Pursue What Matters
Episode 180: 5 Signs you May Have a Social Media Problem
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you have a social media problem? Or are you worried those you love might have a problem? Well, today we’re going to take a look at five signs that you might want to pay attention to.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:32
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love on work. So we have been talking about tech and your use of tech. So last week, we focused on the question, Are you addicted to Tech, we talked about the difference between a habit and an addiction. And I gave you two key questions to really help you develop more awareness of your social media use and to help you manage your use of social media. So the questions are related to frequency and impact. So the frequency of your use of tech, and then the impact of your use of tech, or social media, on your life, your relationships, all that good stuff. So if you haven’t listened to last week’s podcast, I would encourage you to take a listen, it will really help set you up well, for our podcast today. So today, I want to get very specific, and share five warning signs of social media addiction or a problematic behavior.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:41
One of the things we talked about last week is that social media addiction is not as common as it may seem, and you know, kind of get on my soapbox a little bit about the term addiction. But what’s true is tech is everywhere. And if you are not aware, you can lead yourself into some problematic behavior. And so really, my hope is to help you develop awareness. And for you to be steering the bus, rather than you being steered by a behavior that is potentially problematic or compulsive. And so, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas leading with clarity, leading with curiosity, and leading and building a community. And today, we’re really focused on helping you lead with curiosity, where we’re focused on developing self awareness and self leadership skills. Because right, if you can’t lead yourself, well, you are gonna have a hard time leading other people that is so true. And so let’s start, I want to start by sharing the five signs. And then for each sign, I have some solutions to help you to really give you some good practical ideas where you could start to really start helping yourself and of course, you know, we don’t want anyone to panic about any of this. So let’s go ahead though and jump right in to the five signs, you might have a social media problem. And so sign one your tech use is compulsive. Okay. So if you remember from last week, one of the components of the definition of addiction is compulsive nature to the behavior. So what counts as compulsive behavior. So in a 2019 paper in neuro psychology review, they define compulsive behavior as a feeling we have to do something repeatedly, even when we know we really don’t have to. Okay, so sometimes we think about this with OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. But we also can see it quite often, with social media use where we get stuck in scroll holes, we know that we don’t need to check, you know, our feed, but we do and, you know, social media is really designed for this reinforcement of behavior and which lends to compulsive behavior, because the feed is always refreshing, right? There’s always something new to see. And so it’s really designed to kind of feed that need to, you know, check it repeatedly, and see what you’ve missed. And so that is definitely a pattern where you’re more likely to develop some compulsive behavior. So that’s, that’s the definition of compulsive behavior from neuro psychology review. Some other components of that is compulsive behavior overcomes good judgment. Right. So there can you know, we can engage in dangerous, dangerous behavior that we know is not a good idea. So such as scrolling when driving or crossing the street. I mean, how many people have you seen crossing a busy street with their head stuck in their phone? And of course, we know that using a phone while driving happens way too often, and it’s so incredibly dangerous. And so that is another feature of compulsive behavior, it overcomes good judgment. So not only does compulsive behavior overcome good judgment, but it also right like you can even engage in behavior that you don’t, you don’t like that you don’t want to be engaging in and that’s really speaks to that compulsive hook is that you feel compelled to do a behavior even though you don’t like the behavior. And it can get to that point, certainly with tech use, certainly with other addictive processes. And I when I think about this compulsivity component of behavior, you might feel like you’re on a runaway train, and cannot get off. And so I defined addiction last week, but I just want to review it again, so you can, so you can be aware of that. And this comes to us from Anna Lemke, a professor of psychiatry and Addiction Medicine at Stanford, and her addiction. Her addiction definition is the continued compulsive use of a substance or behavior, despite harm to self, and or others. And I think that that definition really wraps up some of those some of the things that we just talked about when we think about what counts as compulsive behavior, that compulsive behavior overcomes good judgment. And often we can be engaging in behaviors that we really don’t want to be engaging