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Society’s New Addiction: Getting a “Like” over Having a Life

New research shows obsession with posting photos, checking phones corresponds with lower enjoyment

Provo, Utah, March 12, 2015A mother of a 3-year-old writes: I disciplined my son and he threw a tantrum that I thought was so funny that I disciplined him again just so I could video it. After uploading it on Instagram I thought, ‘What did I just do?’”

A new study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, co-authors of four New York Times bestsellers on interpersonal communication and influencing human behavior, reveals that more and more of us are losing connection with our lives in order to earn “likes” and social media praise. We have, in a sense, turned into social media “trophy hunters.”

According to the online study of 1,623 people, 58 percent say posting that perfect picture has prevented them from enjoying life experiences—and has sometimes even caused them to behave in bizarre or immoral ways. One in four have even allowed their smartphone to distract during “intimate” moments.

Ultimately, the study reveals this obsession with social media trophy hunting isn’t just distracting—it’s dictating lives. Consider:

  • Nearly 3 out of 4 people admit to being rude or disconnected from others because they’re more focused on their phone than on the other person
  • 91 percent have seen a tourist miss enjoyment in the moment trying to get it on social media—and many acknowledge doing the same thing themselves
  • 79 percent have seen a parent undermine their own experience in a child’s life in an effort to capture the perfect post
  • 14 percent have risked their own safety to try and get a good posting
  • Many cited decreased enjoyment or increased guilt due to:
    • Not spending time listening to or being present with people they care about: “While trying to capture and post my daughter’s dance event, I completely missed it. She asked me, ‘did you see me?’ and I really didn’t. It was awful.”
    • Reckless behavior while driving: “I was severely disappointed in myself every time I couldn’t ignore the urge to pick up the phone in the car. Thank goodness nothing bad happened.”
    • Embarrassing moments taking ‘selfies’: “I’ve seen people dodge cars, tourists and pedestrians to get a quick selfie in the midst of busy Hollywood Blvd. – only to yell out ‘Noooo!’ on the curb when they realized it didn’t turn out.”
    • Posting something online they later regret.

“Our key finding is that we enjoy important life moments less when we’re focused on capturing them rather than experiencing them,” said Joseph Grenny, co-author of the study. “’Likes’ are a low-effort way to produce a counterfeit feeling of social well-being that takes more effort to achieve in the real world. This study is a warning that we are beginning to value virtual pleasure hits more than authentic happiness.”

David Maxfield adds: “If our attention is on an invisible audience rather than the present moment, we are disconnected. Our devices are beginning to control our attention and motivations in ways we may not even realize.”

Grenny and Maxfield offer some tips for helping work through social media addictions:

  • Look at yourself. Before going to great effort to take a picture, stop and ask, “What would a reasonable third party think of me if they saw what I was doing?” It’s easy to do risky or inappropriate things when caught up in the moment. Reflecting from an outsider’s perspective can help you stay morally centered.
  • Limit your postings. The best way to stop unconsciously intruding in your life is to become conscious of it. Keep track of—and limit—how many things you post. If you post more than once a day, you probably have a problem. Most people appreciate your postings more if they come once or twice a week rather than daily—or more. If you cut off the demand you’ll naturally reduce the supply you create.
  • Snap, look and listen. Far too often, once we snap a picture in an inspiring place, we turn and leave. Fight the impulse to “call it good” just after taking a picture. Slow down. Breathe. Look around. Listen. Engage your senses and enjoy the experience not just the trophy.
  • Take a vacation from your device. Spend a day, evening, or even an hour with some physical distance from your devices. If you feel anxious, you’re on the right track. Once you fight through the initial discomfort, you’ll learn to be present and connected to your immediate environment in a way that will produce genuine happiness and enjoyment.

Note to Editor: Grenny and Maxfield are available for interviews. Copies of their book Crucial Conversations, full survey results, an executive summary and hi-res infographics are also available.

About VitalSmarts:

Named one of the Top 20 Leadership Training Companies, VitalSmarts is home to the award-winning Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything Training and New York Times bestselling books of the same titles. When used in combination, these courses enable organizations to achieve new levels of performance by changing employee behavior. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than one million people worldwide. www.vitalsmarts.com

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