Facebook’s Outage Highlighted Our Hopeless Addiction

Everyone knows social media is bad for them. But as Vonnegut said about another favorite vice, “Beer, of course, is actually a depressant. But poor people will never stop hoping otherwise.”

Now, economic status has nothing to do with our reliance on social media outlets or our desire to ignore the fact that they’re bad for our mental well-being. I bring this up to highlight the cognitive dissonance.

A recent study found “the more you use Facebook over time, the more likely you are to experience negative physical health, negative mental health and negative life satisfaction.” Another recent news story reported that Facebook is aware of how toxic Instagram can be for teen girls.

None of this stuff is particularly shocking. And a lot has been written about how people need to get off of social media and get out into the real world. I’m 36, which doesn’t quite make me a “boomer,” but the fact that I went to bed at 8pm last night might grandfather me in (that’s a true story).

And what do me and my fellow super old people like to say about younger generations? They’re doing it all wrong. I don’t understand it so that must mean it’s bad. I don’t like change.

But a funny thing has happened with social media: old people have taken it over and made it far, far worse. I used to make really bad jokes on Facebook. It probably annoyed/irritated some people, but it didn’t bring about the end of democracy.

And then yesterday, we all pulled up our favorite harmful apps to find our feeds weren’t refreshing. There was a collective pants-shitting over the next five or so hours until we were able to again get back our puppy videos and boomerangs.

The outage was the lead story on the world news. It was reported before the massive oil spill that covered beaches in southern California, the cause of which hasn’t been found.

A couple apps went down and it was more important than a mysterious event that piled 126,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, killing huge amounts of wildlife across 13 square miles.

And now today I’ve seen social media posts of people saying stuff like, “What did you do with your time during the outage yesterday? Read a book? Get more work done? Go outside?” I wanted to comment back and say “You know you can do this stuff every day, right? You don’t need permission from your social media to live a real life?” but that would let the secret out that I’m a 36-year-old boomer that went to bed at 8pm last night.

A lot of our behaviors are self-imposed ruts that become more difficult to get out of as time goes on. Our brains are basically built on connections that grow stronger with reinforcement. If you go for a run every morning when you get up it becomes an easy thing to do. But it seems impossible that very first morning you think of lacing up your shoes.

So when our apps that are well known to negatively impact people’s self-images and well-being went dark yesterday, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Where else am I going to find 60 second clips of Metallica playing in the 1980s?

Calling attention to the fact that people acted like they were let out of their cages for an afternoon yesterday isn’t going to keep us from running right back inside today. We’re comfortable there. We like clamoring over likes and views and shares and comments. It feels GREAT so it’s easy to ignore how it’s changing the way our brains are wired and literally addicting people.

I get bored a lot. And when this happens, I reach for my phone to pull up an app to give me some semblance of entertainment no matter how trite or repetitive. I don’t even think about it anymore. All of a sudden I’m looking at a picture of a person I don’t like, or a video clip I’ve seen 1,000 times, or an uninteresting tweet. It’s not fulfilling or particularly fun, but it’s become a reflex and I fucking hate it.

I mention this to drive the point home that I’m not talking from some pedestal in the sky, passing judgement on everyone else. I’ve been sucked into this too, and simply recognizing the fact that it’s a problem isn’t going to stop me either. I need to constantly download other people’s anger directly into my own head so I can maintain a consistent level of annoyance at all times.

Social media isn’t going anywhere. The Facebook monolith might come crashing down at some point, but it will just be replaced by the next one. Myspace was huge at one point, too. This is an unfortunate aspect of the evolution of society and we either have to learn how to deal with the technology or accept the fact that it’s going to continue changing us in unforeseeable ways.

So how did I spend the five hours Facebook and Instagram were down? Checking Twitter to see when it would come back. And that’s disgusting.

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