How much time would you estimate you spend on social media?
A few minutes here or there, right?
But the estimates are much higher:
Data from GWI reveals that the typical social media user actively uses or visits an average of 7.5 different social platforms each month, and spends an average of close to 2½ hours per day using social media.
Assuming that people sleep for between 7 and 8 hours per day, these latest figures suggest that people spend roughly 15 percent of their waking lives using social media.
How did you and I get so hooked?
Is 150 minutes a day on social media helping you experience God’s love? Do you feel like you are participating in God’s mission to reconcile men and women of every nation to himself?
We were targeted. Our involvement on social media is the result of an intentional, designed process.
Imagine you run a social media network. Your goal is getting more people to use your product for more time so you can serve more ads and make more money.
The participants are called “users” for a reason. Their goal is to get us hooked.
Why? The payoff is huge. As I write this, Facebook’s market cap is $611 billion! (Now known as “Meta”).
For instance, when Instagram was designed (and of course, it continues to be tweaked), they consulted with behavioral psychologists to systematically build an onboarding process that would form a new habit: regularly sharing personal photos. As more people shared more photos (or videos), Instagram had more content to show each user.
For millions of users like Yin, Instagram is a harbor for emotions and inspirations. It’s a virtual memoir in pretty pixels. By thoughtfully moving users from external to internal triggers, Instagram designed a persistent routine in peoples’ lives. Once the users’ internal triggers began to fire, competing services didn’t stand a chance. Each snapshot further committed users to Instagram, making it indispensable to them, and apparently to Facebook as well.
The same is true of all the largest social networks. How did they gain hundreds of millions or billions of “users”?
It wasn’t by accident. It involved the careful study and application of insights from behavioral psychology and related fields - in combination with brilliant software engineering, graphic design, and user experience design.
The goal is a frictionless, pleasing experience that creates new habits.
Think about it from your own point of view:
What do you do when you’re bored? You check your phone “just in case.” Oh, I see a notification, what’s going on? Now there’s curiosity…
So you log in and start to scroll.
Within seconds, the pain of boredom is replaced with the pleasure of a strong emotional experience. The content you see could be happy or sad, funny or outrageous. But it is related to you and your personal interests.
Time’s up, but next time you have a free moment and you need relief, where will you go?
Sometimes the relief comes from passively consuming what other people share.
But we also get rewarded by sharing about ourselves. Then the likes, retweets, and comments roll in. It feels good to be seen, applauded, and valued by others.
So how do we fix this problem?
I don’t think “willpower” is the answer. That’s already been overwhelmed by the sheer force of the habit formation process.
If “willpower” was the answer, you’d still be keeping your New Year resolutions, right?
But perhaps as one next step, we can do an audit to gain self-awareness. Vera Ludwig, a research associate at Penn, explains “Step 1” to changing behavior:
Step 1 focuses on realizing that a particular action doesn’t make sense, that perhaps it doesn’t match up with someone’s goals or doesn’t contribute to that person’s overall well-being.
“With mindfulness, we can observe our habits instead of trying to force ourselves to do things differently…"
Here are the other steps she recommends:
- Write it down
- Set reasonable goals
- Give it time
- Practice meditation
- Cut yourself some slack
How Uncommon Pursuit can help…
Here’s the thing. You’re reading this post in an online community.
So let me explain what makes this space so unique. It’s probably different from anything you’ve experienced elsewhere.
First, we don’t serve ads. Instead, we’re supported by donors and member subscriptions. That means our model isn’t built on maximizing engagement.
Instead, we ask our members to evaluate whether or not their time in the community is leading to personal transformation into Christlikeness.
Next, our community aligns with research-based insights on how to change our habits. For instance, consider Ludwig’s tips, above, with how we’ve designed Uncommon Pursuit:
We’re giving you a prompt to become self-aware of your social media usage. When did Facebook or Instagram last do that?
We focus on writing because writing requires us to think clearly. Whether you create a Topic or reply to one, the environment shapes us to develop a better understanding of the issue we’re discussing together. This process prioritizes personal growth over cheap dopamine hits.
We value process and taking time away. For instance, we close the community to new comments on the weekends.
Missional members receive a weekly prompt designed to encourage self-reflection and prayer (what Ludwig calls meditation).
We put the focus on God’s uncommon pursuit - which helps us experience grace. As Ludwig says, “cut yourself some slack.” We have a richer resource: Jesus is the one who carries our burdens. And we can serve one another in love.
Are you happy with your social media usage?
I only know a few people who, upon reflection, feel their investment on social media is connected to their personal goals in life.
I want you to experience a transformational community. An empowering environment that prepares you to take new risks for God’s glory.
That’s why we built the Uncommon Pursuit community.
What are your next steps?
What insights do you have about how social media hooks us?
Step back for a minute. As you think about your life priorities, what social media habits do you want to have? How will they help you fulfill your purpose in life?
As an alternative: what practices enable you to connect with others in a way that develops your experience of God’s love and deepens your spiritual maturity?