Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 2 Results

 Week 2: starting to learn how to put the “diet” into my social media/news diet…
duolingo-progress-wk2-1216                    My Duolingo XP Results for Week 2 (see below for details)…

Last week, I said I couldn’t wait to see what Week 2 of my social media/news diet brought, and Week 2 did not disappoint. Here are the highlights:

Taming the urge — My running tally of views and resisted urges shows signs of improvement relative to the first week:

T 11/29 = 4/8 (= 4 looks, 8 ‘resisted urges’)
W 11/30 = 7/5
Th 12/1 = 4/2
F 12/2 = 5/5
Sa 12/3 = 1/6
Su 12/4 = 1/2
M 12/5 = 7/2

Both the total number of views and the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped a little over 25 percent each; there were 40 looks, 45 ‘resisted urges’ in week 1, and 29 looks, 32 ‘resisted urges’ in week 2. The total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped from around 12 per day to around nine per day.

The most striking numbers are the weekend ones, but I’m not sure yet what to make of them. They are low because I spent the weekend at a client retreat. Although such meetings are usually full of urges to do social media/news checks in reaction to boredom or other lulls in my attention level (more on those triggers in a moment), I exploited the room layout (several circular tables) so that I knew that someone behind me could see if I was straying off into social media, and that was enough to curb my impulses.

I see two ways to look at the weekend results: one is that this weekend activity artificially drove down the numbers, and I will be struggling to replicate these results on other weekends. The other way is that weekends offer opportunities to curb my social media and news intake by doing several engaging activities, preferably ones which take me away from my computer and other devices. How will that play out over the next few weeks? I’ll focus on finding that out.

Taming the triggers — Week two also added several new triggers to my list:

•    Twitter — looked reflexively at it; had to remind myself that it is also social media
•    Sitting down in a (DC) metro car
•    Being bored in an online meeting (Webex et al.)
•    Facebook notifications on my iPhone
•    Simply looking at my iPhone
•    Seeing a message alert on someone else’s computer
•    A lull in my attention level

A few of these were also eye-openers. I hadn’t appreciated how conditioned I was to look at my phone when I rode the Metro, but simply sitting down in the Metro car seat was all it took to have me reaching for my iPhone. Seeing a message alert on someone else’s computer (the presenter’s computer projected on screen during the retreat; his iMessage alert indicated two unanswered messages) made me want to check mine, but I resisted that one. The most disturbing one was discovering that simply looking at my iPhone could be a trigger; it was just sitting there, face down on a nearby table. But I resisted that one also.

I also noticed that triggers during an online meeting felt more like boredom, while those in an in-person meeting felt more like a lull in my attention level. This makes sense because there are more environmental cues in an in-person setting to keep one’s attention from wandering away from the environment. At the same time, it’s usually not humanly possible to maintain full attention during a day-long or even a multi-hour in-person meeting either. In both cases, the immediacy of the available devices (whether computer, smartphone, tablet, or something else) often makes them hair triggers which are all too easy to pull. If I’d been sitting somewhere with no one to my back who could see what I was doing, I’m not sure I would have done so well.

Although the number of triggers didn’t decrease much, there were signs of improvement here as well. It seemed that the triggers were often weaker in week 2; they happened in my mind but often didn’t trigger actual behavior — no physical movements or mental ideation of those movements. It felt like classic behavioral extinction was slowly taking place.

Putting the “diet” in social media/news diet — So how well did my meal plan go? On the surface, not so well. I didn’t check social media or news exactly three times on any day; I either had too many “meals”/“snacks” or too few, and a couple of days it appears that I “gorged” myself with seven views in one day.  What really happened, though, is that the social media/news diet actually became more like a real diet in these respects:

Frequency matters, but portion control matters more. I counted a single instance as one view whether it lasted a minute or an hour or anything in between. Doing this clearly distorts the process, so I think I need to pay more attention to duration as well as frequency.

Some choices are healthier than others.  One day, most of my views involved engaging in an interesting Facebook conversation on a topic of interest in my field (performance-based funding), which included doing some research to learn more about the topic. Another day, most of my views involved a conversation about how to respond to the Comet Pizza incident.  In my opinion, these are part of a healthy social media/news diet, to the point where I found myself wondering, is there such a thing as the social media equivalent of leafy greens or other veggies? As in, things you can eat as much as you want?

Overcoming the tendency to gorge is a learned behavior. I also found myself wondering if it’s human nature to feast at first when we find a new source of engorgement. If so, this is a useful insight for a) not being so hard on ourselves for not handling social media well, and b) recognizing up front that dealing with this requires conscious re-patterning to overcome our more animal tendencies. Although that may seem strange to think of such a digital and mental activity this way, our animal nature resides as much in our brains as in the rest of our bodies.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food, not so well — no pie in Week 2, but I’m still gaining weight — retreats will do that (lots of food, relative captivity, disrupted schedule), as will relative lack of exercise.

Language learning, much better.  I amassed 947 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week. Each ‘lesson’ earns 10 XPs; although I also earned some XPs for testing out of some areas in Spanish, I still must have done at least 60 lessons. They’re short and can be done in a few minutes each, but that still means hours spent on learning languages instead of on social media or news. And I’m continuing to progress — level 9 in Spanish (50% “fluent”) and level 8 in French (26% “fluent”).  The Spanish is coming back to me, and the French is ever so slowly starting to make sense, so I’m very pleased with my progress this past week.

Spending time in relatively productive pursuits has dampened my desire to leave Facebook or other social media for now. Instead, this week I’ll have a different focus: how to make good quality “dietary” choices in my social media/news intake


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