We have reached a point in our time where social media has penetrated almost every nook and cranny of our lives. And while many of us adults have lived those days where the online world is almost non-existent, not the same can be said for children now who are born at the peak of it. Diving deep into this topic, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen discuss the horrors and long-term impact of social media on children. In particular, they talk about their latest documentary find entitled “Childhood 2.0,” which sheds light on real-life issues kids face today, such as cyberbullying, online predators, suicidal ideation, and more. They also explore what parents can do to help their children from these dangerous distractions and how we, as a society, can encourage a deeper sense of resilience and awareness not to fall trap into the nefarious constructs of social media.
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The Horrors And Long-Term Impact Of Social Media On Children
Whitney and I have been, as of late, doing a lot of additional research on the effects of social media in digital technology and as such have been watching a lot of documentaries and reading a lot of articles, many of which we continue to reference here on the show. If you are a long-time reader, you have probably heard us reference things like the Social Dilemma, Fake Famous and a lot of articles and studies talking about the mental health and emotional wellness implications of social media and digital tech and how it’s shaping not only human society but our neurophysiology. Whitney brought another one to the table that I had never heard of before that came out on YouTube called Childhood 2.0. I’m feeling emotional right now after watching this documentary. Whitney, there’s so much I want to unpack. I feel like this is going to be a longer episode for us because I’ve taken the most notes I’ve ever taken of any research that we’ve done preparing for a show before. I have pages and pages of notes because there were many moments of feeling shocked, sad and also expanded.
The way that I want to start this because I’m not sure that there’s a place to start, is the feeling I have in my body is the same feeling that I had is a similar feeling when I first started to watch documentaries in my late teens about slaughterhouses in the animal agriculture industry. A lot of documentaries like The Corporation that we’re talking a lot about the environmental destruction and the societal destruction of consumerism. The somberness and the sadness I feel after watching this documentary, in particular, reminds me of the feelings that I had after watching those kinds of documentaries in my teens and twenties. It’s a feeling that I have of wanting to make profound title shifts in my life, much like I did after I watched those documentaries of how I ate, how I consumed, how I spent my money, the industries I was supporting. My approach to animals, my approach to the environment. This documentary, in particular, Whitney, I’m not sure how you feel but I feel like this has hit me in a deep, visceral lasting way.
I’m reeling. I feel emotionally hungover after watching this documentary. I don’t know that I know exactly what point I want to jump off because there are so many holy shit things, I want to talk about with you but the first point is, emotionally, how did this land for you? I feel like I got my ass kicked emotionally after watching this. Where are you at with all of it? How are you feeling? I know you watched it a second time to take notes and dig into a bit more of the research and points we wanted to talk about. You’ve seen it twice.If we don't know how to make a change, we have to become more committed to figuring that out. Click To Tweet
To be fair, I didn’t make it all the way through the second round yet because it’s a lot to take in. I felt similar to you, Jason and it’s interesting because I’m not a parent. My first instinct was that I had to share it with all of my friends who would be open to watching it that are parents. It was interesting because part of me thought like, “Some of my friends, you send things this to them and they get defensive because it’s a hard subject matter. Some parents depend so much on technology for their children to entertain them, to distract them, to give them something to cope with, that it’s hard to recognize the long-term effects of this.” I sat back and sent it to people that I thought would watch it. Some of them immediately responded and said, “Thank you.” Some of them hadn’t responded yet, probably because they’re overwhelmed with other things in their lives.
One person responded that after they saw the trailer, they didn’t feel like they would want to watch this because they thought it might be fearmongering. I thought that was an interesting reaction because I didn’t watch the trailer first. I found out about this on TikTok. No surprise for the readers, I spend a good amount of time on TikTok. TikTok has many benefits to my life. One of which is that it shows me what’s going on in the world. There’s a number of accounts that I follow or interact with that talk about movies that are recommended. This came up, there was a clip of this on TikTok.
What was interesting is there was a clip from the end of the movie, which I won’t bring up, not that you can spoil anything with a movie like this but it was a clip towards the end of it that felt different than the rest of the movie. It was interesting how that one clip didn’t fully represent it but it was enough to capture my interest. I watched it without even watching the trailer. I thought I’ll give this movie a try. Similar to you, Jason. I was so hooked. This movie is well done. I’m shocked that it hasn’t received as much attention as I feel movies like The Social Dilemma did but even The Social Dilemma isn’t talked about that much, which is shocking.
The Fake Famous documentary that we talked about is also barely talked about. What I see most people talking about right now is the Free Britney documentary, which has exploded. We have a guest coming up on the show who’s going to talk about that documentary and his firsthand experience, which I’m looking forward to. I am shocked that this documentary came out in August 2020 and I didn’t even hear about it until February 2021. None of the parents I sent it to have heard of it. It is a free documentary that you can watch on YouTube. Even more so shocking, perhaps most people watch things that are on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, on and on the list, HBO, maybe that’s why I didn’t get enough traction. That’s a big reason I wanted to discuss it here now, as I encourage everybody parent or not. Jason and I are not parents but we got much value from watching this documentary.
