S1E19 Social Media

How is your screen time? Check it out before you listen to this episode, because in this episode Dr. Rubin and Dr. Pete address the advantages and disadvantages of social media in our lives and our mental well-being. Dr. Rubin shares her views and beliefs for not using social media and, in contrast, Dr. Pete has an active Instagram account (find him @officialdrpete). Tune in to learn what kind of relationship with social media might work best for you.




Nikki: I've got a lot of opinions about social media.

Pete: Oh, but you’re so good at it.

Nikki: Okay, so we're talking about social media because, obviously, 2020 it's kind of a part of us.

Pete: I think that's funny. My sarcasm again, in 2020. And maybe you're one the other professional I know that doesn't use social media.

Nikki: Yeah. So I don't and I won't, I repeat, it's my boundary that I've committed to. But I think maybe what we could do is start off by talking a little bit about, you know, let's start on the effective like, from a psychological perspective. Like, what are the workable aspects of this type of technology? Like, what do you think?

Pete: So I say that it's both man's most ingenious creation, and the like, Epitome and downfall of our lives of the human race. So it’s a little bit of an extreme dialect

Nikki: We’re going to get to that second part in a moment. But let's start with what's the genius of it like from again, speaking from a psychological perspective? Like, why has this invention helpful?

Pete: It helps us connect. And I think one thing we've seen in autism research is that there's really good benefits as tools to drive communication, interpersonal relationships for people that otherwise struggle with it. I think, certainly people have found romance and have liked to, you know and I will say, follow me at official Dr. Pete, because there's a pretty decent following on Instagram in particular, that I think, for me, it's also about reaching a larger audience to help eliminate or decrease suffering.

Nikki: Yes, absolutely. And I guess I'll add in there that social media, in the service of connecting people, it's been extremely powerful in terms of a lot of movements. of course, I think of like the Arab Spring as an example, right, of course, what's in the time of recording this, the power of social media through music like Black Lives Matter using it. Color change organizations, social justice organizations using it, I think that there's been that kind of reach that you just don't get by old fashioned word of mouth, right?

Pete:  That's right. Yeah. Yeah, well, this is the new fashioned word of mouth.

Nikki: The new fashion word of mouth. And, in a much lighter way, I'm already laughing thinking this. It's, it's also resulted in being able to share some amazing animal videos.

Pete: Oh my God. Yeah.

Nikki: I would say like, all the things that people would be like, my dog does this, you're like, Yeah, right. And they're like, video proof.

Pete: I don't want to jump, over here I am jumping to the negative, but I think video proof is also creating a lot of tension socially, whereby, this movement of #Karen, and when you have these really racist people that are acting out. Because it's not a white person, necessarily, oftentimes it is but the bottom line is they’re racist people. And when you have those things and that is instigating and escalating the emotion in that experience, but I will get there in a second.

Nikki: But it's also [inaudible 03:44] I think that still goes on the workable end, because that comes back to the power of, well, there's a downside of this with information, which we'll get to. But the power of sharing information that being able to share these videos, and of course, there's just, I mean, we're seeing some horrible things in violence.

Pete: Well, there's accountability then. Right?

Nikki: That's exactly, there's accountability. And that again, that's different than just talking about it with your neighbor or your family member.

Pete: And I've said that it's called like Internet muscles. I'm not sure if that's a thing yet, but one of my Fox five interviews in New York. They talked about just how people are more likely to say something through a social media platform than they are in person. And it's so true. That it's like Internet muscles where people feel empowered Yoda says and they wouldn't say but really quick, those animal videos if you're having a down day, just turn to them.

Nikki: You know Pete obviously uses this as well what are called distress tolerance skills, which is another way I call it mindful distraction, like mindfully focusing something else when you're having a tough time. That's like one of the first things I refer patients to I'll be like, “Do you like animals?” and not everybody does but if they don't, no judgement, that's fine moving on, but a lot of people do. And I'm like, oh, just type in golden retriever puppy.

Pete: Look, if you don't like animals, and maybe a baby laughing one.

