Thursday, May 12, 2016

Facebook Anonymous: A Tale of Addiction

These are the first three chapters of Facebook Anonymous: A Tale of Addiction. With Facebook in the news lately, it seemed like a good time to post some of this material. The story is in first person as told to me by Candace Crush. My daughter, Patricia, did the cover art. The ebook is available on Kindle from Amazon.

Recreational User

I was a recreational user when I joined Facebook. It wasn’t a big deal. I posted a few status updates per month. I could take it or leave it. I never logged in at work. Within a year, I was logging in every day. Another year, and I was a complete junkie. If I couldn’t get hooked up for some reason, I was a complete wreck. As an Addiction Prevention Professional, I should have recognized the warning signs.
My work included marketing, P.R., and event photography for a substance abuse rehab. FB was growing like crazy and everybody seemed to think it was a key marketing tool. My boss told me to start posting some of the photos I took on the company’s FB page. Soon after that, I was managing the FB page. Then the boss told me to keep an eye on what my fellow employees were doing on Facebook. It was the perfect excuse for staying connected.  
My photography was good enough to get a picture or two in the newspaper every month. I enjoyed seeing my name in print. However, posting photos on FB was more gratifying because FB friends could “like” them. Sometimes they made comments. The likes and the comments were a tremendous turn on. That instant feedback was exhilarating. 
I started posting lots of photos on my personal Facebook page. Sunsets, birds, and funny photos when I could get them. When people liked a photo, it energized me. I soon developed an insatiable appetite for that high. On the downside, whenever I posted a picture that I really liked and nobody liked it or commented on it, I got depressed.

To Be Liked, or Not To Be Liked

I craved the likes. Then I needed the likes. Then I couldn’t get enough of the likes. What I didn’t realize was that the likes were triggering releases of dopamine in my brain. I was, in a sense, metabolizing my own martinis. I posted more and more pictures.
However, no matter how many people liked a picture or a comment, it was never enough. I wanted the same high that I had felt the first time one of my photos became really popular. The harder I tried to get that buzz, the further away it seemed to be. I spent more and more of my time on FB. It was taking over my life.
I logged on when I was sad hoping to see something that would lift my spirits. I logged on when I was happy to tell my friends. Most of the time, I logged on just to see what my peeps were up to. I sent friend requests by the dozens to people I didn’t know and who I would never meet. That didn’t matter to me. All I wanted was to get my numbers up.
Any tiny thing – whether it was music, a movie, a book, or something else – that I had in common with someone was a sufficient excuse to send a friend request. When I received friend requests I always accepted them. Lots of other people were doing the same thing. Of course, I hoped my friends would look at my beautiful pictures and my clever comments and that they would like me.
Games Users Play
I tried some of the games – Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and Farmville. Being a virtual farmer was fun, and I enjoyed taking care of my virtual livestock and tending to my virtual crops. It felt like it mattered, unlike the rest of my life. I’m proud to say that no pumpkins died on my watch. Also, my farm looked better than most of my friends’ farms. I didn’t pay to get the farm looking nice either, the way some people do. I did the hard work that it takes to build an attractive farm.
Then I developed a sweet tooth for Candy Crush. Looking back, that sugary application is where I began to lose control. In the beginning, it was free. They’ll give you a taste for free because they know that once you’ve had it, you’ll want more.
For some people, the addiction is instantaneous, like heroin and cocaine. After you use up all of the sweet lives they give you, you have to wait thirty minutes to get more. Why would I wait when I could have fresh lives for a buck? It soon became more like a habit than a game for me.
Game developers are like casino owners. They play to win and rarely, if ever, lose. At some level I knew that, but I played anyways. Free to play games are like the “free” buffets in Vegas. That’s how they get people to come in.
Not everybody who eats at a buffet in Vegas becomes a compulsive gambler. Some people eat their meals, play a few slot machines, and go to a show or return to the hotel. A percentage of the people who partake of the buffets will listen to the enticing call of the roulette wheel.
The free games on FB were an entertaining and welcome diversion for me. My life was dull and I had a job that was lousy in a lot of ways. After I started playing a game, it was hard to move on to the next part of the day. I always wanted more. Game developers know how to manipulate people to keep them playing.
Once I was hooked, which didn’t take long, I didn’t stand a chance. For addictive players, paying a dollar for new lives or skins or whatever doesn’t seem like much. To get to higher levels of Candy Crush, I needed boosts and extra moves. The more I got, the higher I could go. The higher I went, the higher I wanted to go.
I loved being in my own little world when I was playing. Before long, I didn’t have much time for my husband and kids. My virtual friends were better company and the games were more fun. If I woke up in the middle of the night I would go to a computer and login. Candy Crush was virtual comfort food to me. I sometimes played till it was time to go to work.
That was the problem. My work interfered with my FB time. Chatting, playing games, and checking out my timeline to see what my friends were up to was much more interesting than the stupid projects my ignorant boss, Mr. Roach, had me working on. I arranged my desk so he couldn’t sneak up behind me and see what I was doing.
I couldn’t stand my colleagues. They were part of the world I wanted to get away from. I wanted as little to do with them as possible.  If someone invited me to lunch, my response was always the same. “I can’t make it. I have to finish this project I’m working on.”  
If you liked this, you might like to check out the whole ebook. And, by the way, if you don't have a Kindle, you can get a free app from Amazon. 

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