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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

More or Less Restless

This column was published April 15, 2023 in the Manhattan Mercury.


On Ash Wednesday, I sneaked away from the work day to celebrate noon Mass at St. Isidore’s. It allows me to get a more meaningful grasp on little things, like say, the meaning of life and the whole dust to dust thing. I don’t know whether it’s winter weariness or the promise of spring, but every year about mid-February I start to feel restless. There’s a ritual for that. At least temporarily, I can remove one of the things I often use to cover up neediness and give comfort.

I gave up social media for Lent.

That restlessness, neediness and comfort-seeking has another name: Addiction.

These traits have been with me since childhood and with the benefit of addiction recovery and hindsight, I have been purposeful recently about autopsying them, especially as it relates to my early adult years, when, though blind to it, the addiction was in full bloom.

The autopsies, and a book I wrote about those years illustrate how restlessness, neediness and a dozen other not particularly attractive behaviors revealed themselves in my early adult life, in attitudes, outlook and actions. It’s about destruction, loss and eventually, healing.

Before Lent, my restlessness translated into a need to “keep up” with social media. Then it hit me. What, exactly, did I feel compelled to keep up with? Blowhard societal commentary? Knee-jerk over-reactions? Uninformed bloviating? Bad grammar?

Which begs the question, am I addicted to social media? Regardless of whether social media platforms were purposefully designed this way, constantly accessing them creates dopamine-driven feedback loops. Dopamine is a human ‘feel good’ hormone and neurotransmitter. It enables us to not only see rewards, but then take conscious action to get them.

For people like me, genetically predisposed to addiction, that hits close to home. Carry that biological determinism argument one step further. Our little brains apparently cannot resist technology that is “smarter” than we are, giving social media platforms the power to wreak havoc on our capacity for attention. “Attention” is a personal choice, layered and infused with human values. People make values-based choices every day. For Lent or for keeps.

The autopsies and experience have taught me the inner restlessness is here to stay. Social media simply exacerbates it. Abstinence isn’t the cure, but it is the key to clearing the psyche to allow for the essential introspection. Which is sort of the whole idea behind Lent.

I could walk away from social media forever and live happily ever after. But... but... I have a newspaper column and a book to push, a pair of totes adorbs grandsons, the two most photogenic dogs in Kansas, social media-contrived holidays to celebrate and “actual conversations” with my wife (a reputation management tool that has sort of become a thing) to share.

Why, 3,000-plus of my closest Facebook friends and those pesky dopamine-driven feedback loops are counting on me.

The justifications and rationalizations die hard.

Finally, there’s the Economics 101 argument. Solutions to the problem of Internet or social media addiction should tackle the demand, not just supply. If one’s life is fulfilling, if one’s culture is nourishing, if the heart and soul are fed, the brain will react accordingly.

My hope is that when I return to dust, which I intend to be sometime in the far distant future, I’ll be a tad less restless.

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