Breaking Free from the Infinite Scroll

Sanjiv Yajnik explores the impact of social networking, its unintended consequences and how we can regain meaningful connection

Recently, President of Financial Services at Capital One, Sanjiv Yajnik, explored the impact of social networking and its unintended consequences with TedXTalks. Read on to hear his perspective on how we can break free from the “infinite scroll” and regain more meaningful connection.

The Frictionless Technology Trap

Just over a year ago (pre-COVID), I was in a rut. Despite being more connected than ever, I was feeling disconnected, trapped in an endless ‘busyness’ cycle that felt like an infinite scroll—a term I borrowed from the dark design pattern made popular by social media apps, where users are conditioned to scroll endlessly without even thinking about it. This disquieting feeling stayed with me, and I started feeling like I wasn’t performing well at home or at work. But why? I hadn’t always felt this way. I used to feel empowered, productive, accomplished.

Over the past decade, technology has advanced at an exponential rate—and will continue to do so. Mesmerizing innovations have not only changed technology, but our society, as well. 3G networks introduced a new age of calling, texting, and internet connectivity (and now 5G is the standard!), social media brought our lives online, virtual reality invaded entertainment, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data took off, and data storage moved to the cloud. 

Yet, despite the world of possibility technology has opened up, I started having trouble getting a good night's sleep. I was missing critical moments with family and friends because I wasn’t paying attention. I was letting my team down because I wasn’t all there. It was one thing after another. Life was whizzing past me. 

I initially shrugged it off, hypothesizing that this disquieting feeling was driven by the troubled, polarized world that we live in. Or, maybe it was just me. But as I researched and talked with others, I discovered that both of my initial hypotheses were incorrect. Sure enough, this feeling of being anxious, unsatisfied and out of control was widespread, to varying degrees, and it was increasing. 

On one hand, this effortless, frictionless technology has made our lives infinitely easier. On the other hand, it’s created things that can be addictive. 

Documentaries have explored the dangerous human impact of social networking, specifically, comparing its effects to the use of drugs, causing the brain to release dopamine which hijacks our center of reasoning. Dopamine motivates, rewards and reinforces drug-taking behavior. The more an addict uses the drug, the harder it is to stop. 

Within social media platforms, this dopamine hit is often viewed as the secret sauce to making an app or social networking platform “sticky” and profitable. It’s called “Persuasive Tech.”

Social media has created a facade that we are truly connected, intimate, friends with people online. It also allows people to only share the very best versions of themselves, or even worse, a false version of themselves. Data shows that scrolling through social feeds of people we’re connected with often yields feelings of comparison, jealousy, inadequacy, anxiety and depression. One study even showed that our younger generations – from young teens to college-aged students – have been experiencing massive spikes in anxiety and depression since 2012. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 80% of college students expressed feeling overwhelmed with their responsibilities, tasks, and other commitments, especially regarding academic stress, financial stress, social media use and loneliness. 

I can’t help but think that our increased “connection” seems to be resulting in a parallel increase in “disconnection” of our personal relationships and passions.

The Creativity Crisis

When we embrace the infinite scroll, we get in the way of our personal contentment, but also our creativity. 

Companies have realized that to thrive in today’s market, they must hire and retain exceptional talent. AI is rapidly taking over repetitive, routine and computational tasks in the workplace. The real differentiator in talent will be human creativity.

But to access our creativity, we need to bring our “whole selves” to the table – we need to be centered. We cannot access our creativity if we are somewhat distracted, stressed out and unfulfilled. To do this, we need to break this infinite scroll.

Breaking the Infinite Scroll

Social media has removed friction from most of our interactions, and the unintended consequence has been fewer social interactions and less focus on actual relationships. When I realized I was missing a lot of the deep human connectivity that brings me fulfillment, I wanted to regain the feeling of being connected, creative and purposeful. I found it necessary to inject intentional friction into my day-to-day experiences.

Here’s my prescription for breaking the infinite scroll:

  • Provoke Accountability – Gauge technology’s grip on you and be honest in assessing how much time you’re spending on activities that aren’t really meaningful. We need quiet time with ourselves to absorb our experiences and reflect upon them. With always-on news and entertainment at our fingertips, we often don't get a break. Owning your actions is a necessary first step to changing your reality. 
  • Nourish Yourself Build healthy self-care habits. For me, starting my day with exercise and ending it with meditation provides a huge lift to my spirit.
  • Befriend Others – I challenge each of you to identify three people—one from work, one from family and one from your community—to regularly spend time with in order to build more meaningful relationships.

Like exercise for our bodies, intentional friction is needed to build up the strength and resiliency of our souls. Technology makes much of our day-to-day lives easier, but it’s still important to unplug. Don’t get so caught up in an endless to do list that you let the most important parts of life pass you by. Otherwise, you risk sacrificing your effectiveness in the never-ending search for efficiency.

Sanjiv Yajnik, President, Financial Services, Capital One

As President of Financial Services, Sanjiv Yajnik has spent the last 20+ years living out Capital One’s vision to dream, disrupt and deliver a better way through overseeing the company's Auto Finance business. He is a firm believer in combining customer-back design, technology and innovative operational structures to unleash success.

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