Going back to the way that I felt about it, as I was watching it, I was sending it to parents and that one more acquaintance of mine responded by saying that they already knew about a lot of this stuff going on, so they didn’t need to watch another documentary. I didn’t fully want to push back on that but to be honest, I feel like we should be seeing a lot of this content frequently because it takes time to sink in. It’s a lot like watching vegan documentaries. I know what’s going on but I still try to watch as many of those documentaries as possible because A, there’s maybe some new information, some updated studies, some perspectives I haven’t fully considered. I’m personally not a fan of that response of, “I already know about it. I don’t need to see it.” I feel like that’s a defensive reaction and a closed-minded one.
This person’s reaction was perhaps, A, that it feels too depressing to watch a lot of this stuff and B, maybe it brings up fear. Maybe it brings up like, “I can’t even mentally handle it anymore.” It’s like someone’s reaction to not wanting to join another social media app. They’re thinking like, “Another one? I’m already on all these others. Why do I need to join this new one?” You could give reasons for either side of it. It’s also similar, Jason when you tell somebody about a vegan documentary and their response is, “I’m already vegan. Why do I need to watch this?” It’s hard to watch animal cruelty. It’s hard to see someone spit out scientific facts about health and the environment. If you feel like you’re already contributing to a change, you might not feel compelled but I’m of the belief that it’s always helpful to take in more information because it gives you more tools and it keeps you aware. That was the reason that I watched this documentary, is because I wanted to be more aware of what was going on and there was a lot in this movie that I didn’t fully know or understand.
Before we dig into some of the points that I want to talk to you about Whitney, the idea of becoming more aware and cultivating self-awareness is not necessarily a fun, enjoyable experience. I want to make it clear, in my personal experience, that when we talk about consciousness and we talk about becoming more aware and we’re bringing up these documentaries with the readers. We’re sharing these things on the internet, it’s under the auspices of waking up and wanting to be more aware can be painful and sad sometimes. They’re part of our mission. The reason we call this show This Might Get Uncomfortable is because that can be painful and shocking and like, “Holy shit, I didn’t know that.” To your point, Whitney, I also watched Dominion, the animal rights documentary. There were statistics, things and facts that I didn’t know. Even though I’ve seen dozens and dozens of documentaries on animal rights, welfare, the food system, the ecological damage, there’s always more to learn.
Even if I know that it’s going to make me a little sad or I’m going to feel a little bit depressed afterward, I would rather be more aware than less aware. I would rather be more conscious than less conscious, even if it means there’s going to be pain and discomfort associated with that. That being said, even though this documentary is called Childhood 2.0, Whitney, I felt like there were a lot of aspects around it, particularly mental health and suicide. A lot of the shaming and social implications weren’t relegated to teenagers. I see a lot of this behavior in grown adults. I see a lot of these effects happening for grown adults, too. The point that we’ll get into is like the seeds of this are planted at a younger and younger age than ever before. Things like watching pornography, violent imagery, sexting, sending dick pics and nudes, they’re talking about this stuff starting at 9 and 10 years old, kids in the 6th grade doing these things.
Part of the arc with the statistics and some of the sociological studies in this documentary was looking at the age at which children are exposed to these things and engaging in these things going down. Eleven years old, ten years old, nine years old. They were talking about some kids in 5th grade looking at pornographic imagery and things like that. We don’t know what the end game is here until we’re decades into the future but even for us as adults, the amount of exposure you and I have to violence, pornography, graphic content, the accessibility now is so easy. The thing that I cried in points in this documentary Whitney, I cried because I feel the pain that this is causing a lot of children, palpably feeling the pain that it’s causing. In particular, the one thing that, that got me crying was when they talked about the statistics of suicide rates in teenagers, that between 2010 and 2017, the teen suicide rate had gone up 56% in that seven-year period.
One of the researchers and doctors on there was saying that 1.12 million kids were hospitalized in the year 2015 for suicide attempts. These are the moments that I texted you like my brain is melting down because we’re not talking in the mainstream about the scope of the horror of this and that 18 million reports of online child sexual abuse. It’s the pressure for children to fit in society and school now. There were kids saying that by the time they were eleven years old, if they didn’t have a smartphone in school, they were teased, bullied and ridiculed for not having a phone. That’s the level that we’re at. The social pressure to fit in and be like everyone else is doing such unbelievable damage to these children. If the kids were saying much like we’ve talked about in the influencer culture and actors, we know that kids are more popular at school based on the number of followers and likes they have. Kids would befriend other children, not even if they liked them, they might’ve thought they were even assholes but because they were popular, they had more friends.Social media pulls us away from our purpose in a lot of ways. Click To Tweet
These aren’t new issues. You and I and generations ago, we talk about social hierarchy, the pressure to fit in, the pressure to be popular and be famous and the four dual basic urges and how people are motivated by significance and importance and fame and power. I feel like what social media has done especially with these kids is they’ve taken the dial and cranked it to 50. It’s not that these pressures haven’t been there, you and I face those pressures when we were in school but the level of pressure right now, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to deal with this. The mass narcissism and the girls in this documentary talking about more skin equals more likes and the pressure they feel to take their clothes off. We’re talking about girls in middle school and high school taking their clothes off because they know they’ll get more likes.
