I have an embarrassing confession: when I post pics of my homemade desserts, rants on social justice issues or what I consider hilarious self-deprecating 140-word quips about my life, I want you to click “Like.” Yep. Despite my 37 years of age I am desperate for Facebook approval, and with each notification of approval or attention, I get a total buzz—a boost of dopamine—that leaves me hungry for another hit.
It’s also embarrassing to admit that I have at times taken down certain posts because I received zero feedback in the form of “likes” or comments, even those posts that I really love—like a video of the days I spent working in professional kitchens. At the time, I assumed all of my friends would have been more than excited to see what my pastry station looked like at Lucques, one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. Who wouldn’t want to stare into the bowl of a three-foot-tall industrial standing mixer, watching brioche dough getting whacked this way and that into a soft, mushy ball?
I might even go so far as to admit that I have a Facebook addiction. I’m one of those idiots who posts whatever thoughts pop into my mind that I think are funny, and since I often think I’m hilarious, I end up posting a lot. Sometimes these one-liners or 100-word stories about my life probably are funny, but I’d estimate it’s a mere 20% that actually end up amusing my friends.
Here’s a sample of my latest hit, which I posted about three weeks ago:
I told my therapist something big recently. He looked at me for about five seconds, adjusted himself in his nondescript Kaiser office chair, and, with a furrowed brow, said, “Have you ever thought about writing a memoir?”
This one amassed a good 40 “likes” along with plenty of “loves” and “ha-has,” which does wonders for someone like me who has medium to medium-low self-esteem. And the “likes” kept rolling in—up to four days after I posted it.
Getting “likes,” or “ha-has,” is sort of like taking a hit—I get a quick spike in dopamine. It’s an awesome pick-me-up— like any drug—so I end up chasing it. After the successful therapist post, I followed up with another post that I thought was equally funny:
Has anyone ever sort of lost feeling in their left foot after doing a bunch of backbends?
That particular day, I stretched my back past what would have probably been recommended by a yoga instructor, physical therapist or dance teacher in an effort to both relieve my upper-back pain and to master the Rachel Brice backbend—a belly dance move I have been trying to nail for around four years. I think I overdid it, hence the tingling in my left foot. Though slightly unnerved, I found the experience mostly hysterical, knowing well that my all-or-nothing extremism (no, not alcoholism, as that involves taking a drink) was very stupid.
Apparently, the post wasn’t funny at all. It certainly didn’t elicit the response I had hoped for. I believe it picked up one “like” and zero “ha-has,” and I really don’t think many people read it. Those who did apparently took it at face value, becoming genuinely concerned for my back. Some suspected I had forced a disc out of place or pinched a nerve or something, and they told me to keep an eye on it and seek medical attention if the feeling didn’t return in my foot. That these random Facebook friends—most of whom I’ve never met in person—cared about the state of my vertebrae and its connection to my foot sort of surprised me.
But after getting short-changed on reactions and “likes,” I realized I didn’t want to hear about their experiences with numbness in their left feet or well wishes; I just wanted attention and the immediate gratification and dopamine boost that comes with a fresh notification of approval. This remarkably immature and self-obsessed behavior is perhaps made worse because I don’t have children or an exhausting full-time job. I’ve noticed that other compulsive Facebook posters are people like myself—too much free time on their hands and unburdened with the task of chasing a toddler around the house to ensure it doesn’t choke itself to death on a Lego or electrocute itself by shoving a butter knife into a wall outlet. And as a freelance writer I thankfully get to skip an hour-long commute to a nine-hours-a-day job.
After I post something, I compulsively check my phone to see if the red notification bubbles have landed on the Facebook app icon, which is on my home screen. If there are no red bubbles, or if the numbers are low—like one or two—I sink a bit. I might feel slightly depressed, disappointed or even angry that no one recognizes the brilliance of my latest joke or pontification. Then I’ll regret posting what I posted, feel stupid and embarrassed and sometimes delete it. Recognizing the narcissism of these emotions (and my utterly infantile need to post whatever thought pops into my brain), I would sometimes shut the phone off entirely or hide it somewhere so I could go about my work and take care of what needs to be taken care of.
Well, that was my tactic a week ago.
Since beginning this essay, I have become more mindful—and disturbed—by my Facebook addiction and need for approval. The constant beeping of my phone with comments and messages became so distracting, knocking me off my center and tugging me down into a sea of self-obsession and un-productivity, I decided to just delete the app altogether. This was a very smart move. Now, I just get on Facebook on my computer a few times a day to check for messages or any important notifications.
The first few days were fantastic—I barely posted anything! It didn’t take long, however, for me to fall back into serial posting. Still, I cut the rants out of these posts, now mostly just sharing articles or videos on subjects important to me, sometimes cutting and pasting key quotes out of the articles while leaving my opinions and brilliant ideas out of it.
For whatever reason, axing the application from my phone curbed the dopamine boosts I had been experiencing, and I found it super-easy to go without them—no withdrawal symptoms. More importantly, I became acutely aware of how much time I had been wasting scrolling through my feed searching for something—what, exactly, I’m not sure—every night before bed when I could be reading, meditating or perhaps crafting the next chapter of my book.
There’s no real reason to be on Facebook. As a writer, I will be required to keep my social media accounts until I either end my career or die, so I can’t get off entirely. Still, I don’t have to be addicted, caught up in the highs and lows of successful and unsuccessful posts. So for now, I’m glad I’ve taken a few steps back from Zuckerberg’s billion-dollar brainchild. Perhaps my maturity has now increased to that of an 18-year-old instead of a 12-year-old. Let’s hope it sticks.