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I live in New York City, and as many New Yorkers will attest, trying to make plans with more than one friend at a time can be a major undertaking. Coordinating calendars and setting firm dates can lead to lunches and dinners scheduled months in advance. The funny thing is that once the gang is convened, there are always a few instances where one, two, or all of us spend some of this quality time together with the “invisibles” at our table — Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc. — the people engaged in our tech-based social media life.
And it doesn’t just happen in New York, I’ve heard from others and have seen with my own eyes similar behavioral patterns across the country and amongst people of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. This led me to wonder, what effect is this having on our human experience and what impact does social media and technology have on our behavior and our mental health?
While technology and social media are definitely convenient and easy ways to stay connected with others and have had a tremendous impact for good, there’s also an underlying effect that is beginning to be cause for concern. New research shows that those who spend more time on social media feel less socially satisfied, and the more platforms we engage with, the more stressed and unhappy we become.
A new study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield discovered that more and more of us are losing connection with our own personal lives in order to gain “likes” and social media approval. They coined the phrase (which I love), social media “trophy hunters.”
“Our key finding is that we enjoy important life moments less when we’re focused on capturing them rather than experiencing them,” said Joseph Grenny. “’Likes’ are a low-effort way to produce a counterfeit feeling of social well-being that takes more effort to achieve in the real world. This study is a warning that we are beginning to value virtual pleasure hits more than authentic happiness.”
David Maxfield adds: “If our attention is on an invisible audience rather than the present moment, we are disconnected. Our devices are beginning to control our attention and motivations in ways we may not even realize.”
Sean Parker, former founding president of Facebook, is quoted as saying that the goal of the platform was always to find the answer to, "How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It's a social-validation feedback loop, exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
He’s not the only one speaking out. Former executives of various social media companies are finally talking about the potential damage to users and how the use of these platforms is changing personal interaction, and not in a positive way.
In an article on the mindbodygreen.com site, the author writes, “For a society with a rapidly growing addiction to technology, knowing of the conscious intent to "hook" users and seeing it work is disconcerting. Earlier this year, 60 Minutes released a special on the psychology of technology. ‘Inadvertently, whether they want to or not, they [social media companies] are shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people. They are programming people,’ Tristan Harris, a former Google project manager, told Anderson Cooper in the interview.”
The United States is the third-most depressed country in the world behind China and India with one of the highest percentages of unhappy people per capita. Interestingly, if you look at research on loneliness and the trajectory over the past 20 years, you would notice a spike around 2012 that has never self-corrected.
In an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University said, “Given that using social media for more hours is linked to more loneliness, and that smartphones were used by the majority of Americans around 2012, and that's the same time loneliness increases, that's very suspicious. You can't absolutely prove causation, but by a bunch of different studies, there's this connection between spending a lot of time on social media and feeling lonely.”
This is what fascinated me the most — research on the phenomenon of “social comparison.” Does our social media presence make our lives seem better and more glamorous to others than it really is? The older I get, the more I notice that people who we assume have wonderful, active social lives due to their social media posts are not as active nor as happy as we may think.
Between social media and entertainment trends like reality shows and YouTube channels, we have access to what once was private or shared with only those close to us. And, of course, the images posted depict only the amazing highlights, adventures, and envy-worthy experiences. We are bombarded with only the best images and the best moments (often exaggerated for the sake of appearances), never seeing the mundane, embarrassing, or not so envy-worthy moments.
And what do most of us do in return? And in all honesty, I do include myself in this group. We post our most interesting, exciting, and fabulous images, and in so doing (consciously or unconsciously) making our lives appear to be spectacularly carefree and aspirational. In any event, these studies reveal this obsession with “social media trophy hunting isn’t just distracting — it’s dictating lives.”
There is hope, though. A Danish study split more than a thousand Facebook users into two groups — one used FB as usual, the other took a week-long break. “Compared to those who kept using Facebook as usual, the people who took a break experienced big jumps in life satisfaction and positive emotions. The more a person had used Facebook before taking a break, the greater his happiness boost after giving it up, the study data show.”
As our awareness of technology and social media’s impact on users deepens, the industry is slowly responding. There are several apps designed to help break device/social media addiction (which seems slightly oxymoronic), including Space, Moment, QualityTime, Forest, among others.
I wrote at the top of this post that technology and social media have added tremendous benefits to our society and to each of us, but being mindful of their “addictive” power is imperative.
So, why not put your devices away for a few hours or leave them home when you go out. If you start feeling nervous or anxious, then it’s working. Once you get beyond the NEED to have your device, you’ll start to focus on the present and connect to wherever you are, with whomever you’re with, and whatever you’re doing. Those are the moments that we remember — true engagement and connection with others.
Cooking for Joan
This past week found the east coast in a deep freeze that reached record lows. It’s during those cold snaps that I crave warm, saucy food. I’ve always been a savory sauce person. When I was in college, the cafeteria would usually have a choice of some type of meat and starch or a sauce-based stew or soup — options jokingly called chop or slop. I always went for the slop!
In any event, I recently gave you the recipe for my Mom’s Spaghetti meat sauce, which is definitely soul-satisfying (The last frozen container came out a number of days ago and has been a lifesaver!) Today, I’d like to offer you another hearty savory dish, Chicken Stroganoff. My mother used to make Beef Stroganoff when I was growing up and this is similar to hers — I’m guessing, I didn’t get that recipe — but with a healthier twist, using boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
The Stroganoff is delicious — a creamy, rich texture of chicken and mushrooms (a favorite combo) with the unique paprika flavoring. Worcestershire sauce adds a nice extra oomph. Rather than egg noodles, you can substitute pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables, or whatever you like with a hearty stew. Give it a try!
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 10 min | Makes: 4 servings | Difficulty: Easy
- Kosher salt
- 12 ounces wide egg noodles
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 4 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups)
- 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon paprika, plus more for topping
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup chicken or mushroom broth
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup sour cream, plus more for topping
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add the noodles when you're half way through cooking the chicken.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the onion and cook until slightly soft, about 2 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the chicken, flour, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Cook, stirring, until the chicken browns, about 3 minutes.
Add the chicken broth and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a gentle simmer;
Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the sour cream and season with salt and pepper.
Simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through, about 2 more minutes.
Divide the noodles among plates.
Top with the chicken mixture, parsley, some sour cream and paprika.