Nikki: Yes, sure, baby laughing.

Pete:  I mean there's something for everybody.

Nikki: There's something for everybody. All right, so we're saying that social media obviously has some real benefits, right. But it's given us access to spreading information in a way that was not previously available to us before. It helps people connect sometimes. We didn't say this yet. But I also think it's important to say like, there's emerging research about this Generation Z, who's grown up with social media, right? They were born into a time when it already existed, like, no, I who it.

Pete: Their birth was publicized on Instagram.

Nikki: Right. But they really know how to navigate it. I mean, I'm always like, so post it with them.

Pete: this is it too like, I’m also thinking about like, your turn on investment for businesses.

Nikki: Yeah, it's amazing. So, as Pete and I talked about with everything there are advantages and disadvantages to all things. There's dialectic to everything. There are things that work and things that don't work and I think it's pretty important to talk about the things that don't work with social media. Because these days, I think a lot of people believe that they don't have a choice, like they've got to be on it, it has to be part of your life. And, you know, I want people to have information about well, these are the things that don't work about it so you get to choose, does it work for you or not? So what are some of the things that don't work?

Pete: Well, research is showing us that it's affecting our sleep. It is increasing anxiety and depression.

Nikki: And why is that like?

Pete: For me, I look at that through the social comparison lens and I do believe that people are just comparing themselves to something that doesn't exist. So I often find myself using screen time with athletes, and really limiting any social media because especially being in like the New York, New Jersey area, our fans are really heavy. So you are the best person and in the next moment, you are the worst thing, whereas in other parts of the world, as long as you play for the team that I'm for no matter what you do, I got your back in this area, not so much.

Nikki:  Right. Yes, you got to work on limiting some of that.

Pete: You’ve got to limit it. And it's only because it's actually not real, because that's definitely an example of internet muscle, this person would not say what they're saying to you if they were face to face. If they were face to face, they'd be asking for your autograph, they would be saying, could they have a picture with you or with your kid, and then the minute you do something maybe a bad game or a bad play it’s like you're dead to them. And that's not healthy for anybody.

Nikki: No, it's not. And I'm reminded of one of my favorite SNL skits of all time, like a laugh talking about it's from like, 10 years ago. If you Google, like SNL skit, Melissa McCarthy internet troll, it's something like that. It’s like supposed to be sort of kind of like a game show where they bring people on that are supposed to be internet trolls and like whom the person actually is to that point.

Pete: I have to watch this.

Nikki: I've watched it again, recently, I cry laughing every time because it's these awful things that so many people say online that to your point would never say out loud. But coming back to the social comparison pieces, you're saying we're seeing an increase in depression, anxiety? Absolutely. We have a lot of research, obviously about comparisons, just in general, think about we don't need social media to do this, right?

Pete: We do not need it.

Nikki: Yeah, human brains are constantly like, Where am I in the “hierarchy,” this hierarchy and quotes here of being a person and the more that we do that, we've we feel worse about ourselves. I can't remember exactly where I read the study. But a while ago, probably a few years ago, I read a study that said that, the more someone posts about themselves online on social media, that it's negatively correlated with happiness, which is what that means is the more someone posts about themselves, the less happy they are, which when I share that with patients, people are shocked.

Pete: And I think their shock factor is this delusional perspective that we all have about what people are posting. I had a colleague. It was really funny, because I love that she said that because she was like, “Look, what I really want to post is I'm so pissed on my husband right now. My two kids, I can't stand at this moment. I just want to hide in the bathroom for like, 30 minutes of peace and quiet.” And who's really posting that?

Nikki:  Right. Right.

Pete: And I felt like that was just so real. And so that was like, over many years ago, and I felt like 10 years ago ish?

Nikki:  Yeah, I think so.

Pete:  Think about where we've come in 10 years with social media. So I think for me that was like a moment of like, oh, yeah, people are not posting the real stuff. And it was a reality for me about 10 years ago to think about that, because honestly, right now with social media, this is probably the only contact that people have with people is just that they're scrolling on a screen.

