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.

So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 10: Network

Who you meet, how you meet them, and what they think of you can impact your flying career.

[Note: Hard to believe that nearly four years have gone by since I wrote most of this series, but I find that the older I get, the faster time flies. I’d planned on writing additional parts, but life got in the way. I’m ready to continue now and, with four years to think about it, I’m pretty sure I’ve got some good content to add.]

Networking is an important part of building any career, including flying helicopters. The people you meet can help — or hinder — your career advancement.

How Networking has Helped My Flying Career

I’ve been flying helicopters for about 15 years now and have accumulated a modest 3,200 hours of flight time, mostly in my R44 and the R22 I owned before it. I’ve been networking with other pilots, owners, and operators since I realized I wanted to build a career as a pilot and it has paid off.

It’s networking that got me an interview with Papillon at the Grand Canyon back in 2004. What I said at the interview got the job.

It’s networking that got me started as a cherry drying pilot back in 2008. I met a pilot doing this kind of work and when he needed a pilot, he remembered and called me.

It’s networking that got me started doing frost control work back in 2013. I spoke to another pilot doing that kind of work and asked him if he knew of any jobs. He gave me the phone number of an almond grower and gave me the information I needed to write a mutually beneficial contract with a new client.

It’s networking that gets me just about all of my new business. Other than maintaining a website for my business, I don’t advertise anymore. I get new clients through word-of-mouth. When I want to explore the possibility of a rides gig, I look through my address book for friends and acquaintances who might have the connections I need to get a toe in the door.

And it’s networking that makes it relatively easy to find new pilots to work with me for cherry drying. I start my search by asking around. I remember the pilots I like — and the ones who rubbed me the wrong way — and make offers — or ignore requests — accordingly.

How to Network

Networking is actually kind of easy. Just meet and talk to new people involved in the industry. Need some ideas to get started? Try these:

  • Get to know other pilots at your flight school or job. Don’t be shy. Socialize. The guy you see in the pilot lounge at your flight school today might be someone working at the Gulf when you’re looking for work — and give you the contact you need to get an interview there. The CFI leaving to work at Papillon next week could be the chief pilot at a charter operation in a few years.
  • Join a helicopter organization. HAI and Whirly Girls comes to mind — although I admit that I don’t belong to either one of them for reasons I’d rather address in a separate blog post. These organizations are full of helicopter pilots and others in helicopter-related jobs. You can meet other members at events.
  • Attend helicopter aviation conferences and seminars. HeliExpo is an obvious suggestion, but other helicopter organizations and publications (such as Vertical Magazine) also sponsor events. And don’t forget the FAA! The Wings program occasionally has lectures for helicopter pilots; try attending one.
  • Aircrane
    I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with the pilot of one of these. Don’t you think it might be interesting to learn more about his work?

    Attend helicopter-related events. I’m thinking of helicopter fly-ins and other airport events. Although relatively rare, they do exist and they’re often full of helicopter pilots who are friendly and enthusiastic. I can think of three pilots I’m still very good friends with who I met at a helicopter event at Falcon Field Airport in Mesa, AZ years ago. One of them has worked for me drying cherries here in Washington.

  • Visit pilots at work. Years ago, on a road trip in Idaho, I passed a field filled with helicopters — a fire base. A Boeing Vertol 107 was parked there and I, a new pilot at the time, wanted to see it close up. I drove into the base, parked, and tracked down the pilot. Because he wasn’t busy, he very graciously took me aboard his ship, showed me how the snorkel pump worked, and let me sit in the co-pilot seat while he sat next to me and explained the mind-boggling array of switches, circuit breakers, and gauges. Although my goal that day was not to network with other pilots, I could easily have done so — there were a dozen or so waiting around for a fire call. Of course, if the base had been active, I would have stayed away. But there’s no reason you can’t visit pilots on duty but not actively working. Think of EMT and ENG bases, too. Often, the pilot is just sitting around, waiting for a call and wouldn’t mind a visitor. Just make sure you’re welcome before you barge in.

The Role of Social Networking

Social networking takes all kinds of networking to a new level. You can network 24/7 with pilots all over the world through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and online forums. Helicopter-specific groups on Facebook, for example, is a good way to share stories, photos, and questions with other pilots.

I’ve met more than a few helicopter pilots on Twitter and Facebook; while my social networking hasn’t advanced my career — or theirs — yet, who’s to say it won’t? In the meantime, I’ve gotten a ton of solid advice from pilots with far more experience than I’ll ever have. That, and the real-life friendship with some of these people, is worth the time and effort I put into online social networking.

Don’t Be a Dick

But be careful! Your activities — both online and in the real world — can come back to haunt you. It all depends on how you approach networking, how you treat your fellow pilots, and what your attitude is or seems to be.

I blogged about a pilot who proved what an inconsiderate and dangerous asshole he could be back in 2009. I’d flown into Sedona, AZ with my brother and his wife and a helicopter pilot didn’t like where I parked. He retaliated by hover-taxiing right past my family, within 15 feet of where they were standing, when he had several other safer departure routes. I reported his action to the airport management. When I reported him to my POI at the Scottsdale FSDO, I was told that he’d caught by an Inspector being rude to the receptionist. The Inspector had attempted an attitude adjustment, but I doubt he got anywhere with this particular jerk.

