On Social Media Addiction

I’ve known for a while; now what am I going to do about it?

The other day, one of my Facebook friends, Lynda Weinman, shared an article from the New York Times titled “Addicted to Distraction” by Tony Schwartz. It began with the following paragraph:

ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

The author had just described a condition I’d been suffering with for at least a year — the inability to stay focused on something for more than a short while.

The author of this piece blames his problem on being connected to the Internet all the time. In his case, the problem is primarily email, although, like me, he also finds himself compulsively Googling for answers to questions that pop up in conversation or or his mind. From there, he says it’s difficult to “resist surfing myself into a stupor.” Sound familiar?

My problem is not email. In fact, email is such a nuisance these days that I don’t even bother checking it every day. I figure that if something is important, I’ll get a phone call or text. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. But as I type this, my Inbox has 2215 messages, 92 of which are unread. Obviously, the best way to contact me is not by email.

So if email isn’t distracting me, what is? Social media, of course.

I’ve been active on social media since 2007, when I joined Twitter. I embraced Twitter and made many “virtual friends” there, many of whom have become real friends who I’ve met in the flesh and shared meals with. I follow a select group of people who tend to post interesting things that entertain or educate me. As someone who worked alone all day — I wrote for a living back then — I considered Twitter my “water cooler,” the place I went when I needed a break from my work and wanted social interaction.

Then came Facebook and LinkedIn and Google+. I grew to dislike all of them pretty quickly. Facebook was social networking for the masses, where people lazily shared image-based memes spread around by sites looking for clicks. So many of these people were real-world friends and it was disappointing to see that they didn’t have anything better — or even more personal — to share. On LinkedIn, I was approached more frequently by spammers trying to sell me goods or services than anyone interested in a mutually beneficial, friendly relationship. And Google+ never really got off the ground so I stopped using it pretty quickly. A visit to my account there shows I have more than 700 followers there and I still can’t understand why when there’s nothing in my account to follow.

Still, Facebook sucked me in and continues to do so on a daily basis. I think it’s the potential for conversation that attracts me. Again, I live and work alone and it’s a place for social interaction during my day. I’ve stopped following the folks who have nothing interesting to share, as well as the folks who share hate-filled political messages. What’s left is a handful of people I like, posting original content or links to interesting content elsewhere on the Web. Sure, there’s still a bunch of crap in my timeline every time I visit, but I’ve become pretty good at ignoring it.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I visited Twitter and Facebook occasionally, as I did when I first began using them. But I don’t. I’m on and off both services all day long. I start not long after waking, when I’m lying in bed waiting for the clock to tick to a more reasonable time to get up. (I wake up very early some mornings and would prefer staying in bed until at least 5 AM.) Then, if I have a tablet or my phone at breakfast, I check in some more. When I sit at my computer, I’m constantly checking in to see if anything is new and either commenting on someone else’s post or replying to comments on mine. At any idle moment, I’m more likely to reach for my phone to check social media than sit in quiet contemplation.

And then there’s the sharing. Any time I see something I think is interesting or funny, I take a picture of it and share it on Twitter or Facebook or both. And, while I’m sharing on Facebook, I usually check to see what’s new and spend time reading, commenting, and following links.

Both Twitter and Facebook have become tools for “surfing myself into a stupor.” Although I’m pretty good at resisting link bait — think headlines like “Shocking new photos reveal that Princess Charlotte is very cute” (Mashable) and “Adorable baby goat learns how to hop by copying its human friend” (Mashable), and “Soda-loving bear, ‘the dress’ among the weirdest stories of 2015 (USAToday) — I do enjoy (and learn from) reading articles about science, psychology, and history (to name a few). After all, that’s how I found the Times article that triggered this post. And a great article this morning titled “12 bad reasons for rejecting scientific studies” on a site I’d never heard of before, The Logic of Science. And countless other extremely informative, thoughtful pieces. So I do learn and grow from things I find in social media. That’s good, right?

Yes and no, but mostly no right now. I don’t need to be checking in all day long to reap the benefits of social media. I can limit my access to an hour or so a day. I can use my browser’s “read later” feature to accumulate articles to read when I’m not on social media. It’s not going to kill me to miss a friend’s update or a link to something of interest or value to me.

There’s only so much information I can squeeze into my head. As the author of the Times piece says,

Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.

Some people will argue that this isn’t true. That your brain isn’t like a hard disk that can be filled up. But I definitely believe there’s at least some truth in this.

But it’s the distraction that bothers me most. The inability to just sit down and read a book or magazine without my mind wandering away to something else. Or feeling a need to share something I just thought of with friends. My inability to stay focused when I want or need to sit down and read or write.