Nikki:  Right. And I think what I always find interesting is that people will say to me, like, ‘I know, it's not real, but it makes me feel bad.’ And what I want to explain to people, and this is actually one of the main reasons I don't do social media is I'll say, like, look, I'm a psychologist, like, I devoted my life to studying this stuff, I have a human brain. So yes, I might rationally understand that what's being presented is fake, right? And the comparison part of my brain is going to say, you don't have that perfect life. Like, what's wrong with you, Nikki, why aren't you doing this? And so, for me, that's a boundary that I just put up for myself.

Pete: Perhaps.

Nikki: Oh, thank you. But also, I don't think there's anything wrong with using social media, it's like, to me, that's what works for me.

Pete: That’s your value.

Nikki: And it's also to be honest, like, I have a sensitive brain that I always share with people too. Because of what I do, I hold the lives of a lot of other people in my mind, like a lot of information. And I actually just, I feel like I don't have any more room for, like, superfluous information from other people's lives.

Pete: And so even though I said, my official Dr. Pete, which there's another club, I'm not on it often. And I will also share, if you go on my clinical website, you'll notice that I have a social media director. And that's not because I'm even big at what I do at all. That's why I joke about politically when we think like, the senator, this Congress person is like, tweeting, I'm like, Well, I'm not even doing all my own. So it's highly unlikely that these people that are like really sort of influential are. but I think that I want to also share that that like, the content is something that she and I discussed, but we maybe talk like, once every month or two maybe. And so I think that's important, because I'm with you on that I recognize that we can only take so much. And I don't think it's necessarily about being a psychologist, I want to pat you on the back, virtually. But I also want to say, I think just being human, I think your awareness. So I think your psychologist training has you may be more self-aware, to recognize when you can have and when you've reached capacity. And right, I think that's really what's happening in the world is that people don't have that.

Nikki: No, that's right. And also, what makes it so difficult is that, again, going back to dorky brain stuff here, the way social media is designed, it's like a dopamine shot to the brain, right? It's like hitting the pleasure center of our brain the same way substances or gambling works. It's like, it's colorful, it's like immediate reinforcement, you know, because I also get a lot of patients and I'm curious to hear if you hear this as well that say to me, “you know, against like the should. Like, I know, I shouldn't be on it, but like, I can't help myself.”

Pete: Because it’s addicting.

Nikki: Yeah, it’s addicting. I'm like; your brain is being reinforced in these ways. It’s like eating potato chips, right?

Pete: Oreos

Nikki: Pete and I love Oreos, and Domino's.

Pete: That is for another episode

Nikki: For another episode. I know, I got yelled at a lot when I lived in New York for that, but, I'm sorry. I love it. I can't help myself.

Pete: Yell all you want [inaudible 0:13:24].

Nikki: But yeah, you know what I mean? It's short term reinforcing, even though it doesn't make us feel good overall.

Pete: Well, that's why it's affecting sleep. The research shows us that even when we shut the phone off our brain for about 45 minutes after still feels like it's falling on that feed.

Nikki: That’s so awful.

Pete: And that’s because the activity of these like the hippocampus, the learning areas, the sensory areas of our brain remain activated and still are processing the information and it takes about 45 minutes. So that's why phones out of the bedroom, it should not be the last thing people look at before they go to bed. That is one of the most detrimental things that phones have done. I will say that, like adamantly, but I do think that as long as we can create boundaries around the use of it, then there is the powerful sort of benefits that one can reap from it. For sure.

Nikki: Absolutely. And I think we can't do this episode without talking about the multitude of nonfactual information available to us in social media and the internet, right

Pete:  that's like so new, who even knows about that?

Nikki: I know, so if you guys listen to the podcasts a lot, you hear Pete and I dork out about facts and data all the time. We're really into facts and data and we live in an era where opinions and beliefs have taken over as the dominant lens to through which we try to experience the world.

