The Great Social Media Outage of 2021
Raise your hand if on October 4, 2021 you were personally victimized by Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and really any other company they own?
When it first happened, I kept getting the same error you get when you don’t have internet connection. I knew it couldn’t be my wifi because my computer was connected without any issue. I actually needed to find something for work (I swear!) and was pretty frustrated when I couldn’t.
Just like any other reasonable human being, I headed over to Twitter to see what was going on. “Facebook and Instagram down” was a trending term, and I could quickly see that I wasn’t going to be getting what I needed anytime soon. A wave of emotions came over me. “It’s just Facebook!” I said in my head. “Just get over it!” I thought.
But it’s so much more than that. In fact, we’ve been wired to feel like we need these platforms.
Scientists believe that the neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine are also used in social media. (Haynes, 2021) The reality is that there is no way for us to know when the next like, comment, or new post will come in. The endless feed keeps us coming back and wanting more. The sudden rush to know what’s coming next and anticipating something satisfying are called prediction errors. According to Haynes, these prediction errors serve as dopamine-mediated feedback signals in our brains. (Haynes, 2021)
So that’s where that “itching to check my phone” feeling comes from! I am quite literally addicted to the way social media feels. I felt unsettled, truly, for the first couple of hours of the outage. Then, the strangest thing happened. I eventually started to feel better, and I thought about how much more present I was during this time. For six hours of my life while these apps were down, I had nothing to do but actually engage with myself and the people around me.
But then the outage ended, and we could all go back to our social media-filled lives. Almost INSTANTANEOUSLY, I felt like crap the moment I logged in. Why? Because I could see what everyone else was doing without me again. I saw more pregnancy announcements and gender reveals, all of which made me feel inadequate and alone and other. I found myself laying in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling crying, “Why not me? Why am I left out? Why isn’t my story to pregnancy just as easy as theirs?”
The thing is, I could sit around all day and pity myself for what I don’t have. Trust me, I’ve done it before, and it’s not a good look. But I cannot run away from our story and our journey to growing our family. It might look different than how I wanted it, but it’s ours and ours alone. This is getting us prepared, and all we can do is look forward. Our test WILL be our testimony. It’s coming. I can feel it.
So what did this outage teach me about myself?
I need more time away from social media. Easier said than done, right? I was able to take a week long hiatus around the time of 9/11, but there’s definitely room for more distance.
So I’m committing to at least one day a week offline. It’s just what I feel is best for my soul in this season.
How about you? Did the great social media outage of 2021 make you reevaluate your social media use? Let me know in the comments below.
Haynes, Trevor. “Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time.” Science in the News, February 4, 2021. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/.