in. And that just shows you how compulsive it has become. So some questions right? Are you consistently putting off sleep to engage in tech? Are you missing things in meetings due to scrolling? Is there conflict in your relationship due to your tech use? Now, these might be uncomfortable questions to ask. But it’s really important to pay attention to these questions because they really can help point to boy, is there a compulsive aspect to your tech use. So remember, sign one is tech use is compulsive. And so let’s give you some practical solutions to help you where you’re at. So the first solution that I have for you, is to bring more awareness to tech use. Now this podcast and the last podcast last week, we’re all focused on helping you have more awareness. So it’s not to label anyone or to shame anyone, or to freak out anyone, we’re really to help you bring more awareness to your tech use. So what’s true is habits are done on autopilot. And so they can be very challenging to overcome. This is why we really need to bring awareness to our behavior. So the key is to bring awareness to the behavior, so you’re not on autopilot. So this is from Phil read, he said, the way to treat habits is to bring them into consciousness and make yourself aware of what you’re doing. So as a psychologist, I can’t tell you how powerful this little intervention is, whatever it is, you’re doing, bring more awareness to it. So this can be for good habits that we want to do more of it can be for bad habits, right? That we want to do less up having more awareness of like, what am I actually doing can be so helpful, because what’s true is most of us are doing our habits outside of our conscious awareness. And that’s right. That’s the thing about habits, they kind of become like second nature on autopilot. And so you don’t always have the awareness that you need.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:24
So for example, how can you bring more awareness to your tech use, you could log how often you check your feeds in a day, including brief glances. So one of the things I talked about last week is that addiction is on a continuum, right? And problematic behavior, the same thing. And so if you’re checking your feed once a day, that’s very different from someone checking their feed 20 times a day, you can see how 20 times a day like the more you’re checking how that can take on a compulsive aspect isn’t always but it’s certainly more likely. And so if you check, right, if you log how often you are checking or feeds in a day, you can get a really good picture of what’s happening. You can turn off app notifications. Because if you get that app notification, right, your habit not done in consciousness can be Oh, I’m going to open I’m going to chat. And so if you turn off those app notifications, right, then you’re more likely to be intentional about when you move to the app, you can silence your phone, you can set your phone on Do Not Disturb. You can customize your focus settings especially you can do that on Apple for work hours and when driving so that you’re not getting any notifications. And what I would say is take off as many notifications as you can because it just in general it just absolutely destroys concentration. And so you know, aside from whether there’s a tech use problem, having notifications on your phone is just it is a recipe for distraction Should and ineffectiveness. And so that is our first solution to bring more awareness to tech use. And I shared a couple examples of how you can do that. Okay, so relative to this first sign that the tech use is compulsive, I’ve got a second solution for you. And that is to fill the time with other activities. So this is from Cal Newport, he’s an author, he’s he does a lot of great writing on attention and focus. And he said, If you don’t increase other things, as you reduce social media, almost any other attempt to reduce it won’t work. Okay. So you better prepare, be prepared to fill the time with other activities. This is true of any problematic behavior. So you can start by switching from a less desired app to an app that is more in line with your higher self. So one of the things that I did when I was just noticing, like I, and this was quite a while ago, but I’m like, I’m spending too much time on Instagram, there’s really no purpose for it. And I don’t feel great about myself, after I spend this, you know, this mindless time on it. And so one of the steps that I did was, there were a few steps, and some of them will be in this in in our solutions today. But one was, I switched to, to using another app when I felt that restlessness because one of the things I noticed is when I had a free moment, or I was feeling a little restless, that’s when I was more prone to scrolling. And you know what, there wasn’t good, intentional use there. And so instead of going to Instagram, which really hooks you up for that compulsive behavior, like those feeds, I went, instead to The Wall Street Journal, or, you know, you could choose another news app. And so this was a good substitute for me, because I like to be aware of the news. And so it was something that was a little more useful for me. Plus, the Wall Street Journal app doesn’t pull me in like Instagram. So I’m much less likely to be compulsive with it. Because it’s like, oh, it’s interesting, but I don’t write like it doesn’t continually refresh. I’m not seeing people I know. It’s, it’s so so that reinforcement schedule, and the compulsive nature is just totally fallen away, because it just doesn’t pull me in, like Instagram and some of the other social media platforms. And so that was a really helpful thing for me. So that could be one step that you take a start by switching from an app, you’re trying to use less to an app that’s more in line with your higher self.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:35