All of the pressure to send nudes and that guys will stop talking to them and they’ll stop dating them if they don’t send them nude pictures. There’s so much I want to fucking talk about in this documentary because my mind is blown right now. My heart hurts, Whitney because of the amount of pressure these kids are dealing with, the number of suicides, the unbelievable panic, anxiety and the medical issues they’re facing. What’s the end game here?
I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories but let’s dip into that territory. These companies exist. Why do they exist? It’s to make a shit ton of money. If they’re conditioning young people to be desperate to fit in by the right clothes, get the right car, use the right filters, take their clothes off, what are we conditioning children to do? We’re conditioning children to obey, not to question, to fit in and be everyone else and to be consumers because of the desperate need they feel to fit in and be like everyone else. If it sounds conspiracy, I don’t fucking think it is. These corporations who have hundreds of billions of dollars are conditioning us to fit in and be everyone else and not question this destructive capitalist system that we’re in. That’s my take on all this. I feel like that’s the intent here.
I’m glad that you’re getting so fired up about this, we need to. That’s how I felt too, when I was watching, I thought like, “I want to do something about this as soon as possible because this is our future as human beings. These children are going to be in charge of things. These children are the future of human society.” That is an interesting thing, for us as adults to make sure that we’re clear about it especially when we’re not parents because when you’re not a parent, you’re focused on yourself and your life, you’re focused on your future. Perhaps you have children in your life, maybe they’re nieces and nephews or your friend’s kids and you’re connected to them but it’s a different experience than having a child in your house 24/7 and being constantly reminded of their future.
That’s the big thing I hear from a lot of parents is that it completely shifts their worldview. We have to remember though, is it’s not just us taking care of our kids. It’s everything as a whole. A lot of parents are focused on making an impact on their children. We need everybody collectively, parents or not, to be focused on the future of our society and taking a good look at this and not brushing it away. This is part of the issue here, Jason, when we see this with the environment, we see this with health, we see this overall. Human beings know that there are issues. We might get involved for a little while. Another great example is racism. This is a good lesson for me too. I’m guilty of this. I was so fired up in the middle of 2020 during Black Lives Matter.
I was thinking about it every day. I took a course to become a better ally. I was reading books and engaged with change within myself and hopefully others. It has had a ripple effect. Even with our show, we’ve worked on diversifying our guests. It’s a bigger priority for us. We’re working on being inclusive of different genders and sexualities. Inclusivity is the ripple effect. Amplifying voices is the ripple effect. Being better allies is the ripple effect but am I as engaged with that as I was before? No. Even environmentally, when I started my work with Eco-Vegan Gal in 2008, I was so fired up about it. I was fired up about being environmentally conscious and making a difference and then over time, it became part of my life. I became less aware and less focused and less concerned.
That’s going back to the reason to watch documentaries like this is that they reignite us like you were saying with that documentary that you watched about veganism, Dominion. That’s why these are so important in sharing this. Sometimes we can become frustrated when there’s a lot of content covering the same subject matter. For example, there are many health documentaries about veganism. There are documentaries about plant-based athletes. Sometimes you can roll your eyes and say, “Do we need another one.” We do need another one because the data does change and we have to keep it fresh in our minds because we can become consumed in our day to day lives.
One action step is to put it onto your schedule. This is something that I did when I was working on becoming a better ally towards people of color. I took that course. It was a month-long online course that was free. Every day I worked on it. Every day I watched a lesson and tried to take some action, big or small. I put it on my to-do list. It was on my calendar. It was part of my day. In things like this, we need to be proactive and figure out how we can make a change. If we don’t know how to make a change, we have to become more committed to figuring that out. One thing that you can do besides watching this movie is to go to the documentary’s website, which is Childhood2Movie.com.
They have a section called What Can I Do? They have a community you can join. They have something called Parenting in a Tech World, which is an online community dedicated to supporting the first generation of parents raising kids in the digital age. It’s a private Facebook group. I’m going to click and join it because I want to learn more. I’m not a parent but can I be an ally to parents? Yes. My friends’ kids are precious to me. If I do have a child, I would like to be more prepared for it and more involved. If I don’t have children, I want to continue to be an ally and support them in whatever way I can.
Number two on the website, you can sign up. I’m also going to do that. I’m going to register our Wellevatr email, so we’ll get emails about this. Lastly, they have a Resource section. They have a handbook for raising kids in a digital age that’s for families, schools and community organizations. That reminds me too, Jason, of when you and I got involved with Stedman Graham’s event about purpose. It’s called CAYS. It’s Community Action for Youth Success, is what that stands for. I want to get reinvolved with that, Jason, as a ripple effect of this documentary because one thing that Stedman Graham is passionate about is helping kids tap into their purpose.
