I was blown away by the recent comments made by Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, expressing guilt over his contribution to the impact of social media on society. It’s rare for an insider, particularly a wealthy beneficiary of the product he helped turn into a giant, to reflect on how it’s changed human dynamics for the worse.
Prior to him, other notable names have come out and ‘revealed’ what many of us instinctively understood – the dopamine rush we experience from receiving feedback when we share moments of our lives online. Humans thrive on the approbation of their fellow beings. It has always been that way, except now, we seek more and more stimuli not only from friends and family, but from the world at large. Social media understands our psychology and exploits it.
This came home to me, when I came across an explanation for how Twitter has us hooked. When I log into Twitter, the first thing I notice, is the notification icon, which shows how many people have liked or retweeted my content. There was always a slight lag in the popping up of the number of notifications. I made nothing of it. Turns out, the lag is completely intentional and not a glitch that needs a fix. Twitter keeps you tentacled and eagerly expectant as you wait for notifications to show up, not unlike addiction to substances.
No one is immune from the effects of using social media, since we are wired to desire physiological rewards like the dopamine release. Even realizing the harm that excessive exposure brings, does not do us much good, since we do not want to risk being isolated from a world where more and more transactions, commercial or social are conducted online.
I wanted to set a day apart this week to reflect and mediate, but grew restless and began reaching automatically for my phone. It’s simply the default response now to an idle minute – mindlessly checking content on the phone.
I believe I’m a measured and controlled user of social media – I resist the urge to post more than the occasional picture, and thus feel relatively insulated from the desire to check the number of thumbs and hearts and smiles and comments. Detachment should have come easier to me, yet, I found myself reaching for the phone.
I posit that our online habits have a real effect on our real-world behavior. I’ve seen parents create social media accounts for their babies, with glowing pride, recklessly chaining their children to their own false sense of worth. Far too many are obsessed with presenting a rose-tinted view of their lives, triggered by wistfully gazing at others’ filtered images, commingling reality with delusion.
It’s easy for anyone with a smartphone to catapult to 15 minutes of fame, so we all feel like we deserve a shot. The anonymity of the internet allows us to give free rein to our worst instincts, its reach makes pundits out of couch dwellers, its filters allow us to brush out scars and defects.
Broken homes, shattered dreams, pained hearts, and spurned hopes do not make for good uploads. So, every once in a while, just disconnect. Get off the grid. Stop building your identity through your online persona. Don’t be bowled over by the sepia posts of your friends and co-workers. Strive to be firmly grounded and deeply rooted to reality.
Enjoy the benefits of social media with a loose hand. When you do, it cannot get a grip on you.
Don’t let’s confuse hashtags with happiness.