When Boredom Hits, Don’t Hit Back with Social Media


Unless you’ve been in a bunker for fear of the solar eclipse coming in August (that some conspiracy theorists are asserting is a sign that the end of the world is nigh), you’ve no doubt heard about the fallout from “Envelopegate” at the Oscars.

A Managing Director at accounting firm PWC gave the wrong envelope for “Best Picture” to Warren Beatty, who looked as if the card inside was written in hieroglyphics. Beatty then proceeded to pass the buck to his co-presenter Faye Dunaway, who blurted – erroneously – that the winner was La La Land.

You can’t make this stuff up (although a different group of conspiracy theorists is apparently pinning the blame on Matt Damon…who coincidentally is a dead ringer for the now notorious PWC accountant…although I’m not sure how that could have happened since Damon was sitting next to host Jimmy Kimmel at the moment the flub occurred…this is all very confusing).

In any event, the part of the story that I find most interesting is why the problem occurred. All the guy had to do was hand Beatty the right envelope. You Have One Job!

Apparently social media was to blame. As The Wall Street Journal reported this week, this 57 year old PWC accountant, who by all accounts is a wealthy, successful, accomplished father of three, destroyed his reputation by losing track of the correct envelope during an evening in which he was busy giddily snapping and posting backstage photos of Emma Stone and other stars on Twitter.

The High Cost of Social Media

Most of us will never make a spectacular, headline-grabbing flub of such epic proportions. But just because things we do on social media may not rob us of our reputations, it does not mean that social media, itself, is not robbing us of something.

Mostly it robs us of our ability to be present in the moment (just ask PWC). That’s by design. Social media platforms are built to be addictive. Things have gotten so out of hand that cognitive neuroscientists and social scientists have identified and defined several new disorders resulting from the digital age.

“Nomophobia” (No-Mobile Phobia) is the fear of being separated from one’s phone or tablet. “Technoference” relates to the way that tech devices negatively impact and interfere with leisure time, conversations and meals with significant others. “Fauxcellarm” and “Ringxiety” relate to the phenomenon that some people experience that their phone is ringing when it’s not. “Cyberchondria” refers to people who obsessively research and diagnose their own perceived illnesses online.

The point is that Internet and social media browsing is not always a harmless pastime. Our attention is the currency that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seek to acquire. As author Seth Godin explains: “Social media was not created to make you better. It was created to make the company money and you are the product they sell.”

Anyone who spends a decent amount of time on social media understands this intuitively. But sometimes it takes a big, newsworthy debacle like the Oscars to drive the point home.

Some Social Media Introspection

I’m taking this occasion to reexamine my own relationship with social media. It’s complicated.

Social media is an important aspect of our businesses – both our marketing agency and Life and Whim – in that social media allows our clients and ourselves to reach and interact with wider audiences. But on a personal level, social media provides very little joy, nourishment and value in my life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t spend time on social media. For me it’s mostly a spectator sport. Browsing other people’s feeds is an easy distraction. It’s also a troubling distraction, because I do find that, at times (and probably more often than I’d like to admit), it prevents me from being present in the most important moments of the day: with my family.

Now, it would be easy for me to say to you (should you find yourself in this situation), or you to say to me (because I too often am): just put your phone away when you’re around your kids.

I do try to set aside my phone when I’m home because I’m aware of my tendency to become easily distracted by work emails and social media nonsense. The question I’ve been asking myself, however, is “Why?”. Why do I look at my phone when I should be focusing 100 percent of my attention on the girls?

The obvious answer is that I lack self-discipline in those scenarios. Fair enough. There’s no doubt that is true.

But (and this may sound strange so bear with me) I also think it’s because I don’t always know how to interact with and play with my girls in a way that is enjoyable for all of us.

I see other dads down on all fours, playing with dolls, drawing in coloring books, and having tea parties with their daughters, and I wonder: “What’s wrong with me?”.

Don’t get me wrong, I do that stuff, too. It’s just that some other dads look authentically enthusiastic about it. I love my kids dearly, but after a long day of work it can be hard to get pumped up for a Doc McStuffin-themed stuffed animal tea party under a pillow and blanket fort in the twins’ bedroom. I do it, but sometimes it’s a struggle. It feels like something I should do and not something I want to do.

Now, that may sound a bit selfish. Parenting, after all, isn’t all about fun and games. But it also isn’t about selfless devotion where family activities are built exclusively around the kids’ preferences. Otherwise parenting can becoming boring drudge work.

And it’s when I get bored and lose focus that I have a tendency to look at my phone. And once I pull my phone out, the quickest way to get a hit of smartphone dopamine is to check social media.

A Plan to Defeat the Distractions

So here’s what I’m doing to try to rectify the situation. First, this week I deleted all social media apps off of my phone. I’m not quitting social media, mind you, just deleting apps. I know, not a big deal. But by not having the apps, I won’t get pulled in by all of the pings, buzzes and other “push” notifications popping up on my screen. That’s important, because once you get pulled in, it’s hard to get out.

Second, and more importantly, I’m trying to focus on being more present with my kids by being more proactive and productive about the time I spend with them. I’m starting by identifying more instances where the Venn diagram of their interests and mine overlap.

Just as I get bored making bead bracelets, they get bored hacking divots at the driving range. But there are things we both like to do. Here are a few ideas that I jotted down and plan to conduct a beta test on in the coming week:

  • Bake cookies. Need more be said (as long as they’re chocolate chip)? Plus, I can’t really tap my screen with fingers full of sticky batter.
  • Look at a painting and create a story from it. I realized that we have all of these paintings hanging on our walls, but we never really look at them closely or discuss them. Some of our favorite kids’ books are those that have no text and you have to make up your own story from the pictures. I figure we can come up with a fun “choose your own adventure” story from the cow painting hanging in our entryway.
  • Do a kid-friendly stand up comedy routine. In last week’s post, I wrote about my experience coaching a bunch of first graders in an Odyssey of the Mind competition. Part of the performance that the kids put on involved one character telling a few jokes to the judges. It was a big hit, and all of the kids loved the process of picking the jokes during practice. My kids like to laugh. I like to make them laugh. This seems like a winner!
  • Do magic tricks. I have zero ability to perform magic tricks. But to three year olds, I’m practically David Copperfield. Another win-win!
  • Walk the dog. Walking our dog is typically a solitary experience for me. It’s a time to get outside at the end of the day and listen to a podcast in solitude. But the kids love walking Izzy, too, and now that the twins have gotten to the age where they’re not tripping and falling, and constantly on the brink of running into oncoming traffic, we’re going to start heading out as a group more often.

I know, that was quite a meander from handing Warren Beatty the wrong envelope to hiding quarters behind a kid’s ear, but I think there’s a common thread. And it’s the fact that, if you’re not careful, social media can be a dangerous thing. And for most of us it’s not the big blunder that we have to worry about, it’s losing the small moments with those we love.

P.S. – To all of you dads of young girls out there – what are some of your favorite activities with your kids? I’m worried that they’re going to tire of my jokes pretty quickly!

P.P.S. – If you’re looking for a great book about how to stay focused in a distracted world, check out Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

LifeJay Harrington