If we look at how we can make a shift away from all the horrors of social media pulls us away from our purpose in a lot of ways. It can amplify our purpose but it can also distract us from our purpose. We see this as adults but remember, our brains are fully developed as adults. These kids that they’re talking about in this documentary are under the age of 21, which is the age, maybe it’s 25, where your brain is fully developed. Regardless, they’re clearly susceptible to this in a way that we as adults can’t even imagine because what the documentary paints well is how most parents did not grow up with social media. Social media has only been around and it’s in its major form for several years. Unless you’re a teen parent, you’re not aware of how this could potentially impact your kids and even so every year, every month social media is developing. Your experience several years ago is drastically different than your kids’ experiences. Especially now that we’re in COVID and people are spending way more on their screens for school, there’s so much going on.
To wrap up what I was saying about the purpose side of things, I want to get more involved with that, Jason. We can remind children that there’s more to life than being popular and validated and sexy and having clout and all of these things that they’re drawn to, that there’s a life outside of their screens and get them outdoors, that they are more valuable than their social media and metrics. If we can remind them that they’re loved and supported by us and there’s communication that happens outside of a digital device and that we want them to grow into purpose-driven adults, we need to do whatever we can to be involved with that.
That’s a wonderful remedy because one of the juxtapositions they made in this documentary was talking to previous generations. They were talking to Gen X, Baby Boomers and older people and they were contrasting that with their prototypical childhood activities with the prototypical childhood activities of the current Gen Z or younger. One interesting thing that came up in that documentary when they were interviewing, they interviewed a lot of different kids in this documentary, which was great. How many of them said at one point, Whitney, that they wish that they could have social media be wiped out forever? They think that life would be better without it but that it’s so endemic now, it’s ingrained in the culture and you’re ostracized if you’re not on it, if you don’t have a smartphone, if you don’t have social profiles. The interesting thing was looking at how many teenagers they interviewed that had that sentiment of, “If we could do away with it and wipe it out, we think life would be better.”Awareness is not action. It is not change. It is not creating a pattern interrupt. Click To Tweet
On the one hand, there’s the awareness of being addicted. It’s not for lack of awareness. The other one was there were these two little boys, they must’ve been 6 and 9, the two little brothers. The smaller one who appeared to be six said, “I’m addicted to the games.” He pointed to his brother and said, “He’s addicted to the games. If we don’t get to play our games, we throw a fit.” A six-year-old acknowledged his self-awareness of addiction. Holy shit. It’s not a lack of awareness that kids are addicted. They know they’re fucking addicted. What are we going to do about it? That’s what you’re talking about. What the fuck are we going to do about this? Awareness is not action. Awareness is not change. Awareness is not creating a pattern interrupt. It’s like, “I know I’m addicted but we throw a fit when we don’t play our game.” It’s a six-year-old saying this.
The awareness of getting kids to know that they’re addicted and this is changing their neurochemistry is not enough. That’s not going to stop them from doing it or create guard rails if we will or gatekeeping mechanisms to have them do it less. Awareness of addiction and awareness of being in a social contract construct that they’re also acknowledging is probably unhealthy for them. If they could hit a button and delete all of the social media, their “lives” would be better but we can’t. There’s not some big red button in an underground bunker somewhere that we can press that’s going to delete all of this. I don’t know that necessarily legislating is going to do it either. The whole reason social media exists in my mind is to continue to encourage sameness and fitting into a societal hierarchy and a structure that oppresses people. It’s fitting into a dynamic to sell people things and continue toxic capitalism that’s destructive to people’s psyches in the environment in the world. Even if we “got away or did away” with social media something would fill that void.
I don’t think regulating social media per se is the answer. That might be a part of it, of having guard rails or safety precautions put in place to limit. I don’t know. There was a huge component about pornography and sex trafficking and that was horrifying as hell but the thing is, we’re talking about things on the level of consciousness. If we take away the mechanisms and the structures, the human desire for power, dominance, greed and hierarchy will still be there. It’s like what we talked about in the Elon episode, Whitney. We get to a point where we have the option of transporting our consciousness into cyborg bodies and populating Mars. If we’re still greedy, violent, hateful, disconnected people then we’re going to be greedy, violent, hateful, disconnected cyborgs on a different planet. Who fucking cares? This gets down into a deeper level of not just what is addicting us but why are we becoming addicted?
There are so many facets to this. Is it about building self-esteem in children and adults? Is it about letting us know that we don’t have to play this game, that it’s a zero-sum game and that there are no winners? I’m trying to think about this on not only a sociological level but a psychology level of, “How do we let people know they’re enough? How do we let people know that they’re lovable regardless of their numbers? How do we let kids have more of a sense of agency over who they are and not feeling like they have to fit in badly?” These are not easy questions because the desire to fit in, the desire to be accepted, the desire to be loved and revered is strong. It’s changing us. At that one point, the girls were talking about their relationships and dating. The interviewer asked one of the girls like, “How do you start dating guys?” She’s like, “Usually a guy will text me and say, ‘I think you’re hot,’ and then we’ll start dating. We’ll be sexually active before we’re even boyfriend and girlfriend.”
