Note: While this is not what the post is about – it was written a couple weeks ago – I do feel I have a moral and ethical obligation to use the largest platform I have to say something in regards to the ongoing protests that started in the wake of George Floyd’s death. As much as I try and avoid directly acknowledging current events on this blog, I think my views on certain things have shown through from time to time. This is not a time when we should be obliquely referencing issues of such magnitude. I stand in support of the protesters that are crying for justice in the wake of this tragedy and so many others like it, and it is important that we condemn racism in all of its form. If you can, please consider donating to the NAACP or the ACLU to aid them in their fight against injustice. If you cannot, I urge you to add your voice to the millions of others that decry this horror. We should not, and cannot, stay silent.
I love my cellphone.
I’m willing to bet reactions to that statement are divided along generational lines. Gen Z members and my fellow millennials are nodding in agreement, baby boomers are rolling their eyes, and Gen X is split fifty-fifty. Obviously that’s not universal, generations are not monolithic hive minds, but there’s gonna be some trends that indicate your feelings about things. But there is an ongoing trend of blaming cellphones – and by extension, social media – for everything wrong with our society. Phones make us less connected. Phones make us dumb. Phones are turning us into hunchbacked troglodytes. Phones are bad, y’all! It’s so prevalent there is an entire subreddit with over 200,000 subscribers dedicated to making fun of people complaining about phones.
I know because I’m subscribed to it.
This has been on my mind since The Great Revelation by British YouTuber Probably Tomfoolery went viral. It’s a wonderfully touching video that envisions a better future after the end of the coronavirus. I loved the vast majority of the video and definitely recommend it for its hopeful message.
In an early part of the video, The Great Revelations takes a shot at cellphones. As someone who lives alone aside from my cat, this rubbed me the wrong way. Practicing social distancing for me has meant that I go to work, I come home, and once a week I go to the store. I’ve barely seen my friends or family since this all began. I won’t be able to safely see them until it ends. The majority of the contact I’ve had with the people I care about has been through social media. Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Google Hangouts – these have been my lifelines to my loved ones. So I’ve become especially sensitive to attacks against cellphones lately, because it’s the only thing keeping me sane.
But I loved the rest of the video, and once I really started to think about it, realized I should calm down. I mean, how likely is it that someone who is making videos on YouTube is part of the “phones are bad” crowd? It would be like me ranting about how fantasy isn’t as valid as literary fiction! There has to be something else at work.
Then today happened. Not the day this post went live, which is a couple weeks later, but the day it was written.
I work second shift, so I woke up at ten-thirty am today. I started writing this post at twelve thirty. The two hours between those two events was spent scrolling Facebook. It’s now twelve forty-five, and if you were to ask me what I saw during those two hours, do you know what I’d say?
I have no goddamn idea.
I spent two hours scrolling though social media, mindlessly consuming content that I didn’t retain.
This is what I’m starting to call scroll hypnosis, and it’s the real evil that people who hate phones misattributed to the device. The state of mind where you are consuming ‘content’ without digesting it, completely zoned out and stuck in a mindless loop. You see memes, videos, news, personal life updates, and advertisements, and none of it really sticks with you. It’s also the ideal state for a user of the platform, at least as far as social media executives are concerned. You are barely using their resources, but the content will stick in your subconscious to some degree. Exactly what the advertisers, the real customers of social media, want. Because the ads are mixed in among things that make you laugh or smile or get a surge of endorphins, when you see the product later you’ll have a positive association with it. Science backs this up. Even if it’s wedged between things that made you angry, you’ll still have a strong emotional association with the product.
This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
Did you recognize that phrase? If you’re a heavy social media user, I’m willing to bet you got a surge of recognition there, and you’re trying to figure out where it’s from. Not actively. Not really dedicating much mental space to it. But it’s a slight itch at the back of your brain, one that’s not bad enough to scratch but enough that you’re aware of it.
Let me scratch it for you.
That exact phrase was part of a push by conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting Group. It was part of a message that was assembled into an extremely disturbing YouTube video that went viral back in 2018, where it was shown how much Sinclair controls what their local anchors say. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now if you want to feel really squicked for a few minutes.
If you have, however, you probably forgot about it until I reminded you of it. You saw this before when you were in scroll hypnosis. It probably made you angry, and then you scrolled down and saw a kitten falling over, or a meme that made you laugh, or a video of 8 classic games you only played if you were a 90’s kid (number 7 will shock you!). Then you scrolled again and were reminded of a natural disaster and felt sad. Then you saw a celebrity you like saying something you agree with. And so on and so on until you’re emotionally numb because of the constant back and forth, and it all runs together.
You fell into scroll hypnosis.
Fortunately, there’s an easy fix here. Don’t smash your phone and berate people for using them. Instead, just avoid scrolling. Go deliberately to a friend’s Facebook page or to a particular group you’re interested in. Search for a specific topic on YouTube. Read a book on your Kindle app. Check out an individual Reddit thread. Go to a blog you like. Play a game. Comment often, especially for creators you like – not just because it helps us (though it does), but also because that engages your brain and therefore breaks the spell. If you find yourself just scrolling, try this – put your phone down for five minutes, and then ask yourself if you can remember anything significant from what you just saw. If you can’t, or can only remember a couple things from the last hour, do something else. Even just stretching your back can break the scroll hypnosis so long as you don’t keep scrolling when you do it.
Phones are not bad. Phones are tools, and like all tools how we use them is what defines their morality. Use your phone to strengthen your connections. Use your phone to educate yourself. Use your phone to create, to grow, to develop, and to communicate. In your hands you have access to the aggregate sum of all human knowledge combined with the ability to reach over two-thirds of the seven billion human beings on this planet. It’s very likely it’s the most influential technology since the Gutenberg printing press.
Just make sure you don’t fall victim to scroll hypnosis. Control the scroll. Use the phone to its full potential, but don’t let it lull you into a mindless sleep. For the love of God, don’t go back to scrolling after reading this post. Do something that uses your brain instead.
You’ll be happier that you did.
I was going to say “want something to do instead of scrolling? Why not read my book!” but it felt like that undercut the point. I still am gonna link it HERE because I am proud of what I created and want people to see it, but I’m going to draw attention to how these outro’s work. Normally I make sure the very last thing on this blog is a link to the book. I do this because I was told it was most effective, and I’m only just now realizing it’s effective because it takes advantage of scroll hypnosis. If you put the link at the end, people don’t break their trance to click. So, since I’m now aware of it, I’m going to make the last thing I link direct to the ACLU’s donation page. For at least this post, if I’m going to deliberately weaponize scroll hypnosis, I’m going to use that power for good.