As regular readers of my blog know, I absolutely abhor online forums. The reason: every single discussion turns into a nasty exchange of inane comments, normally prompted by the comments of a troll who has to prove how smart he is by saying something that gets under the skin of someone else. The replies are fired out fast and furiously and inevitably turn mean. Why people put up with that crap is beyond me. I seldom find any content worth reading in an online forum. But that’s likely because I lack the patience necessary to wade through the bullshit for the gems hiding underneath. Unlike the trolls that haunt these forums, I have a life.

I remember the names of the assholes I meet in this industry. I remember the trolls in the forums, too. And I have a lot of friends in the industry. And we talk.

And what we share affects hiring decisions. Just saying.

I wrote a bit more about attitude in Part 5 of this series.

Networking Works — But It Can’t Work Miracles

I’ve had a good amount of success with networking to further my career, but I have to admit that career advancement isn’t the main reason I network with other pilots. I’m a relatively friendly person and I really like talking to people with similar interests. I’m also interested in learning new things from people who know, through experience, things I don’t know. I guess you can say I’m a natural at networking.

But I do admit that I’m frustrated annoyed by people who contact me directly, by email or phone or even blog comments, obviously trying to use me as an “in” for a job. News flash: contacting a stranger to ask for a favor is not a good networking strategy. I admit that I’m more likely to delete these incoming emails than answer them. Maybe it’s because I’m getting curmudgeony in my old age.

You can’t expect networking to work miracles, especially if you use a heavy handed approach. Just because you had a nice conversation with the Chief Pilot of a charter company while the two of you waited out a thunderstorm in the pilot lounge of an FBO doesn’t mean he’s going to hire you for the next position that opens. Especially if you come across as someone who’s only talking to him because you think that job offer is possible.

But if you make networking a natural part of your professional life, things will happen — normally, when you least expect it.

Toggling the Religion Switch

Hypocrisy and cafeteria-style belief systems.

Bible Quote
The way I read this is that you should stay humble and let God do the worrying. When God feels like it, He might make things better for you. Because He cares. Is that an accurate interpretation?

The other day, a friend of mine went into “Bible mode” on Facebook. He’s done this before, not long after I met him at a Meetup outing. I didn’t know him well back then and I just assumed he was a religious person. (Although I’m an atheist, most of my friends are believers in one form or another.) Then he broke up with his long-distance girlfriend and, six months later, was living with another woman in town. Bible mode ended abruptly. But it’s back now, and rumor has it that he’s engaged to yet another woman he met online and has seen in person only twice.

Whoa. (Honestly, I can’t make this shit up.)

“Bible mode,” in case you’re wondering, is my term for when a person starts posting social media updates that either quote the Bible or refer to Bible verses. I find it odd in general — almost as if they’re advertising their belief system — but have come to expect it of certain people, such as a young earth believer and a biblical scholar I know. It sort of makes sense for these people — who obviously hold deeply ingrained religious beliefs — to refer to the Bible in their daily life. But I find it extremely odd when it’s done by someone who normally seems to have little regard for the Bible, Ten Commandments, or the moral principles set forth in the Christian denomination he purportedly follows. You know: moral rules about things like adultery, sex before marriage, and lying.

Wikipedia defines hypocrisy as:

Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not actually hold. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles.

The way I see it, if you pretend to be a devout, Bible-quoting Christian but have cheated on your wife or screwed women you aren’t married to, you are a hypocrite.

Unless, of course, you believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins and therefore you can commit as many sins as you like as long as you’re sorry for them. Jesus has you covered, right?

You know, the Christian “Get Out of Jail Free card.”

This particular person’s flicking of the religion switch bothers me a lot and I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’ve seen the pattern — he turns on Bible mode when he’s hanging around a certain group of people. I’m thinking that he’s toggling the religion switch to the ON position to better fit in with these people. You know — to show that he’s a card-carrying member of their club.

Whatever.

I think it’s a shame that people have to pretend to be someone they’re not just to maintain certain friendships. If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to anyone. Who wants to live a lie?

Of course, maybe he really has “gotten religion” again. And maybe he’ll keep it this time. Turn over a new leaf. Get married, stay faithful to his new wife, attend church weekly, raise more children, and study the Bible with his family. Maybe the verses he’s quoting from the Bible will actually guide his life. Maybe he’ll remember and hold sacred all ten of the Commandments. Maybe he’ll be a “good Christian,” who actually follows the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Or maybe he’ll be another example of a “cafeteria-style Christian.” You know: the kind who picks and chooses from church doctrine to live his life the way he wants, no matter what his church of choice says he should do. And figures that just going to church and quoting the Bible will give him enough creds to get into heaven.

Of course, I don’t understand why we need organized religion or a book full of parables to guide our lives. George Carlin said it succinctly when he boiled down the Ten Commandments to just two. Other people have summed it up with just one: “Don’t be a dick.” Anyone who understands the difference between right and wrong should be able to live a good, morally sound life without worries about violating some church doctrine or pissing off an all-knowing God. But that’s my belief. Apparently, it isn’t widely shared in this world.

But what I’d really like to see is an end to religious and moral hypocrisy and the hiding of a person’s real self behind Bible quotes. Because seriously: who do you really think you’re fooling?