That blew my mind. This girl gets a text from a dude like, “You’re hot.” All of a sudden, it’s on. The level of sexual aggression and sexual deviancy and objectification, one of the things they said was what kids see, they feel neurologically compelled to do. This is another part of it. If you see all your friends doing something and you see people taking their clothes off and you see, as we mentioned in a previous episode, sexuality being flaunted as a tool for popularity and financial gain then everyone’s taking their clothes off and everyone’s making money being naked and sexual. What’s wrong with it? It’s doing things to the level of intimacy they were saying.
I agree with that. Sexuality is not intimacy. For a lot of people on a level of relationship, Whitney, they’re not learning how to be intimate. They’re not learning how to be vulnerable. They’re not learning how to be open with someone. Social media, in a way, is training us to treat each other as objects. We’ve commodified human beings. We continue to commodify human beings. Whether that’s celebrities like Britney you were talking about or just the average person, we’re turning people into objects. That to me is heartbreaking and fucking scary.
I feel similar emotions and it’s triggering. It’s something that comes up so much on the show, seeing that it has its hooks in people. Another line that got to me was about the low-grade anxiety side of it and how they had asked kids, “Don’t you all have a level of low-grade anxiety?” I don’t know how long we’ve had that, if that’s psych a part of the human state or if that’s a new thing but I know that most people would raise their hands children or not if you said, “Don’t you experience a low-grade anxiety every day?” That’s disturbing. It makes me wonder, Jason, why is it not getting better necessarily? As individuals, perhaps we can work on it but anxiety’s a tough thing to remove.
If I feel anxiety as an adult using platforms like social media and other online tools and that’s relatively new in my life, how is a kid who’s never known life without those devices? How are they going to cope with this? That’s a big battle. Just like the documentary talks about, you and I remember, Jason, being able to go out in the neighborhood without much fear. That was another thing that came up a lot was safety and how parents are still concerned with physical safety. Yet the statistics are that there’s a lot more danger online than it is in-person and yet the media perpetuates this with all this messaging about like, “Look at all these awful things happening in the world. Be afraid.”
That fear is worse than the actual things that are happening. We are now so anxious, depressed, afraid that we have completely lost perception of reality. Social media in general is twisting our perceptions of reality about ourselves, about the world that we don’t even know what to trust anymore. I’ve talked about on the show before how I struggle a lot with trust. I have throughout my life but I can’t imagine being a little kid right now that you probably can’t trust anything. You are probably afraid of everything. That’s disturbing to me as well. Anxiety is getting worse and worse. It sounds like a horrible life to live if every single day of your life you’re experiencing a level of anxiety.
That’s another thing we need to wake up to is if we want to take a hold of it, we have to take it seriously. Jason and I can share this firsthand. We work on ourselves a lot, maybe more than an average person because our whole business is about self-development. It‘s about wellbeing, physically, emotionally, mentally. It’s part of every single day, all these little thoughts that I have about taking good care of myself and I still experience anxiety. The anxiety has a bigger hold on me than I’m fully conscious of because I’ve talked about how I struggle with a sleep disorder and my anxiety manifests there while I’m sleeping. I don’t currently know how to fix it. It could be some chemical imbalance or something that I’ve had throughout my whole life because I’ve always struggled with a sleep disorder but I feel like it has been heightened.
When I notice my behavior and my tendencies with my sleepwalking and sleep talking, they’re related to things like social media. My point being is that here I am working on myself consciously all the time and yet I’m still struggling with anxiety. For somebody who’s not consciously working on themselves, for somebody who’s inconsistent with self-care, imagine how bad they might have it. That’s not meant to scare anyone. It’s not meant to make anyone feel hopeless. Maybe I need to do even more to combating anxiety. Maybe I need to, as discussed in the Digital Minimalism book that I’ve been reading, take a 30–day break away from these devices. That’s something that I want to look into more.
That’s a great resource. It’s Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, which is a book recommended by our friend, Adam Yasmin, who’s also been a guest on the show. I started reading that book immediately after Adam recommended it. I got it the day and read it that night and have been slowly going through it. I felt intimidated when I heard about this advice to not be on our devices for 30 days. The detox or whatever you want to call it. Now I’m feeling like, after seeing a documentary like this, maybe that would be vastly impactful for me. Maybe it’s crucial. I wonder, is that going to be a big trend, Jason? More and more so our people are going to be getting off their devices or is it the opposite? Are people so hooked on it that they can’t even imagine spending 30 days disconnected?Sexuality is not intimacy. Click To Tweet
People are becoming less resilient to facing extremely painful or uncomfortable things. One of the reasons that social media is so addictive on a chemical level is because there are deep comfort and distraction. Distraction is extremely comforting. The question I have is for an entire society of addicted people, how do we encourage a deeper sense of resilience and willingness to be bored? That was a word that got spoken a lot in this documentary. “What do you do when you’re bored? Grab your phone.” It’s parroted over and over. The question is, what is boredom? Is boredom a lack of purpose, a lack of direction? Is boredom a reticence and an inability to face the more painful, uncomfortable parts of ourselves because we haven’t been taught how to do it?