Facebook Update
I was in the middle of writing this blog post when I stopped suddenly, went online, and posted this update. 27 minutes later, am I gratified to see that a stranger liked it? What does that mean?

This blog post is an excellent example. I’m only 2/3 finished with it and I’ve already left it several times to check Facebook. Although once was to get the link to the Logic of Science article above (which really is good), I did post comments and even send an update that has nothing to do with this blog post. (Yes, my mind wandered to my driveway and the scant amount of snow left on it by yesterday’s all-day flurry event.) Social media has become a tool for procrastination, more insidious than a television because it’s with me all the time.

Ironically, when I first started writing this blog post, I looked back through older posts for one I’d written about sharing image-based text memes on Facebook. I didn’t find that one because while I was looking I found one far more appropriate to share. Written in October 2007 — yes, eight years ago! — “Is Social Networking Sucking Your Life Away?” is a foreshadowing of what was to come. Clearly I realized way back then that social networking was a time suck. Back then, I couldn’t understand why or how others could let their time be wasted in such trivial pursuits. But now here I am, with the same problem I couldn’t understand.

Now I understand it.

Back in January 2015, I wrote a blog post titled “2015 Resolutions.” The very first one on my list was to “Fight the Social Media Addiction.” I realized then that I had a problem and even came up with a workable solution to fight it: place limits on social media time and updates. Did I do this? Maybe for a few weeks.

(The only one of those resolutions I kept was to stay out of Starbucks; it’s been almost a year without Starbucks and I’m quite pleased with myself.)

Clearly, I need to try harder.

I read the comments on the Facebook post where Lynda shared the link to the Times piece. One of Lynda’s friends said, “I was a better person and a better artist before the iPhone.” I added:

I was a better writer before Facebook.

He could have been describing me here. I struggle to read now. Can’t stay focused. Reread the same paragraphs over and over. Constantly checking social media and following links to articles I shouldn’t care about. I knew I had a problem last year when I tried to include a limit in my New Years resolutions. I lasted less than two weeks.

I’ll try again. This time, I’ll take social media off my phone. And I’ll put a post-it note on my computer with one question to remind me: “What are you doing?”

Thanks for sharing this. It was a good read — and a good reminder.

What are you doing?
Maybe this will help remind me to stay focused while I’m using my computer?

Are you addicted to social media? Think about it and beware of denial. The first step to fighting an addiction is to admitting that it’s real.

Read the Times article for yourself and see what you come away with.

2015 Resolutions

A very ambitious list.

I’ve been slipping — and it’s got to stop. So I’ve decided to set up and stick to some New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Fight the Social Media Addiction

I spend entirely too much time on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Actually, if you spend more than 30 minutes a day on social media — and aren’t being paid to do it as part of your job — you probably spend too much time, too.

Think about it. Yes, you enjoy it. It’s a nice, convenient social experience. But it’s also a timesuck. And the time you spend online looking at cat photos and clicking like buttons is time you could be spending doing other more rewarding things like engaging in personal interactions with family and real (not virtual) friends, working on projects that enrich your life (or bank account), and getting some fresh air and/or exercise. These are all things I want to spend my time doing. I don’t want to sit in front of the computer after breakfast, tune into Facebook, and look up two hours later to discover that half my morning is gone and nothing constructive has been done.

So I’m placing a limit on social networking:

Less FacebookFacebook:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new updates on my newsfeed and checking and responding to comments on my or other people’s updates.
  • Maximum of 3 updates per day, including updates of photos or links but excluding updates automatically generated when I post to my blog. These can be done at any time.
  • No likes. (I actually began doing this a few months ago and I find it very rewarding, mostly because it prompts me to share more meaningful commentary when I like something.)


  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new tweets, checking and responding to notifications on my account, and adding or removing followers.
  • Maximum of 12 tweets per day, including photos, links, tweets automatically generated when I post to my blog, and retweets but excluding scheduled tweets. These can be done at any time.


Stop using it. Period. This should be pretty easy since I only check in once every month or so and always leave with a bad taste in my mouth.


Really? People still use this?

I know this sounds silly or even kind of extreme — almost like a mom setting parental controls for her kid — but I have identified a problem and I have decided to tackle it by setting limitations. Let’s see how I do.

2. Watch Less TV.

I think I watch an awful lot of TV, especially when you consider that I (1) don’t have cable or satellite TV, (2) only get 4 live channels, and (3) rely mostly on Netflix, Hulu+, and other Roku-available content for options. Again, I think this has to do with the long winter nights — I certainly didn’t watch much TV when the sun was setting after 8 PM.

