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max patrick schlienger, the ennui emgine, social media addiction
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A young girl deeply engaged in a doom scroll.

The advent of social media and smartphones has nearly eradicated the idea of the empty moment. We no longer have to sit with our thoughts when waiting in line at the supermarket. There’s no need to strike up a conversation with someone at the bus stop to pass the time.

One doesn’t even need to remember to grab a book before getting on a flight.

Social media makes the promise that it’s possible for us to be entertained and engaged during every waking moment. Writer Max Patrick Schlienger (@RamsesThePigeon on Twitter) challenges that idea by making a convincing argument that our habitual scrolling actually leaves us bored and listless.

Schlienger made his case in a Medium article entitled, “The Cargo Cult of the Ennui Engine.”


Schlienger says this trouble started once online content creators realized that the bar was set pretty low on the internet and they could get a lot of attention with minimal effort by creating low-quality content.

“Content creators took note of this trend, and while many of them resisted it, many more adjusted accordingly. After all, why should they expend a lot of effort on something when lazy offerings were seeing more success?” he wrote.

“Before long, accuracy, quality, and correctness became optional requirements, and online audiences learned to expect mostly low-effort content instead of refined assemblages,” he added.

While watching videos of a guy eating it on a skateboard on Instagram or someone explaining psychological disorders in 17 seconds on TikTok aren’t bad in and of themselves, low-effort content is quick and simple and demands little of us so we consume it passively. It’s a lot different than reading a book where we co-create meaning with the author or watching a film that asks us to make sense of complicated characters and plot developments.

Further, our constant diet of low-effort content also leads to more of it being produced.

“When we amplify these things—using our likes, upvotes, retweets and shares—we encourage the creation of more low-effort content, and in so doing, we send the message that higher quality offerings are unwelcome and unwanted,” Schlienger wrote.

“After all, if we enjoy the low-effort content, why shouldn’t we ask for more of it? Why shouldn’t we encourage it?” he wrote. “Therein lies the real problem, however: We don’t enjoy the low-effort content … at least not as much as we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that we do.”

So how are we fooling ourselves?

“Every second that we spend scrolling represents a tiny investment of emotional energy, the well of which is slowly drained as moments pass. To return to a previous metaphor, we start off hoping for a jackpot, then grow increasingly desperate to just break even,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, since we’ve already demanded that we be served only low-effort content—and since that same jackpot is being buried—we’re doomed to lose every time. We point to tiny blips above a baseline of boredom as evidence that we’re still enjoying ourselves, and we deny that our banks are being depleted,” he adds.

Upworthy spoke with Schlienger and he compared habitual scrolling to an addiction.

“I think it's a great thing that we've been entering into an era where mental health is much more at the forefront of our attention. Folks are much more open about their internal struggles. And yet in spite of that, we're going around chain smoking and encouraging others to do the same,” he told Upworthy. “When you start scrolling, when you start looking at this low effort content, it's hard to stop. And, just like a smoker, you tend to snarl at anybody that says, hey, that’s bad for you.”

Schlienger believes that this addiction to low-effort content is rarely challenged because everyone has a phone. “I can sit and scroll through TikTok, and maybe that's bad for me, sure. But you know what? Nobody can criticize me for that because I'm using a phone just like they are,” he said.

In addition to consuming a lot of our time, Schlienger says it also throttles our motivation. In “The Cargo Cult of the Ennui Engine” he makes the case that every time we pick up the phone and go hunting for something engaging, we are burning emotional energy on an activity that will rarely replenish what it has diminished.

“It's like consuming junk food where you're not actually getting any nourishment, but it's still filling you up. It's getting rid of your hunger, although in this case, the hunger is sort of inverted and it's motivation. It's draining your motivation,” he said.

Schlienger’s theories are backed up by recent studies on social media and boredom. Researchers from the Netherlands' Radboud University recently found that “phone usage wasn't an effective method to alleviate boredom and fatigue and even made these feelings worse in many cases.”

Schlienger’s idea that passively consumed low-effort content distracts more than it alleviates boredom is echoed by psychologist Nancy Irwin. “Boredom is generally a quest for fulfillment from external sources. However, real fulfillment is an internal job,” she said.

The first step in overcoming the addiction to low-effort content and habitual scrolling is to understand its limits and to be conscious of our daily behaviors. Schlienger doesn’t believe we should immediately delete our social media apps, but to be more mindful of our use and careful about what we encourage.

“Instead, we should remain self-aware and discerning as we traverse the web, encouraging, applauding and insisting on effort and earnestness from anyone who intends to contribute (no matter how small or substantial their contributions might be),” he wrote in “The Cargo Cult of the Ennui Engine.”

“Amplify emotional investments,” he wrote, “not blips above the baseline.”

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This is the most important van in NYC… and it’s full of socks.

How can socks make such a huge difference? You'd be surprised.

all photos provided by Coalition for The Homeless

Every night, the van delivers nourishment in all kinds of ways to those who need it most

True

Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Over 50,000 people sleep each night in a shelter, while thousands of others rely on city streets, the subway system and other public locations as spaces to rest.

That’s why this meal (and sock) delivery van is an effective resource for providing aid to those experiencing homelessness in New York City.

Every night of the year, from 7pm to 9:30, the Coalition for the Homeless drives a small fleet of vans to over 25 stops throughout upper and lower Manhattan and in the Bronx. At each stop, adults and families in need can receive a warm meal, a welcoming smile from volunteers, and a fresh, comfy new pair of Bombas socks. Socks may be even more important than you think.

Bombas was founded in 2013 after the discovery that socks were the #1 most requested clothing item at homeless shelters.

Access to fresh, clean socks is often limited for individuals experiencing homelessness—whether someone is living on the street and walking for much of the day, or is unstably housed without reliable access to laundry or storage. And for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness —expenses might need to be prioritized for more critical needs like food, medication, school supplies, or gas. Used socks can’t be donated to shelters for hygienic reasons, making this important item even more difficult to supply to those who need it the most.

Bombas offers its consumers durable, long-lasting and comfortable socks, and for every pair of Bombas socks purchased, an additional pair of specially-designed socks is donated to organizations supporting those in need, like Coalition for the Homeless. What started out as a simple collaboration with a few organizations and nonprofits to help individuals without housing security has quickly become a bona fide giving movement. Bombas now has approximately 3,500 Giving Partners nationwide.

Though every individual’s experience is unique, there can frequently be an inherent lack of trust of institutions that want to help—making a solution even more challenging to achieve. “I’ve had people reach out when I’m handing them a pair of socks and their hands are shaking and they’re looking around, and they’re wondering ‘why is this person being nice to me?’” Robbi Montoya—director at Dorothy Day House, another Giving Partner—told Bombas.

Donations like socks are a small way to create connection. And they can quickly become something much bigger. Right now over 1,000 people receive clothing and warm food every night, rain or shine, from a Coalition for the Homeless van. That bit of consistent kindness during a time of struggle can help offer the feeling of true support. This type of encouragement is often crucial for organizations to help those take the next difficult steps towards stability.

This philosophy helped Bombas and its abundance of Giving Partners extend their reach beyond New York City. Over 75 million clothing items have been donated to those who need it the most across all 50 states. Over the years Bombas has accumulated all kinds of valuable statistics, information, and highlights from Giving Partners similar to the Coalition for the Homeless vans and Dorothy Day House, which can be found in the Bombas Impact Report.

In the Impact Report, you’ll also find out how to get involved—whether it’s purchasing a pair of Bombas socks to get another item donated, joining a volunteer group, or shifting the conversation around homelessness to prioritize compassion and humanity.

To find out more, visit BeeBetter.com.

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