Our parents, for the most part, didn’t teach us when you’re having uncomfortable emotions, this is how you deal with them. Not something I was trained to do, not something most people I know are trained to do. When you’re sad, when you’re suffering, when you’re scared, this is how you deal with it. No, as an adult then it was, like, “All these decades of repressed emotions that I never dealt with.” That’s the scary thing to me too, Whitney, is for these kids, decades and decades of repressed emotions and pain and suffering and trauma that they haven’t been taught how to deal with, they’re numbing, distracting and numbing over and over again. These things will have to be dealt with at some point.
Spiritually, cosmologically, biologically as human beings, we can’t continue to stuff down the challenges, the pain, the discomfort, the trauma and expect they’re going to go away. The question that I’m wrestling with is how do we encourage people to build resilience and give them the tools to deal with these uncomfortable parts of themselves rather than calling it boredom? Boredom is a vacuum of people going like, “I need my fix.” Why is the fix even there? The fix is there to distract us from maybe the important shit that we need to deal with in our lives.
If the drug hit of social media and digital tech weren’t there, people would be forced to deal with their shit but we’re having a nation of young people and young adults and even our generation that hasn’t learned how to deal with their pain and suffering. It’s going to get gruesome. I’m not saying that to be a fearmonger either but I’m saying on the level of the human psyche and human healing, people are going to need a lot of tools and a lot of support. When people are “bored,” how do we encourage them to do things that feel engaging, creative, productive, healing for themselves? That’s something that I’m feeling increasingly passionate about, is helping people deal with their boredom and their disillusionment instead of, “How do I get out of this?”
Boredom and disillusionment are uncomfortable feelings. Boredom is an uncomfortable feeling. Pain is an uncomfortable feeling. Suffering is an uncomfortable feeling. Feeling traumatized is fucking uncomfortable. These are all uncomfortable things that as humans, physiologically, we want to run from those things like, “I want to run from the trauma. I want to run from the suffering. I want to run from the boredom.” Guess what? The social media swoops in and goes, “You can run from it. We have this beautiful tool to help you run from it.” To me, that’s probably one of the most diabolical things other than the social conditioning and the capitalistic parts we’ve discussed. The psychological mechanism of escapism for people, that any time they feel an uncomfortable emotion, all they have to do is check out. They immediately check out and there’s going to be massive repercussions for this behavior on an individual and a societal level.
The other thing that I want to say because there was another quote in this that got to me, was from Alan Watts. They didn’t attribute it to Alan Watts but it was Alan Watts’ voice. He said, “A man feels free if he believes he is free. He will believe he is free if he is conditioned by positive reinforcement.” Here we are in human society feeling so proud of our technological achievements, our commerce and our finances, our technology, our AI and our social media and everything that we feel we’re grand about. We think that we’re free but this Alan Watts quote was inserted subtly to outline the fact that we’re not free. On some level, we’re all addicts now. On some level, we’re all subjugated to the tyranny of media. On some level, we’re all subjugated to a capitalist financial system that wants to bleed us. That’s my feeling. I don’t mean this to be dark. This is how I see it now. The analogy of The Matrix is real. It’s like, “I’m going to my job and I’ve got my friends. I’ve got my beer and I’ve got my football. I’ve got my stuff and everything’s great. I feel free.” Ignorance is bliss but, on a level, we are not free.
We believe we’re free because we keep getting the carrots and we keep getting the positive reinforcement, “Good job, Whitney. Good job, Jason. Good job, humans. Here’s a carrot for your good behavior. Go have your fancy stuff and live a good life.” On some level, Whitney, maybe people don’t want to be free. Maybe on some level, certain people are much more comfortable being subjugated. Certain people are much more comfortable being enslaved, mentally and physically and financially to a system that doesn’t give a fuck about them. I’m saying this because I got to be real. If people were to realize the severity of what you and I are discussing and what we’re fired up about, that’s a little hardcore. I was about to say something violent. I don’t want to do that. I was going to say go burn down the buildings of the tech companies but that doesn’t solve anything because until we get to the heart of our suffering and our pain and our enslavement collectively, we’ll keep getting subjugated over and over by something else.
This comes down to a level of human consciousness and a level of do we want to be free? What does that even mean, actual freedom? I don’t know that I have a question per se in all this, Whitney but that Alan Watts quote, I sat there like, “The more that we participate in this, the more that we are on a certain level shackled to it.” Let’s be real about it. “We’re making seven figures, we’re making eight figures, we’re making nine figures and look how popular we are and look how influential we are. I’m an influencer and I’m a celebrity and I’m all this.” You just have a fancier cell, motherfucker.