So maybe it would be you know, so I like learning about geography. So it could be a geography app where you’re quizzing yourself, and, you know, learning geography. So, you know, paying attention to when you turn to social media can be really helpful. So as I noted, I sometimes would turn to social media when I was feeling a little restless, or anxious or bored, right. And it’s just so easy to go to social media. And so we want you to try a coping skill instead. So right fill the time with other activities. So you could do two minutes of paced breathing, you could review a favorite quote or mantra, you could make a quick list of what’s worrying you so it’s out of your mind, you could do something physical. So it doesn’t have to be with your phone. In fact, it’s probably even better if it if the activity you turn towards is not on your phone. And so that’s our second solution is fill the time with other activities. Okay, so now let’s take a look at the second problematic sign. And this is tech use is getting in the way of life. Okay. So last week, the second key factor that I said that as a psychologist I pay attention to when it comes to concerning behavior? Is the impact on functioning, this is a really important key to pay attention to. So is the behavior getting in the way of life? Is it getting in the way of work? Or school? Is it getting in the way of relationships help well being? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you’ve got a problematic behavior. And I think it’s really important to ask these questions of more than just yourself. Because when we are trying to defend or protect a behavior, it’s very easy to say, No, this isn’t a problem like this, this is just fine. But when you ask maybe your partner or loved one, if it’s a problem, they might have a very different answer for you. And here’s what’s true. You might not want to know that. You might not want to hear that answer. Because maybe you enjoy the behavior and you don’t see it as a problem. So it’s really important to distinguish who has a problem with these behaviors. So right you might not be concerned with your social media use, you may lack awareness, or fail to appreciate how it does get in the way of life. So we tend to defend. While we like me, I don’t have a problem. But what about people in your life? Have they expressed concern or frustration with your tech use? Or if you were to ask them? Would they be likely to express concern or frustration? So think about your partner, think about boss or colleagues. Think about your kids think about friends. So often those who are closest to us have a clearer view of our behavior than we do. Because they are impacted by the behavior and they don’t feel any need to defend the behavior that right where you might be more likely to defend your behavior. And so they have a unique perspective. And it doesn’t mean that it’s totally accurate either. But it can be a helpful perspective to take on. So right, we, when we go back again, to that definition of addiction, right, and the impact in your life, are you consistently putting off sleep? Are you missing things in meetings? Is there conflict in your relationship due to your tech use, so again, we want to reflect on the different areas of our life, so that we can make sure that we are that we’re, we’re catching up, and that we’re really committed to being aware of how our behavior might be impacting various aspects of our life. Okay, and that brings us to solution three, try doing a screen fast.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:33
So the way that this is described in some of the research and in the Wall Street Journal article that I will link to, is we think about a 24 hour dopamine fast. So that might not sound like fun, but it can be a really good thing. So here are the recommendations for that fast, don’t touch any screen related device for a day, right? That might be kind of hard to do. So you might want to kind of pay attention to how you might be able to do that beforehand, let people know you won’t be reachable. That’s easier to do this with friends or family, right. So if you can enlist some support, that will make it a lot easier to do. And then as you’re going through that fast notice how you feel during the fast. So do you have any anxiousness or irritability? You have the restlessness, or intrusive thoughts about your feed? Or do you right, so that might especially happen earlier in the day. And as the end of the day comes on, right, as you have a little more time away from it, do you notice a lightening of those symptoms, and maybe even a relief to not be associated with your feeds. So I think that can be a really powerful reset, it can be just a small reset, that helps to build more awareness. So even if you know, none of these signs really load for you. And it’s not really problematic. If you have a desire to just, you know, let’s just kind of do a health check on our screen use, you could do this 24 hour dopamine fast. And you might learn some things, right? You might notice