Mr Russell Brand On Social Media Addiction
Photograph by Mr Alberto E Rodriguez/WireImage/Getty Images
“Here in our glistening citadel of limitless reflecting screens we live on the outside. Today we may awaken and instantly and unthinkingly reach for the phone, its glow reaching our eyes before the light of dawn, its bulletins dart into our minds before even a moment of acknowledgement of this unbending and unending fact: you are going to die.” So opens Mr Russell Brand’s latest book, Recovery, which walks the reader through the traditional 12-step programme to overcoming addiction, with the objective that any addiction – however insidious or seemingly trivial – can be effectively cured, or at least improved.
High up on the list of our sneaky addictions is, unsurprisingly, social media. It’s much less conspicuous and much harder to identify than a heroin addiction (a personal battle Mr Brand makes reference to in his book), but those of us who make our somnambulant way through the world with our thumbs endlessly scrolling through Instagram and Twitter feeds can attest that social media addiction isn’t just for 14-year-old Snapchat fanatics. What’s more, it’s having a deleterious effect on our mental health, with a wealth of studies reporting that social media is causing a surge in stress, anxiety and depression.
Still, Mr Brand believes that, like drug addiction, these digital infiltrations can be beaten by applying the 12-step programme in the same way that you would to any other kind of out-of-control compulsion. “Normally you don’t get into [the 12 steps] unless you’ve got a severe problem, but I think it works for less severe problems that are existentially costly, like the feeling of biliousness of looking at a screen, reading pointlessness, and wasting your life,” he says. To get the full benefit of the 12-step programme, you’ll obviously have to read the book, but in the interest of those with social media-abused attention spans, we spoke to Mr Brand about how understanding online addiction can make all of our lives better, and have condensed his words of wisdom into this handy five-point guide.
Admit there's a problem
The first plan of action – before you can even take action, really – is to recognise that there’s an issue. “Once you stop taking drugs, you realise why you took drugs in the first place, but a lot of people aren’t doing something as obviously self-destructive as taking drugs, and so they never have to confront what it is they’re doing,” says Mr Brand. “Social media is insidious, and it’s innocuous. You don’t feel like you’re doing anything bad, but before you know it you’re watching some weird video of someone getting hit by a car in the Ukraine, and you think, ‘What am I watching this for? What’s going on? This ain’t my life.’” So the first step to victory over your addiction is admitting that it has taken control. “Don’t you want to know if you’re addicted to something; don’t you want to know if you’re not in control of your own mind? You can do what you want with the information once you have the information. You can say, ‘Nah, fuck it, I’m gonna stick with it and stay in the dark,’ or you can go, ‘Okay, I’m going to do something about it.’ That’s step one.”
Set yourself some limits (and record the results)
As with any addiction, self-discipline is crucial, especially when it comes to those loopholes your mind inevitably finds. “Your first excuse, like me, would be: ‘Well, I have to do social media for work,’” says Mr Brand. (Feeling guilty yet?) “So make a rule that you can only look at it between certain times. That doesn’t mean that if you say you’re only allowed to look at it between like 10 and 11 in the morning or four and five in the afternoon, and if you find yourself looking at it at half five or in the middle of the day that you shoot yourself in the head,” he says. “You just note it, like, ‘Oh that’s interesting, I’m not capable of doing that, how weird,’” thereby helping you monitor your relapses, and see the seriousness of the addiction you’re dealing with.
Understand your mind
The human mind is a notoriously tricky arbiter. “It’s really hard to negotiate with your mind. It likes easy little things. It likes sugary things, it likes fat, it likes sexual pleasure, it likes stupid stuff,” says Mr Brand. As anyone who’s tried to eat more healthily but ended up with their head in the biscuit barrel will know, sparring with the mind’s base desires can be gruelling. “People become addicted to things to cope with the way they feel. The book is about looking at the way you feel, and the way you can be in touch with and alter the way you feel without destroying yourself. Unless we have a better relationship with the mind, we’re going to continue to live in dirty little circles of addiction.”
Stick your head in a good book
“There’s nothing fundamentally or essentially wrong with social media,” says Mr Brand. “It’s just a communicative tool, like the printing press. Before social media, for instance, it was newspapers, and I used to think, ‘I’m not gonna read The Sun newspaper again until I’ve read the complete works of Dostoevsky!’ I still haven’t read the complete works of Dostoevsky, but the point I’m making is that you can read brilliant literature that is about dealing about being human and dying and living, or you can read garbage stuff. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some books to read.”
Pick yourself up
Perhaps the hardest frontier to cross when it comes to addiction is accepting it as part of your life. “I realised that I had come out of the other end [of addiction] when I accepted that I would never come out of the other end, and that I still don’t really know what will happen. As my therapist says, it’s not that you get out of breath; it’s how quickly you get your breath back.” In other words, embrace your failures, and take it a day at a time. “With meditation, for example, it doesn’t matter that your mind wanders, you just return to the mantra, or return to the breath. Of course your mind is going to wander; that’s what it does. But it is possible to amend your behaviour so that it doesn’t trouble you, and doesn’t trouble others.”