Facebook went offline this week. Experts say we need to log out too

For almost six hours on Monday, the world experienced a forced break from Facebook’s tools for social networking.

We lived to tell the story. But how did we feel in the process?

Although relatively short, the Facebook outage showed “how dependent we are on social media in various ways to distract ourselves, to escape, to connect, to cope with anxiety and stress,” according to Ian Kerner, a marriage and family therapist .

When people can not scroll and write as they usually do, Kerner said they can become bored and vulnerable to difficult emotions and stressors – sometimes without knowing how to cope.

“People experience that they are alone with their own thoughts. And they are in a way a bit alien to themselves. Before social media, I think we were much better at being alone and finding ways to get involved and stay curious, ”Kerner added.

A sense of relief

The collective nature of the outcome made some of Kerner’s clients feel liberated, he said.

“People certainly have a fear of being missed,” Kerner explained.

Losing or breaking a phone or causing a phone to die can cause people to panic, he said, as it prevents them from knowing what is happening and being connected to others.

“Conversely, the disruption provided” great relief because everyone experienced it. So people did not feel so alone or isolated or in a panic, “Kerner told CNN.

Therapist John Duffy reported having had similar conversations with his clients on Monday.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all broke.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all broke. Credit: SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

“When people realized, ‘oh, these networks are almost completely down,’ there was this bizarre but very clear relief,” Duffy told CNN.

“The feeling was’ I have nothing to follow. I’m not missing anything.

During the interruption, “people realized in real time the importance of face-to-face relationships and the relative emptiness of a connection that takes place exclusively via Facebook or Instagram,” he added.

Customers who expressed relief during the outage took concrete steps to connect with others in real life, Duffy said.

“One took a friend out for coffee. Another went for a walk with a friend, ”he said.

Some have gotten away from the experience with the realization that their fear of missing out was unwarranted and they could turn to apps with more moderation.

“I think some of us realized yesterday, ‘I’m too involved and invested in social media in my life,’ ‘Duffy said.

People realized that “maybe I can check this once or twice a day instead of 20 or 30 times a day.”

Social media and the brain

Most people are guilty of spending too much time scrolling and sending.

Seven out of ten adult Facebook users in the United States say they visit the site at least once a day, and 49 percent report visits several times a day, according to data from the Pew Research Center 2021.

Approx. 59 percent of people visit Instagram at least once a day, with 38 percent visiting several times a day.

But if some of us felt relieved when apps on social networks became quiet for a while, why is it so hard to stop checking our feeds so often?

Dr. Anna Lembke, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University and medical director of addiction medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, looked at the brain for answers.

Experts say people should turn off.
Experts say people should turn off. Credit: Getty Images

In her book “Dopamine Nation”, she explored how the abundance of readily available stimuli affects our brain chemistry and our happiness.

“The smartphone is the modern hypodermic needle that delivers digital dopamine 24/7 to a wired generation,” Lembke wrote.

Although “social media addiction” is not currently included in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” Lembke told CNN that she believes social media can be addictive based on her clinical experience and her knowledge of how human compound and dopamine release are bound.

“We can confidently show that human compounds stimulate the release of dopamine, which is how they amplify, and anything that stimulates dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway has the potential to be addictive,” Lembke explained.

The Facebook outage was something of an “unintentional mass experiment that hopefully revealed to people how addicted they have become,” Lembke said.

How to develop healthier digital habits

Therapist John Duffy said some of his clients spend four or more hours a day on social media – double in some extreme cases.

The people who are most on (social media) tend to be the loneliest because they do not feel connected. Even if they send messages to people, even if they comment on people’s posts, even if they themselves send, something is missing in that regard. It’s really digital, and it’s not directly interpersonal, “he told CNN.

For clients who could benefit from it, Duffy recommends a month-long “digital detox” to develop a more conscious relationship with social media.

“People I work with now simply voluntarily remove apps on social media, news apps, and every other unnecessary app from their phone in a month’s cleaning,” Duffy said.

“I find that if people take a month off, they spend maybe a third of the time they spent on social media as a result. I also see an increase in self-esteem and self-esteem corresponding to that, ”Duffy said.

Marriage and family therapist Ian Kerner often assigns homework to his clients, which involves slowing down the use of devices during the time spent with partners and family members.

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‘I find that if people take a month off, they spend maybe a third of the time they used to on social media as a result.’

“The first complaint that I think I hear from couples is that he or she is always on their phone,” Kerner told CNN.

Lembke hopes the outage “will encourage people to actually consciously plan to abstain from social media and perhaps their phones altogether for a period of time.”

She recommends shutting down social media altogether – whether it means select apps or putting the phone away altogether – for a month, enough time for the brain’s reward paths to reset themselves.

To be successful, Lembke said, it helps to plan ahead.

“You might want to do it with a friend or family member, which is easier than doing it alone. You would have some kind of message or warning or automatic response that lets people know you are offline during that period so people know they do not have to wonder where you are, what happened to you, ”advised Lembke.

During the month-long break, you should plan activities to provide you with “an alternative source of dopamine”, such as spending time in nature.

“When people go back to using (social media), it’s often just realizing how addicted they have become, motivation to use differently,” Lembke told CNN.

Some of these changes may include eliminating alerts, switching to a grayscale screen, or setting time limits or certain days of the week to check our feeds, she advised.

Promoting meaningful connections online and offline

All the experts CNN was connected to stressed how social networking tools have many positive effects on society, allowing people to stay connected with distant loved ones and help them cope emotionally better during a long, exhausting, isolating pandemic.

“It’s important to say that the ways in which these technologies allow us to be social online are very powerful and can do a lot of good,” Lembke told CNN.

Also, not all online connections are negative, just as not all real connections are positive, Lembke said.

“There are cases where our online connections can be more intimate, more positive and more powerful in good ways than real connections. If you go to a cocktail party and have nothing but superficial conversations, it also does not make people feel comfortable, ”said Lembke.

As some struggle with social anxiety while personal life slowly resumes, we have the opportunity to reconsider how we interact with each other in the real world.

“As a society, we need to establish digital etiquette and technology-free spaces where we consciously leave our phones at home and really make an effort to be present in the moment in real life with each other,” Lembke said.


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