Digital Ergonomics: Facebook, Productivity, and Mental Health

quitting sitting Facebook depression mental health productivity time wasting waster social media linked to unhappiness jealously curated life image comic excerpt smbcHave you ever wasted time on Facebook?

If you’re like most people, the answer is yes, and more than you’d care to admit (especially to your boss).

Social media can no doubt be a time-sucking productivity killer.

But time isn’t the entirety of the table stakes here.

Facebook use has also been linked to mental health issues, including depression.

How can something so seemingly benign actually make significant numbers of users profoundly unhappy? Let’s take a look at what’s really going on here.

Note: When I say ergonomics, you likely think of special furniture and keyboards. But as we’ve outlined before, ergonomics is about working (living) according to the natural laws inherent in our own human design. Clearly, the internet is another input to that system. Hence, digital ergonomics.

Facebook the Productivity Killer

This one feels so simple because most of us have experienced it first hand. But why is Facebook such a time vampire?

Quite simply, Facebook is addictive.

Humans are social creatures, and we truly (read: chemically) enjoy learning about what other people are up to. That’s why gossip is so much fun. Why paparazzi get paid to follow celebrities. And why Facebook is addictive.

Every time you open that browser tab and navigate to your news feed, those new updates trigger a little dopamine release. Dopamine is the hormone responsible for making you take action by connecting actions with a rewarded feeling.

So when you check Facebook (and see new updates), you’re training your brain to remember that checking Facebook is fun.

In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with that.

If it weren’t for our dopamine-fueled reward system, we’d literally never do anything. But this is still addiction. And since Facebook is time consuming and rarely value producing, it’s largely a net detrimental addiction.

Personal Story. In college, I had a bit of a Facebook problem at one point. Whenever I hit a block in my studies, I would open a browser, type “fac” (which would autocomplete to facebook.com), and take a break to scroll through my news feed. This hit a pinnacle in class one day. The professor’s lecture took a turn for the boring. Without even thinking, I pulled out my notebook, and wrote “fac” at the top, then waited for it to load Facebook. Kinda scary, no?

Facebook as a Trigger for Depression

What do you tend to post on Facebook? I’ll bet it’s mostly updates about the coolest or most interesting things you do. And I’ll double down with a second bet that you often take multiple pictures and choose the best one, or carefully edit your wording before you post.

You probably rarely post super boring, normal stuff that happens to you. And you probably even less often post negative things about yourself or your life.

The result? Your Facebook page is carefully curated to present an image of the absolute best side of your life. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a totally natural way to use the platform. In fact, it’s what most people do.

But the result is that when you scroll through your news feed, everyone else’s lives look AMAZING.

And that’s enough to make anyone a little jealous, resentful, or even depressed.

The science shows just that. In a paper aptly titled “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms“, the researchers detailed two studies on Facebook use and depression, concluding,

“Both studies provide evidence that people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others.”

When people’s profiles are curated to make them look super amazing, we feel bad when we compare ourselves to them. But it gets even worse. You probably have hundreds of Facebook friends. So you’re comparing your life to hundreds (if not thousands) of artificially enhanced life images. This comic from the always hilarious SMBC nails it:

quitting sitting Facebook depression mental health productivity time wasting waster social media linked to unhappiness jealously curated life image comic saturday morning breakfast cereal

Isn’t that a bummer? Facebook takes time away from more productive pursuits, and it can cause depression. What’s a digital social butterfly to do?

Take Your Time (and Mental Health) Back From Facebook

If you start every day on a roll, you’re much less likely to end up constantly refreshing your news feed like a rat hitting a lever hoping for food pellets.

Check out the “How to Enter Production Mode” section of this post for inspiration there.

But in addition to adding positive behaviors, it’s also a good idea to limit the negative behavior. In this case, Facebook.

This surprisingly simple method worked wonders for me. My rule is that I can only check Facebook on Sundays. It was a little painful at first, but with such a clear pass/fail criterion, I was able to get through without much decision fatigue.

I got more done, and I felt way better about myself without constant reminders that Hawaiian vacations exist (and are happening to thousands of people right this minute!).

After the first few weeks, I often completely forgot to check Facebook on Sundays.

Yes, that means I have often gone 2-3 weeks straight without checking Facebook. And, no, nothing bad has happened as a result.

Caution: If you cut down on Facebook time, you may miss our blog posts. So make sure you join our newsletter (down there right after this article) to make sure you don’t miss a post!

Get Someone in Front of Your Face and Connect with Them

Analog is so in right now, and what’s more analog than actually spending face time with real people?

quitting sitting Facebook depression mental health productivity time wasting waster social media linked to unhappiness jealously curated life image smiling conversation

Pictured: Half of a conversation taking place not on Facebook.

When you connect with someone offline, you can create new experiences together (bonus points if you don’t post a status update about it), and forge stronger friendships.

And there’s much less chance of ending up depressed from it, because you’re much more likely to get a full picture of the other party’s life – thorns and all.

Besides, you probably have to spend a pretty absurd amount of time in front of a computer to make a living. So get away from the keyboard when you’re off the clock!

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3 Comments

  1. said:

    This past year I created a rule for all social media channels: Don’t feed the feed. This just means I don’t read the news feed. I check updates, make sure I reply to any messages sent to me (except DMs on Twitter, which are usually nothing important/sincere) make sure I am following the people I want to see in my updates, and not following those I don’t, and then I leave the feed alone for the most part. Every once and awhile I indulge the urge to feed the feed… just as a reminder of how bad it is. This has worked really well.

    April 8, 2015
    Reply
    • Kit Perkins said:

      Don’t feed the feed! I love it

      April 8, 2015
      Reply

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