That was probably the most hardcore I’ve ever gotten on the show, Whitney. I feel like my body’s all flushed and fiery now. I feel like you’re looking at me like, “Damn, this dude is on one.” I do feel fiery about it because people think that stuff and status is the thing to liberate them. It’s not. In some cases, it makes you more enslaved to the system because you’re getting the bigger shinier carrots now and you can’t let go. For kids and adults that are chasing clout, popularity, numbers, fame and status, in some ways, you have a fancier cell but it’s harder to break yourself out because the rewards are too great at that point.
I’m not saying that every person who is famous or popular or influential or abundant is a bad person but to think that you’re somehow free from the system, the system is just rewarding you for good behavior. The system’s like, “Good job, buddy. Here’s all this stuff.” Once you get that stuff, it’s so tough to break out of it. That’s what I mean. Some people are more comfortable with it. You’ve got all this great stuff, why would you want to break out of the prison cell? It’s a beautiful prison cell, great meals, great transportation, amazing suits, cool cars, tons of money, lots of people loving you who don’t know who you are. Why would you break free? There’s no incentive to. Unless you wake up and realize that’s not what living a good life is about. Maybe that’s something that happens.Social media is training us to treat each other as objects. We've commodified human beings. Click To Tweet
The other thing that stood out to me, Whitney that I want to bring up that we’ve talked about is how social media and algorithms amplify negativity. One of the things that were talked about was that social media isn’t necessarily the cause of this. It’s merely an amplifier of our worst behaviors. The more that kids are using social media, the less sense of empathy, they talked about this, that their sense of empathy toward other people decreases the more they use it. On Twitter, in particular, they have done studies that they found that inciting words, words of aggression, words that were negative or violent got 17% higher retweet rates.
On the one hand, yes. Is it an amplification of our worst behavior? Yes, but the platforms are rewarding it over and over again. It’s not just amplifying it, it’s rewarding it by saying, “If you have a controversial, sexual, insightful, negative, hateful account, you’re going to get more engagement because we’ve designed it that way.” That’s the other thing too. What it comes down to, Whitney, that I want to run by you. I want your perception of this. You don’t have to have an answer for me but to me, it comes down to maybe two buckets here. You either pull yourself out of the matrix or you find a way to limit or regulate or guard rail the system you’re in so that it doesn’t consume and destroy you. I feel like there are two options here. We either abandon the whole thing by getting off of media completely or we have a conversation of how to manage it responsibly. I don’t know where I’m at on the spectrum.
After seeing this documentary, I’m more in the bucket of I want to press the red button somewhere and fuck the whole thing. I know I’ve said this in different ways but it’s the more that I learn and the more that I researched, the more that feeling becomes greater and engenders in me. I’m curious if you have a different take on it or if you feel like it’s one or the other. We either abandon it as individuals and reclaim some of our mental, emotional sovereignty or we find different ways to self-regulate because they’re not going to regulate it for us. The onus is on us to self-regulate. I’m wondering where are you at on that spectrum?
I personally am answering this from a biased perspective, as most of us are. I have found benefits in using social media and digital devices. The pros of it outweigh the cons for me but as you’ve talked about in another episode that we did about Fake Famous, another documentary, is that we are also, as a result, complicit in this. If we get benefits in something and we continue using them for those benefits then in a way, that’s selfish because we’re benefiting from a system. Some people are of the mindset of, “It’s there. I might as well play the game.” That’s what keeps it going. We’d have to be brave enough collectively to step away fully. I have to reflect more on that. I need to stay aware. As we regularly say on the show, awareness is the first step. Now that I’m becoming more and more aware of it, I’m reflecting first on myself. There’s that selfish perspective of this that we will naturally start with but then we can go beyond that and think, “This isn’t just about me because social media is impacting lots of people and in ways that are a lot worse than me.”
It’s a hard question to answer, Jason because, at this moment, I’m not ready to be disconnected. However, I still haven’t finished the book Digital Minimalism and I believe that I will give some attempt to disconnect for some time to see how I feel but it is going to take me a while, like any habit. In order for us to see the benefits of something, it’s got to be long-term. I don’t know if 30 days is enough time to be away from it. I don’t know how that will impact me. Right now, so much of my life is tied into this. My clients that I work with are depending on me to manage their social media accounts. I have multiple clients. I advise them or I manage their accounts. I teach online. Pretty much my entire world is done online.
What would I do? Do I save up enough money so that I don’t do any work at all? That sounds nice. Perhaps that can be part of my plan for 2022. I talked about a big goal of mine for 2021 is to pay off my debt. Once my debts were paid off credit–card–wise, my plan was then to start paying off my car debt. Maybe I can get my car loan paid off faster and also maybe part of the plan is saving up money so that perhaps I can step away and not have any social media clients for a while. That might take some time. We have to look at this in the long–term and start taking steps towards it. It’s quite similar to pay enough debt. Why am I paying off credit card debt? I see the long-term effects. It does not benefit me to have all these balances on credit cards because I am essentially stuck in that system for many years.
