There was an interesting piece on the last Newsnight about social media addiction. It was thankfully not sensational, but tried to look at the existing scientific evidence, especially how the brain’s reward areas being stimulated by likes/retweets etc. might cause addictive behaviour. It’s not a crazy idea, since that’s exactly what happens to gamblers, who are addicted to a specific behaviour that has no physical chemical component. The evidence is still too sparse to make any informed decision.
What interested me was less the addiction question than the social media behaviour breaks up something essential to my work: boredom. There is always another post to read, another picture to laugh at, something to like or retweet or comment on. Then of course your own contributions are skipped along and reflected back. It is the reason it is so appealing to people, and why it’s dangerous to writing.
Writing requires long, blank mental spaces, and it is a part of the work few of us enjoy. Hang around writers long enough (five minutes) and someone will complain about the crazy-making effects of the blank page. Yet it is a necessary pain, and leads to the most remarkable thing about our work: the wrestling of people, of whole worlds, into being though sheer force of will.
Yet, now that all writers are supposed to be social media experts, we are expected to stay connected to this vast sea of distraction. It’s a balance that isn’t easy to strike. For now I keep them separate, closing everything down except my work, knowing my brain will run for the first shiny object it sees to escape the empty space I’m forcing it to be in.
So, instead of staring at my browser, I stare out the window.