Junk Food for the Soul
My generation is the junk food generation.
Raised on Gushers and Capri Sun, double stuffed Oreos,
and dollar menu McNuggets.
Forget fun size, we ate Fruit by the Foot, by the foot.
High fructose corn syrup was added to Coke in 1980 when the first millenials were born.
And in what can not be coincidence
Dunkaroos were discontinued the year I graduated from college.
Suddenly I was an adult,
food science has given us the signals that humans evolved to crave:
salt, sugar, fat.
But without the substance they were once associated with in nature, real nutrition.
Junk food’s engineered so that you literally can’t resist,
“once you pop you can’t stop” isn’t empty marketing,
it’s evolutionary science.
Junk food is engineered.
Junk food has divorced the signals we crave
from the substance our bodies need.
it has made us sick as a result.
But social media, over the last decade and a half,
has given us something worse.
Junk food for the soul.
Millennials, first we fell for Fun Dip then we fell for Facebook.
Humans crave connection, deep,personal connection with those around us.
Dozens of scientific studies indicatewhat we all intuitively know.
When our lives are filled with meaningful social interaction,
we’re happier, we’re healthier, we live longer.
So hypothetically, we should be lucky to live in this age of connectivity.
Where through text, and WhatsApp and Instagram,
I can feel connected to nearly everyone I have ever met
and yet we have this crisis of loneliness.
In the 70s and 80s, between 10 and 20% of Americans said
they regularly or frequently felt lonely
by 2010 it was 40%.
Between 1985 and2004, the percent of Americans
who said they did not feel like they had a single friend they could rely on to discuss important matters
more than doubled from 20% to 43%.
Not a single friend.
The fact that we are so connected,
yet feel so alone.
is only a paradox to someone who’s never used social media,
who’s never spent a Saturday night
lying on their unmade bed, scrolling through Instagram.
Because obviously there’s a difference between the virtual time we spend together and the real.
And after spending real time with my friends,
I don’t feel empty, I don’t feel guilty.
I don’t tell myself
I’m going to stop seeing my friends so much and
If I do it’ll only be for five minutes and
Only if I’ve been really productive.
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat,
they’re engineered to give us the signalswe associate with friendship,
sharing stories, liking pictures,remembering a birthday.
But without the substance of true connection.
We talk about Instagram celebrities as if
they’re unique in creating these filtered, artificial versions of themselves online,
but we all do it.
Celebrities just get paid for it,
we complain about fake news on Facebook,
Facebook was built on fake news, it was just usually about ourselves.
It’s no surprise that the heaviest users of social media
report twice as much social isolation as those who don’t use it at all.
It’s no coincidence that we’rethe generation that invented FOMO.
Of course I’m going to fear missing out
if I spend hours a day staring at definitive evidence of me missing out.
At root, these technologies are designed for our engagement,
but not with each other, but the technology itself.
Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook and the founder of Napster
framed the question as
How do we (we being Facebook) consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?
And his answer,create a social validation feedback loop.
When I post a picture,
I keep checking to see how many likes I get,
every refresh is like another pull of the social validation slot machine.
And every like gives me thatlittle hit of dopamine,
that little signal of friendship andsocial approval that I crave.
Eventually, it wears off, and so I post another picture,
another quarter in the slots.
It’s an addictive feedback loop that,in Parker’s words,
exploits vulnerability in humanpsychology and keeps us on the platform.
“Once you pop you can’t stop”,
It makes me wonder if video games,
Candy Crush or Call of Duty,
are similarly doing more to deliver the signals of accomplishment and
the substance of havingan impact in the world.
It makes me wonder
if dating apps are doing more to deliver the signals
of romantic interactions than thesubstance of forming real relationships.
It even makes me wonder
if music festivals and $ 34 workout classes,
are now giving usthe signals of community and
purpose that we once looked forin spiritual practice.
I mean, it’s called soul cycle,
all the signals we crave, butdo they have the substance?
A friend as defined by Facebook is no more a real friend
than Doritos Tacos Locos is real food,
it’s empty calories.
It leaves us hungrier fortrue connection than when we started.
Mark Zuckerberg, for his part,is not blind to this phenomenon.
I remember this year he wrote,
he now wants us to have more meaningful social interactions,
so the time we spend on Facebook is time well spent.
As a result of the changes he’s made,
total time on the platform actually fell by 15 minutes per person per week.
Is it a healthier Facebook,
or just a slightly less addicting one?
Yes technology can create community, but
only if it’s facilitating interaction and not crowding it out.
If junk food encapsulates the problem,
maybe food can also offer the solution.
Because if we’re the junk food generation,
we’re also the farmer’s market generation.
We recognized that junk food wasdelivering an empty signal and
was making us sick.
And it’s that sort of radical reorientation that we’ve taken with regards to food
that we now need to extend to our social life as well.
In the end, we have to be willing to be dissatisfied.
Because the greatest threat is not that we get nothing from social media.
But that we get just enough signal never to hunt for that substance.
That Farmville, makes us feel just productive enough
that we never produce anything.
That Tinder makes dating just easy enough
that we never form a relationship.
That Instagram makes us feel just connected enough
to leave us truly alone.
A few weeks ago,
one of my best friends from growing up had a birthday.
And we’re all scattered across the country now but
over our WhatsApp group we sent out our happy birthdays,
and I typed one out under the desk during class,
with a long string of emojis and it was funny,
it was fine, it was nice.
But that night back in my room,
sitting on the edge of my bed,
I picked up my phone and I called him.
And we conferenced in our other friends,
and we talked and we laughed, and we made fun of each other, we consoled each other,
and it was great, it was real.
At the end of the call,
after my other friends had hopped off,
he said to me, Mike it’s just great to hear your voice.
I still eat gushers sometimes,
I still go on Facebook more often than I’d like to admit,
but now at least I can treat it for what it is,
junk food for the soul.