture a lot as you’re never quite happy with it.
  • When you think you know the ‘peak times’ to post content, forgetting that on the other end of every @ is another human with their own life to live.

Obviously this list is far from exhaustive, but if you come across this blog and few you can relate to a few of the things I observed in myself, please consider whether your engagement with social media is good for you or not. The irony is that I can’t share this on social media, so it will only reach a few people 🤣

The vicious cycle of the vanity metric

I’ve been reading more and more about social media and it’s impact on wellbeing. The more I read, the more I recognise traits and behaviours in myself and in others that are unhealthy (to say the least) and the more my desire grows to investigate and share my reading with you. This week, the topic I’ve been researching is ‘self-esteem and social media’ and those of you that have been following my posts about my issues with Twitter will know that this is an area I’ve been struggling with.

Self esteem is our perception of who we are and we can only have high self esteem when we consolidate this in our own minds. A lot of this stems from the feedback we receive from others – simply – the more we feel accepted by others, the more positive our self-perception is likely to be and thus, the better we feel about ourselves. Positive feedback and interactions from others, (or ‘social rewards’) trigger dopamine production – a neurotransmitter that stimulates and motivates reward-based actions and also makes us feel good. So it’s easy to see how we can get stuck striving for impossible attainments, socially.

The other problem is that social media is skewed, by us and by its makers, to only present a sugar-coated, rose-tinted representation of life. We share ‘peak’ experiences, making social media a highlights showreel of amazing and often unattainable things. Basically, in constructing this perfect vision of the world we want people to see us living in, we often choreograph our posts (in some cases, obsessively) to ensure we get the most social reward from them. Therefore, we alter the way we are behaving in reality to create an unreality of ourselves – another version for social media, if you like.

Social rewards on social media take the form of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. People like what we post and want to share it with others, this validates our self-esteem, dopamine is released, we feel good and the cycle starts again. These are called ‘vanity metrics’ and yes, they may make us feel good, but researchers and analysts know they don’t actually mean or measure anything. We place value on what is essentially a false economy – it’s fascinating behaviour.

Naturally, we begin to compare ourselves with others and this can make us feel like we are inadequate. Social comparison theory was founded in the 50’s by Leon Festinger and is so relevant to social media use now. It states that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against other people. Through social media – with its filters and hyper-connectivity – we can end up comparing all aspects of our lives – achievements, holidays, experiences etc, but we also compare how people ‘rate’ what we share; through their interactions with it and so begins a vicious cycle.

Subsequently, we then try harder to fashion more interesting ‘content’ and in a quest for social rewards we can sometimes create what is almost a doubly false reality and narrative for ourselves. How to break this? Well, I’m currently reevaluating my sense of self. I’d been looking at the Bird Therapy twitter through an account I made especially to check it. On Monday 16th at 6am, I looked for the last time. I stopped looking at the accounts that I constantly compare myself too and I’ve stuck to it. I already feel a million times better about pretty much everything. It’s crazy how much of an effect the striving for social rewards and acceptance can have on your wellbeing. As I reframe these expectations and desires, I can appreciate my own achievements for what they mean to me and not what other people think about them. That feels seriously good. From ludic loops to vanity metrics – I’m getting there!

Breaking the ludic loop – the reframing of a relationship

I’m finally starting to make positive breakthroughs in my perceptions and behaviours related to my social media use. Longtime followers will know that I’ve been struggling with this for years now and I’ve been working on reframing my relationship with it a lot more intensively in recent months. If you haven’t read any of my previous reflections then I’ll summarise here. I battle with a heady mix of ‘delusions of grandeur’ and ‘imposter syndrome’, which essentially means that I often think I’m more important than I am but then flip into the complete opposite mindset – that I’m worthless.

I know that these are both symptomatic of the other mental health issues I grapple with, and what is usually required is a detox from the online world so I can reengage with the real one. This is what I’m doing at the moment. It also leads to a deep resentment and jealousy of successful and popular people – which again, works in tandem with both of the above ‘heady mixes’ – bringing anxiety, self-loathing and worthlessness into the mix, which then becomes a desire to gain attention again. It’s a fascinating process and being able to self-reflect and deconstruct it is something I find both cathartic and petrifying.

The progress I’ve noted this week is that on two occasions, I’ve wanted to send a tweet to Chris from T4N who kindly looks after my twitter account. Instead of sending it to him, I’ve text him and discussed the urge to post for attention. The next step will be to address the behaviour that leads to the compulsion, which is obsessively checking certain peoples accounts and comparing myself to them. A lot of this comes down to ‘getting a grip’ and focusing on what matters – my daughter, family and my career but I lose sight of this and talking to Chris about what’s happening has been incredibly helpful.

Negative social media use, whilst still just a proposed psychological disorder, is in my opinion, very real. I’ve been reading about ‘ludic loops’ – a tactic employed by the gambling industry and also by social media site designers. They apply to addictive experiences and are described as this lulled state of tranquility where you just keep doing the thing over and over again. In gambling, it’s the repeated act win or no win, in social media it can be the act of scrolling, of posting, of obsessing over likes and shares or simply just checking our phone/app. In-fact, I’ve written before about it taking a few days for my finger to stop residually trying to press the Twitter app button when I remove it from my phone. Supposedly, these algorithmic designs give us just enough taste of a reward to continue with the behaviour. Over-and-over.

It’s scary. It’s a nightmare, but it’s really interesting too and I hope that as I continue reading, researching and thus, addressing these issues, I’ll reframe my relationship enough to be content. We will see.