What’s reasonable? I think 5 hours a week is reasonable. That’s less than an hour a day. That might seem a bit low, but when you consider that I’m out with friends a few evenings a week, it should be pretty easy to maintain.

Read a BookAnd there is this added cheat: a movie — no matter what length it is — counts as just an hour. But, at the same time, an “hour-long” TV episode watched without commercials, which is really only about 44 minutes long, would also count as an hour. I’ll need a scorecard to keep track. It should be interesting to see how I do.

What will I do instead? That’s easy: read.

3. Lose 15 Pounds

MeasureYes, I need to lose weight again. Doesn’t everyone?

Back in 2012, I lost 45 pounds and went from a size 14/16 to a size 6/8. Since then, my weight has crept up a bit, although I’m still able to (barely) fit into all of my new clothes. Time to nip that in the bud and go back to my goal weight. Remember, I burned the bridge to fat town back in 2012.

I’m not very worried about achieving this. I’m going to use the same diet I used in 2012 to lose 45 pounds in 4 months. I expect to get back to my goal weight within 2 months but will likely stay on the diet for an additional month for the added benefits it offers — mostly appetite reduction. That’s what made it possible to keep the weight off as long as I did.

In my defense, since the last 10 pounds came on very quickly — over the past two months — I suspect it has a lot to do with my reduced activity level. Winter means short, cold days here in the Wenatchee area. Unless I’m out doing something that keeps me busy and warm — like skiing or snowshoeing — I’m not likely to be outside. And there isn’t much exercise indoors — although climbing scaffolding can be pretty exhausting after a while. This is my best argument for going south for the winter and I may do it next year. (Yeah, I’m a snowbird for health reasons. That’s the ticket!)

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who think “big is beautiful” and that being thin is something that society forces upon us to make us feel bad about our bodies, wake up and smell the deep fried Oreo you’re about to shove in your pie hole. I never said I wanted to be thin. I’ve said (elsewhere in this blog) that I wanted to remain a healthy weight for the rest of my life. The added benefit is the ability to look good in clothes, have lots of energy, and feel better about myself. Don’t be an idiot. If you’re more than 10% over what’s a healthy weight for your height, you owe it to yourself and your family to shed those extra pounds. Trust me: you will be glad you did.

4. Write More

Writing PadOne of the things social media time has stolen from me is writing time. Instead of sitting down to write a blog post or an article for a magazine or even a chapter of a book, I spend that time on Facebook or Twitter or even (sometimes) LinkedIn. Or surfing the web. This are mostly unrewarding, unfulfilling activities. I get so much more satisfaction out of completing a blog post or article — especially when there’s a paycheck for the article.

I want to blog more often — at least four times a week. Blogging is something that makes me feel good. I wish I could explain it. I think it’s because I’m documenting the things I’m doing, thinking, and feeling. Creating an archive of these things.

I’ve been blogging for 11 years now and am very proud of that fact. I’m also thrilled that I can go back and read about the things that interested me so long ago. Why wouldn’t I want to do this?

I also want to explore new markets for paid article work. I have opportunities and when I can focus I can write and submit work I can be paid for. Why aren’t I doing more of this?

And I definitely need to complete a few work-in-progress books that I’ve started. And turn some of my blog posts into ebooks I can earn a few dollars on.

And I sure wouldn’t mind reopening some of the fiction work I began 20 or 30 years ago — work that was once so much a part of my life that I’d think about it in bed to help me drift off to sleep. Time to bring all that back into my life.

5. Just Say No to Starbucks

Say No to StarbucksWhy do I go in there? The coffee isn’t even that good!

I live in Washington, for Peet’s sake (pun intended), a place where there are coffee shops on nearly every corner and more drive-through coffee stands than gas stations. Why am I going into Starbucks, a place where saying “medium” instead of “grande” can earn you a snicker from the order taker?

Chocolate Covered Graham CrackersAnd don’t say it’s the dark chocolate covered graham crackers. Although it could be.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of supporting a global corporation with mediocre products when I could be supporting small, local coffee shops with slightly less mediocre products.

What I really should do is stop drinking coffee in the middle of the day.

This will be easy to do once I set my mind to it. I just have to not crave coffee when I walk into the Fred Meyer or Safeway supermarkets.


Because I’m so anal, I’ll keep a scorecard to see how I do. I’ll try to report back with success — or failure — at year’s end.

Wish me luck!

And why not share a few of your resolutions for 2015? Use the comments link or form for this post.

A “Personal Note” From a LinkedIn Connection?

More like spam, if you ask me.