Pete: So you won't even get this because you're not on social media but the other day I was on the internet googling septic tank so for anyone that doesn't live in a rural area, septic tanks are things where your water and waste go. And the minute I went back on like that night into Facebook and Instagram, the first ads that popped up were for septic tank companies.

Nikki:  of course, this is where I get all like, big brother in [inaudible 0:15:25] stuff984 stuff.

Pete: Hello, well there it is.

Nikki: Okay, so that’s like another aspect to your right is like were attracting

Pete: Well, let’s just say algorithm that's happening with these like, think tanks of like, political news stuff.

Nikki: So then it's just funneling you’re

Pete: So, if I post Trump is the best thing ever. I'm going to be funneled stories related to Trump in the Republican Party. If I post like, hey, vote for Biden, I'm going to be funneled, so, we’re then polarizing the knowledge and information that we're receiving. So this is a really good point.

Nikki: And it's so distressing to me, honestly, let me say this, we all have our own beliefs and opinions and there's nothing wrong with that. But, beliefs and opinions are, I don't know, it's kind of a funny way to say it, but they're colorful sometimes. Right? Like, they're interesting.

 Pete: No, I love that, they're colorful.

Nikki: Right, you wouldn't want to read a fiction book that was just data, it would be very boring, right? That it's like, lends itself to beautiful language and interesting viewpoints. And obviously, learning about different perspectives and points of view is actually very helpful to our development or evolution. But this idea that all information available on the internet is facts is just totally wrong. And people and social media, we're talking about the benefits of the quick sharing and this far reach, but that goes for information that's not true. Right?

Pete: Yeah. And I don't think you and I are certainly not experts in this, neither of us have degrees in computer science.

Nikki: No, we don't.

Pete: I use the word algorithm, I can hardly spell it. So I don't really know fully what that means.

Nikki: Yes. And thank you for saying that, that is important. And, we're here talking about, as clinicians and psychologists, the negative impact is on this. And it's coming to my mind now so I'm wondering, what do you think like an Eastern perspective would be on social media?

Pete: Well, certainly, in terms of the Eightfold Path, it's probably not right, action or right speech or right mindfulness, because I do think in terms of these tunnels, everyone listening and everyone knows somebody, and or themselves have gone down a rabbit hole of the social media hole. We’ve all done that. And so I think that's not an Eastern practice because awareness doesn't allow us to get into the hole. And even I've gone down the hole, I just probably recognize it a little bit quicker than maybe some other folks where, if I'm being pulled to it, I pull myself out.

Nikki:  So you mindfully come back, and you recognize what's happening.

Pete: Yeah

Nikki: Yeah. And before we wrap up in a moment here, I think that that would be helpful to sort of share some other behavioral tools that you use or share with patients about how to interrupt that behavior, will interrupt also one. Interrupt the rabbit hole behavior, I had to actually set some boundaries around social media so that people have more choice about how they want to interact with it.

Pete: I think it's easy with screen time. So I think that the apps and the phones have developed this because they've had to, because the other science that I'm not smart enough to even talk about is apps were developed to keep people engaged based on color, based on clicking.

Nikki: Well, that's a dopamine shot they keep talking about.

Pete: That's the dopamine. And so notice your people, notice your dopamine, notice how it's feeling like you're feeling pulled to it. Right mindfulness is just then go do something like that you enjoy like petting your dog or going for a walk, meditating. But again, I think if you can just set boundaries and behavioral limitations to usage that's going to be one of the most effective strategies I find.

Nikki: Yeah, absolutely. And I'll just add to that, that it's okay to take a break, you know, like, we're recording this during the time of the pandemic, and that's been one of my main homework assignments is get off social media, like turn it off for a week. I mean, really, I know that some people that sound like a million years, I'll say, just do a little detox, give your brain a rest and get a little more clear about it. So I think, with that, we can just let people know that social media is a part of our lives. We radically accept that and you have a choice about how you interact with it.

This has been ‘’When East Meets West.’ I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin.

Pete: And I'm Dr. Pete Economou. Be present, be brave.

This has been When East Meets West all material is based on opinion and educational training of Drs. Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.