like, yeah, like, I don’t miss it. And maybe I want to make some other choices, so that I have even more separation from it. And so I think, regardless of whether you have signs of problematic use this 24 hour, dopamine fast can be really helpful. So another option, if you if you, if you’re up for even more, would be a 30 day screen fast. Now, this is really recommended. Mostly, if you suspect you have a tech addiction, or you just have a strong desire to have a separation from screen, that’s, that’s fine. That’s not a problem. But if you if right, some of these signs really load for you, then you might very strongly consider a 30 day screen fast. Because what we know from addiction research is that it takes about a month of staying away from addictive behaviors and substances for the reward pathways in the brain to reset. So you’ve got to have a sustained amount of time where you’re separated from the behaviors to really start to get the benefits. And so I think that that can be really helpful. So with sign two, we talked about tech use getting in the way of life. And with solution three, we’re recommending to do a screen fast. So you could do a 24 hour dopamine fast. Or you could do a 30 day screen fast. And now let’s move to sign three. So what’s the third sign that we need to pay attention to? You need more social media to feel satisfied? So this is a classic, a classic component of behaviorism right that we see with compulsive behavior addictive behavior. So social media, overuse can lead to increased tolerance of pleasurable effects which pushes you to use more of the behavior or the substance in order to feel good, right? We see this with alcohol dependence. But we also see this with other addictive behaviors. So you, you could find yourself pushing for more and more time on social media, because you’re trying to chase this pleasurable effect. And, you know, the truth is like, that becomes harder to chase over time. And so we want you to track your app usage, or review your screen time settings to see if you’re spending more time on social media over time, right? So is there a pattern of increasing use? Or do you notice, right, like, you need more of that social media to feel satisfied. And so let’s take a look at some solutions. So we’re on to solution four. And that is to restrict your phone use.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:56
So leave your phone behind. So that’s something I’m often talking to folks about home is like we don’t need the phone right like that it can stay in the dresser drawer can stay in the basket in the kitchen. Like we there’s not a rule that says we need to have this on our hip at all times, unless indeed you’re on call or something. You don’t have to be reachable 24/7 Unless you are on critical critical care call. So just you want to challenge your own expectations and your own anxiety around that. I all I often remind myself and others, that the phone works at my leisure, right? Like it is a tool to help me to facilitate, you know, convenience and work in my own life. And I will not be a slave to it. And so you know, some of the ways that you can work with that is regularly let phone calls, go let them go to voicemail, don’t respond to texts, as soon as they come in. And so you can use designated times to respond to calls, texts and emails, this also just really helps with focus and lessening of distraction. Because if you’re always responding to the vibrations of your phone, it’s very hard to get traction on focus and concentration, you can also restrict phone use to certain hours of the day. So it’s like okay, after six o’clock, I’m not on the phone anymore. Certainly restricting phone use before bedtime is really important for for sleep quality, you can also set time limits on problematic apps. So you know, I at this point, I don’t think I have any problematic behavior with specific apps. But I still keep the time limits on there. Because I want to keep that awareness of like, oh boy, like I’m sliding into, you know, that 10 minute time limit. And so again, that can be a helpful tool for maintaining awareness. You can also delete troublesome apps, and then observe your behavior. So how hard is it for you to stay away from the desire to use the app? Do you find yourself downloading it again, or wanting to do you experience anxiety or FOMO? Right Fear Of Missing Out frustration or anger when you’re away from the app. So it’s really important to pay attention to what comes up for you emotionally because that really points to you know, what the you know, how you’ve maybe been using social media to manage emotions. And then we don’t want to feel free moments with phone use, right? Put it down, out of sight, out of mind, sit silently and watch everyone else on their phones. That’s something I do sometimes in public, because it’s just so automatic for everyone to go directly to their phones, right. It’s a way to avoid communication and boredom, anything and I think it’s so fascinating me, that’s just the psychologists in me, I think it’s really fascinating to people watch, in general, but especially to watch people on their phones. And it’s kind of heartbreaking sometimes. Right? Like if you see, you know, couples or families that are restaurants, like everyone’s on a device, right, they’re not really interacting. And so we really want to put it down, we want to breathe, we want to notice the world around us and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, right? Like they’re there to guide you and inform you. I would also really encourage you to create phone free zones. You can do that at home, you can do that at work. So some of the phone free zones, I would recommend the bathroom driving for sure. Absolutely. specific meetings at work, right. So sometimes it’s not practical to do that in all meetings. But if phone use becomes a little problematic, or it’s like hey, everyone’s distracted and maybe you want to set specific limits around that or time limits.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:53
