Is social media harming the writing community?
Are you a writer or editor spending too much time on social media and feeling bad about it? Is it eating into your writing time, your editing time, your work hours, your free time, etc?
Social media as slot machine
Did you know that social media companies employ ‘attention engineers’ who use Las Vegas casino gambling techniques to keep you hooked? And all so they can make a profit at your expense.
Dr. Cal Newport has described having social media as like having a slot machine on your phone. The companies have invested tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to keep you on their sites.
If you look at their sites a lot, they track user minutes and it increases their stock value.
Even something as seemingly innocent as the like button is a result of attention engineering. Let’s face it, people love getting ‘likes’ because it indicates social approval.
And humans love social approval.
Also, there’s a dopamine hit when you get liked, retweeted, and so on, and that can get addictive.
Social media is designed to take up your attention – and as much of it as possible.
Social media steals your life, motivations, and goals
But what are you giving up when you spend hours on Facebook or Twitter?
You are losing time you can’t get back. Time you could have spent on other things.
Like writing a book, or finishing the book you’re currently working on. Or writing more books. Or going for walks, swimming, or cycling, or you could read more books.
And at least as importantly, you could have spent more time with your family and other loved ones.
And if you’ve spent a very long time on social media, that time wasted can clock up to years of your life.
What else could you have been doing with that time? Do you still read as much as you used to, or watch as many films? Do you socialise with others in the real world as much as you once did?
Social media destroys your focus
On top of all that, social media is not just a massive time sink, it’s also destroying your ability to focus. If you want to write, or you’re editing, you need to concentrate and immerse yourself in that project.
However, social media has trained users to become more fragmented in their attention. Notifications break your concentration as you rush to check what’s happening online.
You might intend to only check in for a moment or two, but even if you resist the temptation to stay longer, it will take you longer to focus again on your project.
So, you’ve actually lost even more time.
Is social media harming the writing community?
I often worry about the potential harm caused to writers by online writing communities on social media. Because even if the communities have helpful information, the platforms they use are designed to be addictive.
Like a slot machine.
We’re told that the Twitter writing community is helpful and supportive. Yet, someone going in to ask the community a quick question might find they’re still on Twitter an hour or so later.
That’s time lost to writing, and even if you go back to focus on your work, it’s unlikely you can just immediately concentrate again.
So, how much are these online communities actually draining writers of time, energy, and focus?
How much are they actually preventing you from fulfilling your writing dream?
So, is social media harming the writing community?
It doesn’t help that social media provides people with an immediate writing identity. You can put anything in your profile. Once you’re part of the writing community, you get validated, even when you’re posting too much to actually write. You end up with an unearned identity. Which fits with the modern tendency to want things now. Actual writing success takes a long time. Certainly, if you want to have a sustainable career, it will take years.
But on social media, you’ll find people claiming social media is necessary for writers.
It might partly come down to how much you’re able to resist the worst temptations and regulate yourself. I cover useful apps further down this post.
However, there’s another problem, and it’s a serious one…
Toxic politics and censorship
The online writing community can also be dangerously political and censorious. This can lead to self-censoring for fear of being attacked, which can tie your creativity up in knots. There’s far too much herding going on.
Some writers also use their followers to attack rivals and to bombard reviewing sites with negative reviews. This is reputation destruction, and it’s usually presented as righteous and virtuous.
But that’s how censors saw themselves in both left-wing and right-wing totalitarian regimes and theocracies. There were a lot of politically captured artists, writers, filmmakers, editors, and academics in these regimes. They used the prevailing ideology to climb the greasy pole. They took out rivals. Sometimes rivals were actually sent to the gulag or killed.
Social media encourages censorship and extremist ideologies.
Additionally, the algorithms thrive on conflict. But if you can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas without silencing rivals, there’s something wrong with your ideology.
Minority writers living in fear
And if you’re a minority writer who is now afraid to write fiction based on your own group, because your group is heavily policed by an arrogant and self-appointed activist class, social media is the last place you should be.
I’m seeing minority writers genuinely afraid of these online tyrants. The so-called ‘allies’ (who belong to the traditional oppressor groups) drown out the voices of ordinary members of minorities – and this is by design. We can’t have minorities thinking for themselves or just being individuals.
If you’re a writer or any kind of artist or thinker, you can’t let these people get inside your head and block your work.
If you’re a member of a minority or other historically oppressed group – you are not a member of a Borg-like collective, and you are not obliged to write according to the expectations of a grifting middle-class activist class.
The definition of freedom for minorities should include the definition to be yourself and not a footsoldier for the left, the right, or anyone else.
I see a lot of fear in the online writing community – fear of the bullies currently running riot. I see fear in publishing because activists have got themselves into positions of power – deliberately too because this is how ideologues capture organisations. Writers have been cancelled while rivals gloat and industry professionals celebrate on the likes of Twitter.
