Eric Frazier of the Charlotte Observer told the story of Alyssa Rushing this week – a 20 year old student at the University of South Carolina whose mother has offered her $300 to “detox from Facebook” for a month. Alyssa’s mother, Melynda, wanted her daughter to focus on studying instead of social media – and viewed the challenge as a way to help Alyssa recoup the time she was wasting online:
Her mom, with just 40 Facebook friends, said she got on the network solely because she wanted to keep up with her children on it. Her idea for the $300 challenge came from her own past. As a busy mom trying to raise children, she once swore off TV and gained extra time to get things done.
She’s sure the same will be true for her daughter, especially given how distracting Facebook can be.
Next Tuesday, we’ll know if Alyssa was able to meet the challenge, because her month will be up. The question that I’m most interested in, though, is whether the one month pay-for-performance will lead to any long-term shifts in behavior. For a change to be permanent, the motivation must come from within. Although external motivators (like $300) might provide the impetus to get off Facebook now, what happens when the cash is no longer flowing? In 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported a higher success rate among smokers who were paid to quit, versus those who were not. However, there are no long-term indicators available. And besides, research shows that carrots and sticks don’t always work, anyway.
When I did my 42-day social media detox in the summer of 2010, all I was looking for was relief from the incessant online chatter – the anxiety and exhaustion that came from being frenetically, perpetually, and continuously distracted by status updates. As I peeled back the layers covering my anxiety, I realized there was a whole Pandora’s box of twisted emotions and my online habits were actually distracting me from dealing with the real issues all around me.
I check Facebook and other social media much less now – but my motivation is purely intrinsic: if I don’t keep a healthy distance, the anxiety will start to enshroud me again, and who knows where I’ll end up then. For me, it’s a matter of preserving mental and emotional happiness.
It’s kind of like dealing with an eating disorder. You can’t exactly swear off food since you need to eat to live – you just need to set very good boundaries detailing how you interact with food, and avoid putting yourself in situations that will threaten your health and well-being.
The game is all about devising effective structures to help you deal with your obsessions. And I think this is a huge issue for ensuring your own quality of life – at least in the very personal world inside your head.