Some other film free zones would be focused project time, that dinner table church unless of course you know and you’re using specific faith based apps that facilitate your worship. But being intentional about that. And then you know, when we think about trying to develop more awareness and restrict that phone use, when you feel that urge to go to your phone right before moving to your phone, write down what you plan to do on the phone, as a way of increasing accountability and building more awareness. So it’s not that you can’t go to the phone, but you need to have a good reason for that. It’s not just because you got a notification, right on some random app. And again, like batching, time to say, okay, I can do that, you know, when I check my email at five o’clock, and then right, you can keep a little list so you don’t forget. But it’s really important to have that accountability and awareness. So if you want to escape, then limit your time or schedule a time to do it. Right. So it’s like, you know, what I’m giving myself what, 1015 minutes, at the end of the day to scroll through, you know, your favorite social media site, that’s fine, set the timer and enjoy it, but you’re going to numb with more awareness. And I think that’s a really important piece to the puzzle in terms of shifting problematic behavior. Okay, so that’s we just talked about sign three, you need more social media to feel satisfied. And we talked about solution four, which is to restrict your phone access. Now, let’s look at the fourth sign, which is, you’ve convinced yourself that you have an audience to serve. Boy, how many of us have done that? So this isn’t isn’t right, like this intervention really isn’t focused on influencers, because of course, they probably do have an audience to serve. But boy, we can have a really big conversation about them and their behavior. Because, you know, there, there’s a strong case to be made that influencers are the ones that struggle the most with this, but we’re just talking about everyday people, not with huge followings on social media, and really looking at the pressure you may feel to post frequently, and giving yourself permission to resist that pressure. So it, you know, something to maybe pay attention to is if you feel that pressure to post frequently. Or if you notice that you consider taking photos or what to share in terms of photos, in the context of I need something to post or What will others think about this, that’s when you know, that you’ve kind of become an object in your own life? Because you’re considering, you know, how that image and the appearance and the aesthetics of something you would or would not do instead of actually living in the moment and, and paying attention to, you know, what do I want to take a picture of, or how am I enjoying this moment. So you’re not thinking self referentially In those moments, but you can be free to be in the moment. And so that that fourth sign, you’ve convinced yourself that you have an audience to serve can be a sign that you might have some problematic behavior. And so let’s look at a solution for that. So this is our fifth solution. And it is to experiment with no posts. So take a time, take time away where you’re not posting, and then take a look at does anyone notice? Do you need them to notice what no one notices? Right, and think about other ways that you can connect meaningfully with friends and families. So you can do that face to face. Obviously, that’s not always possible. But you can also, you know, create a small group through messaging or other means of communication. So I had a friend that recently went on a trip. And one of the things that she did is she shared pictures with a small group. So she still was able to use the app, but it wasn’t going out to everyone. And this was a small group of friends and family who really were so excited to see, to see photos of her trip and her adventure. And I thought, I think that’s a lovely option. And so you know, there are more options to do that with social media platforms. And so thinking about how you can, how you can make the platform work for you and not get pushed into their algorithms and their their behaviorism can be really helpful. So now we’re on to the fifth sign. You have withdrawal symptoms, when not on social media. So withdrawal symptoms are a classic sign of an addictive process happening. So what do withdrawal symptoms include? So they include anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depression, strong craving, so strong cravings to use the tech and so you know, if you notice you have withdrawal symptoms, first, don’t panic, but let’s really take it seriously and pay attention to, to what these symptoms can teach you. And so with that I have I have three more solutions. So solution six is declutter social media. So you know, what are some ways you can do this?