Until I make a conscious effort to pay them off faster, which is challenging at the moment, it’s not easy to pay all this extra money every month than I’m used to paying off, however, the long-term benefit is the faster I pay off my credit cards, the less interest I’m paying. There’s a huge long-term benefit. It’s like investing in the stock market. Do you want to generate more income for yourself? We have to pay money upfront and then take a risk. Maybe it’ll work out for you. If you want to change your body, you need to work out consistently for a long period of time, a lot longer than marketing likes us to believe. I’m used to doing things in a proactive manner. I’m used to investing in myself and I suppose it’s taking this awareness and then making a conscious, consistent effort to change and not think, “This is too hard or this is too uncomfortable.” I wouldn’t be walking my talk if I didn’t allow myself to get uncomfortable every day in order to benefit me in the world in the long-term.
All of us start by leading by example. When we’re doing the work on ourselves, perhaps it’s a little selfish but we do inspire other people. We inspire them by our actions and by our words. That makes a big ripple effect. That’s where this begins Jason. It’s not an easy answer. It’s not black and white. It’s not a social media cutoff entirely because for someone like me, my life is intertwined. I certainly could. I’ll also be transparent. I’m a big advocate for using the word could and can mindfully. If I wanted to, I suppose I could go move back in with my parents and live off them for a while and figure out a way to pay my other bills or sell things. You could go to the extremes and quickly disconnect from all of this if you wanted to.
The awareness that I have at this moment, Jason, is I’m not at a point where I want to take those extremes. I would like to look at a two-year plan for myself and hopefully, that’s fast enough. The downside is that technology is evolving so rapidly right now that who knows what state we’ll be in several years. It might not be fast enough. We might need to make changes right now. During this conversation, I added it to my to-do list to start to examine this daily so that I can take more actions and maybe I’ll determine that I can take actions a lot faster than I realized at this moment.Social media isn't necessarily the cause. It's merely an amplifier of our worst behaviors. Click To Tweet
It’s an ongoing conversation. If you’ve been with us here on the show for any length of time, you know that this is something that we’ve talked about in so many different facets and dimensions and permutations. For me, Whitney, it’s also an ongoing examination for me too but it is going back to the feeling of how we started the show of a similar feeling to the epiphany of when I started to wake up around the food system. I wanted to wake up around the corporatization of the world and the environmental disasters and everything we talked about. I feel like, to your point, the nonchalance of which people are treating social media and treating digital tech, what’s wrong with it? It’s no big deal. It’s a common response when I’ve brought up the food system or technology or environment matter. What’s going on? Just because you’re not facing the immediate danger in your face every single day does not mean something’s not happening.
All of what we’re talking about is a compounding effect. Everything at scale has a massive compounding effect and drastic implications for humanity. To piggyback on what you said, I also don’t know what I’m going to choose but this is an ongoing, deep, visceral, emotional exploration of my relationship to this thing. The thing that I’m reflecting on and I know I’ve mentioned this in previous episodes but I want to reiterate it quickly. Looking at my mental health history and when my severe depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety ramped up was on that bar graph of when social media started to take a foothold in our society. Same as you, I’m curious if I were to take 30, 60, 90, 120 days a year off of social media, what would that do to my mental health?
At some point, I do endeavor to do it. I don’t know when that moment is going to be but as an experiment in healing myself and looking at what that does to my depression, suicidal ideation and daily anxiety, I’m curious to see what effect it’s going to have. Dear reader, we do deeply encourage you, whether you’re a skeptic, you feel nonchalant, you’re as fired up as I am, to watch this documentary. As a compliment, if you want to watch Fake Famous and also The Social Dilemma to get a massive download on what we’re discussing, we want to hear from you. We want to hear your thoughts, your emotional reactions, your perceptions, whether you agree or disagree. We always want to hear from you.
You can email Whitney and me directly at Hello@Wellevatr.com. We would love for you to weigh in on this topic if you decide to watch the documentaries, which we highly encourage for your mental health and emotional wellness to do these things. You can also examine any of our free resources. We have a lot of free resources around self-confidence, enoughness, mental health and emotional wellness and having a more authentic, engaging experience with social media. If we’re going to be on it, we got to try and disconnect ourselves from a lot of the nefarious constructs of it. We have a free resources section for you to dig into at our website but most importantly, we want to hear from you directly.Everything at scale has a massive compounding effect and drastic implications for humanity. Click To Tweet
That’s one of the most rewarding things. It is when we get direct emails or direct messages from you, sharing your stories, sharing your perspectives, sharing your feelings on what we discuss. We want to have those engagements in real conversations with you. Don’t be shy, reach out to us anytime you want and give us your feedback and your thoughts. With that, Whitney, I’m feeling I need to take my dog for a walk and get off devices for a little while now. I need some outdoor time with my dog. Thanks for getting uncomfortable with us. Thanks for your support, your love of the show and Whitney and myself will be back with another episode. Thanks so much.
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