Nietzsche’s Six Methods For Combating Facebook Distraction

Nietzsche has something to say about everything. Including Facebook Distraction, an ‘impulse’ whose ‘vehemence’ we seek to combat, and for which he has found ‘not more than six essentially different methods.’ (‘The Dawn of Day‘, trans. JM Kennedy, Allen Unwin, 1924, Section 109)

First,

We may avoid the occasion for satisfying the impulse, weakening and mortifying it by refraining from satisfying it for long and ever-lengthening periods.

This, of course, is the methodology of the various ‘Freedom’ programs; we are made to refrain from satisfying the urge to look away from our work at our Facebook page. By blocking Internet access altogether or by blocking access just to Facebook.

Second,

We may impose a severe and regular order upon ourselves in regard to the satisfying of our appetites. By thus regulating the impulse and limiting its ebb and flow to fixed periods, we may obtain intervals in which it ceases to disturb us ; and by beginning in this way we may perhaps be able to pass on to the first method.

This is the method followed by those programs that seek to limit access to Facebook using soft or hard constraints like setting the number of hours we are blocked from using Facebook, or which seek to place a cap on the length of time we are allowed to access Facebook in a day.

Third,

We may deliberately give ourselves over to an unrestrained and unbounded gratification of the impulse in order that we may become disgusted with it, and to obtain by means of this very disgust a command over the impulse: provided, of course, that we do not imitate the rider who rides his horse to death and breaks his own neck in doing so. For this, unhappily, is generally the outcome of the application of this third method.

Indeed, sometimes I have tried this method, where I will try to kill time–perhaps between classes or while waiting for a student late to an office hours appointment–by just endlessly checking my Facebook. The result is indeed a kind of sickening, and a suicidal urge soon steals over me, which often acts as a downer when I next think of accessing Facebook.

Fourth,

There is an intellectual trick, which consists in associating the idea of the gratification so firmly with some painful thought, that after a little practice the thought of gratification is itself immediately felt as a very painful one. (For example, when the Christian accustoms himself to think of the presence and scorn of the devil in the course of sensual enjoyment…or if a man has often checked an intense desire for suicide by thinking of the grief and self-reproaches of his relations and friends, and has thus succeeded in balancing himself upon the edge of life : for, after some practice, these ideas follow one another in his mind like cause and effect.)

The closest I’ve come to this method is to bring to mind, by a deft act of mental recall, a memory of some Facebook friend whose online personality grates: he or she humblebrags incessantly, vaguebooks, just plain brags, picks fights, complains, moans, whines. Then, I wonder if I really want to encounter their latest production and at times, my tab-switching hand has been stayed. This does not work so well for there are times I seek to humblebrag or just plain brag myself and so the previously obnoxious behavior now can only be condemned on grounds of hypocrisy. Which I’m afflicted by but no matter, I press ahead.

Fifth,

We may bring about a dislocation of our powers by imposing upon ourselves a particularly difficult and fatiguing task, or by deliberately submitting to some new charm and pleasure in order thus to turn our thoughts and physical powers into other channels. It comes to the same thing if we temporarily favour another impulse by affording it numerous opportunities of gratification, and thus rendering it the squanderer of the power which would otherwise be commandeered, so to speak, by the tyrannical impulse.

Nietzsche seems to suggest that when the urge to switch tabs arises, we should give in to some other impulse: perhaps we should go make a cup of coffee–to placate the caffeine urge–eat ice-cream–to placate the sugar craving. I assume these techniques will be familiar to most. Our boredom and anxiety and insecurity and melancholia–which makes us reach for the Facebook tab–can be addressed in other ways.

Sixth, all else failing,

The man who can stand it, and thinks it reasonable to weaken and subdue his entire physical and psychical organisation, likewise, of course, attains the goal of weakening a single violent instinct; as, for example, those who starve their sensuality and at the same time their vigour, and often destroy their reason into the bargain, such as the ascetics.

This is a drastic solution indeed. All our resources are brought to bear on mastering our Facebook Distraction: we pick fights with actual friends to lose them as Facebook friends; we indulge in increasingly desperate maneuvers like throwing our laptops out the window, and so on. I haven’t reached this stage yet.

The bad news is that:

The will to combat the violence of a craving is beyond our power, equally with the method we adopt and the success we may have in applying it.

The good news is that:

Our intellect is rather merely the blind instrument of another rival craving, whether it be the impulse to repose, or the fear of disgrace and other evil consequences, or love.

The very fact that we are bothered by our Facebook Distraction is evidence that another drive seeks expression; perhaps a lust for power or glory through the completion of our unfinished drafts. This being Nietzsche, there is no getting away from the jihad that lies ahead:

While ” we ” thus imagine that we are complaining of the violence of an impulse, it is at bottom merely one impulse which is complaining of another, i.e. the perception of the violent suffering which is being caused us presupposes that there is another equally or more violent impulse, and that a struggle is impending in which our intellect must take part.

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