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:56
So let’s first start by deleting all social media apps from your phone. That feels drastic, but we need, we need drastic behavior change. So it can be really helpful. And then give yourself two weeks, absolutely free from the social media apps. So two weeks, give yourself a break, you could do 30 weeks, right, which is what we talked about with the screen fast. But with this, this intervention, the recommendation is two weeks, three to four weeks would be better, I would say. And then slowly and intentionally add back apps that serve a specific purpose, and develop rules around using them, right. So for example, maybe you add Facebook back, but your rule is only for my book club, group. Or I’m going to, I’m going to add this app back because it helps me to work closely with my team. But you need to be really intentional. And what I would also say is set up accountability for yourself. So have an accountability person who knows what you’re doing, who knows why you’re doing it, and who you can check in with about, Hey, okay, like I added this app back, I’m using it way outside those rules, and having some loving accountability can be really helpful. So now let’s look at solution seven. So consider therapy. And this is specifically if you notice, like, Boy, I’ve got like all five of these signs, or some of these signs are really troublesome, right, for instance, the compulsive nature of the behavior is really getting in the way. And those withdrawal symptoms are really getting in the way. And it’s very appropriate to consider therapy. So therapy is really good for bringing more awareness to the behavior, it’s really helpful for developing effective coping skills to manage the withdrawal symptoms to manage the longing, the FOMO, all of that. And it’s therapy is really good for increasing accountability about behavior, you bet you that your therapist is going to be asking you about that behavior every single week. And you might not always like that. But that is one of that is one of the powerful aspects about therapy that makes it effective for behavioral change, right is we increase accountability. And then therapy is really helpful for implementing behavioral change. So your therapist can help you with a 30 day screen fast, your therapist can help you with decluttering and social media, your therapist can help you with building accountability at home. And so it can be a really helpful option, if you notice some problematic behavior. And then solution eight is a solution designed to really help you on an ongoing basis. So maybe you’ve done some of these interventions, and you feel like you’re in a pretty good place with your social media use, which is great, congratulations. Solution eight is to create recurring digital breaks to reinforce healthy habits. Okay, so one example of this is having a digital Sabbath once a week. And that this what the research finds is that this is often just right, and enough to remind you to moderate your consumption. So this is something that I have begun doing, where once a week for me it is on the Sabbath, I’m i My faith is important to me. And so it works well. I take I take a break from from the apps, right so I may still use my phone for specific faith based learning that sort of thing, you know, maybe access my calendar, but I’m not accessing social media apps, I’m not accessing news apps because for me that’s part of taking that break and so that is solution eight recurring digital breaks to reinforce healthy habits because you know, we want to have awareness and these digital breaks help you to keep that awareness in place. So I want to go over just here at the end so you have it for you I want to go over the five signs and then also the solutions but please know that I will have all of these also included on my Instagram right so we’re talking about social media, we’re talking about good intentional use, that helps you that it enriches your life and doesn’t drain you and so hopefully the resources that I have there can do just that for you can be helpful to you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:11
So I’ll include all of these signs there and also the solutions and that’s @dr.melissasmith on Instagram. And so let’s review the signs so five signs you might have a social media problem. One Tech uses compulsive to touch uses getting in the way of life. Three, you need more social media to feel satisfied. For you’ve convinced yourself that you have an audience to serve. And five you have withdrawal symptoms when not on social media. So those are the five signs to watch for. And then I want to review quickly. The solutions of course I’m going to cover these in a lot more detail throughout the week on Instagram. So solution one bring more awareness to tech use solution to fill all the time with other activities. Solution three, do a screen fast. So maybe you do a 24 hour dopamine fast. Maybe you do a 30 day screen fast solution for restrict your phone use put it away out of sight out of mind, solution five experiment with no post. So challenge that, that pressure you have to post. And solution six is declutter your social media. So this is where we get rid of some of those apps for a couple of weeks, and then slowly and intentionally add them back with a specific purpose in mind. Solution seven is to consider therapy can bring a lot of awareness and accountability to the behavior and we can really help you get traction on behavioral change. And then solution A and this can be really helpful for everyone is create recurring digital breaks to reinforce healthy habits. So you might consider a digital Sabbath. So once a week, taking a break for a day from your tech consumption and specifically write those media app consumptions that are kind of designed towards more compulsive use.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:06
And so I hope this can be helpful for you head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode. You can do that at www.drmelissasmith.com/180-socialmedia5signs. So one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/180-socialmedia5signs and I will link to last week’s podcast episode and it’s got some links to some of the research. And if you haven’t listened to last week’s podcast, I would also recommend that in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
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