LinkedInThe other day, I got an email message from someone I don’t really know, with the subject line “A personal note for Maria Langer, from one of your Linked In connections”

Here’s how it began:


You and I are connected on Linked In, and I’m happy about how easy this makes it for us to stay in contact and to get to know each other better. Following key events in your professional life in this way is awesome and inspiring.

I hope you feel the same about the ability to follow me. If not, then you can stop reading, log in to your Linked In account, and “unfriend” me. I won’t be offended, just a bit disappointed that I’ve failed to inspire you and that I have not (yet) made a significant positive impact on your life through my work.

You can go straight to my Linked In profile, here:

I’ll leave out the link and even the name of the person who sent this.

This is a “personal note”? If it was so personal, then the writer would know that I don’t post anything on LinkedIn so there are no “key events” he can follow there. “Awesome and inspiring”? Not on LinkedIn.

That aside, what followed was an extremely lengthy message full of links to this person’s social media accounts, websites, online profiles, Kickstarter campaigns, etc. It goes on to tell me about this person’s professional history, projects, and efforts to write the software he used to send me his spammy message. The message went on and on. 3114 words! (I pasted it into Word for a quick word count.) I didn’t read it all. Why would I? It was spam from a stranger. But the gist of it was that he was trying to get financing for a new venture and was apparently having trouble with the SEC. Or he wanted to change an SEC rule. Or he just expected people with better things to do with their time to drop everything and spend an hour or more of their lives reading his message and following the dozens of links it contained.

To me, this is what LinkedIn is all about: people using social media to achieve their professional goals by tapping into their “connections” — even if those connections are tenuous or with people who likely don’t give a damn.

I know that some of my friends rave about LinkedIn as a valuable resource for getting work. But I haven’t seen anything like that. All I’ve observed about LinkedIn is that it’s a source of spam, usually from LinkedIn itself or strangers.

When I went online at LinkedIn to sever my “connection” to this person, I discovered I had about 30 LinkedIn connection requests waiting for me. I only knew 2 of the people who’d requested a connection. The rest were complete strangers, most of whom had absolutely no connection to my industries (writing, computers, aviation). They’re just building up connections, likely so they can say they have a ton of them and possibly to spam them in the future.

Anyway, I hope I don’t get any more spam from this person. If I do, I’ll be reporting him to LinkedIn.

Not that I expect them to do anything about it.

Social Networking Fail

Come on, folks. If you mean it, get it right.

LinkedInI logged into my LinkedIn account today for the first time in a few months and found 16 invitations. Of those, I knew four of the people and accepted two of the invitations.

I don’t like LinkedIn. It seems like a feeding ground for “business people” trolling for new customers. Just too much bullshit, even for a hardcore Twitter user like me.

The odd thing about LinkedIn is that you’re supposed to know the person you’re inviting to connect. Somehow, people seem able to get around this requirement and still contact me. But do these people honestly expect me to link to them without any idea of who they are or what they do or how a link could benefit us? Most folks use the standard invitation message or simply no message at all, giving me no reason to want to connect.

But today I got a bonus invitation. One guy — a “Cloud Computing Professional” — got creative but still failed:

[redacted] has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at [redacted,] Inc. · Hi Maria: I hope this email finds u well. I work with [redacted], a company proving business productivity software in the cloud and would like to get in touch with u to discuss possible collaboration on ur technical copywriting. Plz feel free to contact me at ###-###-####. Thanks, [redacted]

He wants me to collaborate with him on some technical writing?

What kind of writer uses “u” for you, “ur” for our (or your?), and “Plz” for please? Would I be expected to write that way, too? Not possible, I’m afraid. You see, I don’t think the word you has too many letters to type, so I tend to type all three of them when writing.

And how many other people who who may have included “writer” in their profile got the same exact message?

I’ve never heard of this person or his company and I certainly have not “done business with” either one of them. Although I was tempted to accept the invitation just to see what his angle was, I really don’t want to spend any more time on LinkedIn than I already do.

So I marked the invitation as the spam it probably was.

LinkedIn Phishing Scam

Another day, another scam.

Just a quick note about yet another phishing scam, this one purportedly coming from the social networking service, LinkedIn. In this example, you’ll get an email message telling you that “your LinkedIn account was blocked due to inactivity.” As you might imagine, they provide a handy link to fix the problem.

Linked In Scam Email

Trouble is, the link does not go to LinkedIn. Instead, it opens a page designed to gather information about your account and send it back to the scammers.

The best way to avoid phishing attempts — even ones that look like real communications from a social networking service, bank, or other organization you might have an account with — is to never click a link in an email message.

If I thought this message might be real, I’d check by using my Web browser — not the link in the email message — to go to LinkedIn, log in, and check the situation for myself.

Don’t get scammed.