The more time you spend on social media, the more you’re likely to have these toxic activist voices in your head. They will block your ability to produce your best work. They will prevent you from writing your own truth.
And meanwhile, you are likely anxious about what you post – going back to see if you’ve offended some complete stranger from thousands of miles away. This is another reason why people often break what they’re doing in the real world to check social media. And this leads to anxiety and being trapped on a neverending hamster wheel of social media posting and reading.
Is Twitter worth it?
I’ve blogged before on apps that are useful to help concentration and focus. But while social media’s attention engineering is hugely immoral, even impacting the human brain, the political aspect adds to the toxic mix. To be honest, I’m not sure a social media presence is all that worth it.
I recently temporarily deleted my Twitter account. And I have to say, I didn’t miss it. I used to temp delete previous accounts every so often, until I wondered why I bothered reactivating them. I was no longer getting anything out of them.
Twitter is particularly poor when it comes to engagement. The advice is to engage with other people’s posts – but this then circles back to the problem of how much time you’re willing to spend there.
And even if you are getting engagement as a writer, is it delivering on sales or boosting your readership? Or is your readership primarily other writers who buy your book in exchange for you buying theirs?
That sale might give you a dopamine hit, but how does too much social media actually help you grow readers who are not also writers?
Useful apps that give you back control
It’s not even that you necessarily have to give up social media completely. There may be platforms you find less time-consuming and also less stressful. You can also use apps to control your access.
I recently looked at more apps I hadn’t tried before. I find some of them extremely useful.
The most useful of all is a straight-out social media blocker like Cold Turkey which has both a free and a paid option. I’ve used the free one for years and it’s definitely worthwhile. There are others like Forest, which allows you to grow a virtual tree as an incentive to focus.
There’s also Delayed Gratification. This allows you to customise a list of sites where you can set up a 10-second or 20-second delay before you can access them. So, with Twitter, you could give yourself a 20-second delay that prevents you from immediately getting into the site. When you make things harder for yourself, it helps to break the habit.
There’s also UnDistracted which allows you to control your use of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and Netflix. There is the option to block each of these sites, but you can also control whether you see the feed, the trending topics, recommended videos or followers, etc. With YouTube, you can force-direct to your subscriptions. Add in removal of the sidebar and recommended videos and you have fewer juicy videos to keep you distracted.
There’s also Insight by Freedom which allows you to track your time on various sites. The bar graphs might truly shock you when you check where you’ve been spending time. Freedom also has a social media blocker, but it’s not free, apart from the trial. Insight by Freedom is free on the Google Play Store as a Chrome extension.
There are many more useful apps. If you need to break your work time down into more manageable segments, you can use a Pomodoro timer.
Will I reinstate Twitter?
I was really in two minds about this. I felt better without it. I considered reinstating briefly and then temp deleting again since you only have up to 30 days before your account is gone forever.
I’ve often had my account locked to exercise control – I prefer using Twitter as a personal space rather than a town square.
But the noise of the town square is always there on my feed.
In the end, I decided to reinstate Twitter (reluctantly) and use the apps above and a blocker. I use these blockers for hours, days, or even weeks. Cold Turkey can’t be switched off. So, I have to be careful which sites I decide to block.
Unlike a lot of people, I don’t bother with social media on my phone. It’s only on my desktop that I have access. Mobile phones are a huge distraction for many people. Switch them off, remove social media from them, or put them in another room when you’re working.
Since I temp deleted Twitter I have read a bunch of books, spent more time in the garden, and bought myself a swimming costume.
However, I wanted to warn of one danger in blocking or deleting your worst sites – you will be tempted to scroll others instead. The real challenge is to take a step back from all scrolling and sites and start living more in the real world. And get more writing done too.
If you want to know more…
There are a lot of interesting videos on YouTube on the subject of ‘Why I quit social media‘.
Of course, being on YouTube means scrolling yet another site!
But you’ll see what people have to say about quitting for months or even a year or more. How their lives changed.
You’ll also see, particularly in the comments below, that many people who quit FB, Twitter, and Instagram choose to stay on YouTube, even though it too is designed to be addictive.
All I can say is, beware of YouTube. It’s another rabbit hole. I think it has a lot of amazing content, which is why so many people justify still using it. But it’s best to use it in a controlled fashion. I find it useful to access YouTube via my TV because then I treat it as an alternative to real television (which I have little to no interest in).
I also recommend checking out any talks Dr. Cal Newport gives on social media addiction. There are also whistleblowers from social media companies who have spoken out about the problems.
Otherwise, I have some openings in my developmental editing calendar. You can opt for an opening chapters edit, a manuscript critique, an advanced beta critique, or a full developmental edit.
You can check my editing services page.
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