The intent of social media was faster communication, information and opinion sharing, and to connect with people. Soon, social media took over, adding its own nuisances to the ones it had to fix, generating more need for social media — the worst vicious cycle.
Soon is basically 1997 to 2006 — from the world of Six Degrees, a social networking site to Facebook, which needs no description.
Facebook and Twitter bombed the internet in 2006. We have stayed on a data plan, since then.
How did Social Media get into our lives so much?
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, said: “Even what people take to be there most personal desires are usually programmed by the imagined order.”
He explained that imagined order is not objective truth. It is a subjective opinion or belief that a network of individuals shares. Imagined order groups human beings and makes human cooperation easy.
Nations, corporations, law, constitutions, social structures, religion — they are imagined orders. In reality, there are no nations or corporations. These are just man-made entities. Absolute realities are trees, rivers, mountains, animals.
Human beings have been customizing each other’s lives by planting their ideas in others’ brains — by creating these imagined orders/realities. We grow up observing these imagined orders and perceive them as absolute realities.
Social media is also an imagined reality that seems like an absolute one because nearly everyone in the world has accepted it.
It started as a communication channel — an experience that could enhance our lives — but it became the biggest advertising and marketing platform. The capitalists, marketers, and advertisers drugged us to keep us sedated: the likes and comments and hearts and shares on our social media activity release dopamine in our body which makes us happy.
An ex-Google employee, a product philosopher for Gmail, explains in this video how our phone and social media are designed to make us addicted to them.
Ex-Facebook employees discussed how they focused on getting more users by boosting their dopamine during their social media experience.
We have gone through a genetic social mutation — embedding social media in our unconscious and conscious mind and making us believe that it is a natural part of our being.
When Does Social Media Becomes a Problem? Is Social Media the Drug?
Let us go back to the early times.
Imagine — a female forager returns back from her hunt with a dead fat rabbit. She assumed that there would be a fire as the man was supposed to make one. But he has been busy uploading sunset and waterfall photos on Instagram. His long bearded selfie has already got 105 likes since yesterday.
She is frustrated. Life stops because there is no fire or food. He leaves the phone aside and they both make fire.
But that does not happen anymore. If we engage in social media activities neither does life stops nor does anyone tells us to leave it alone.
Because we do not notice any abrupt change, we do not realize that social media has slowly started peeking in each and every moment of our existence. And that we are constantly sedated.
You are doing okay if you have a glass of white wine with dinner every day. But are you getting restless when you forget to buy a new bottle?
Social media could become that restlessness. Imagine being that restless throughout the day. One out of five people wakes up to reply to messages even at night.
When social media becomes an obsessive habit — an addiction — then it is a problem.
The side effects of social media include but are not limited to — narcissism, external validation, jealousy, fear of losing out, issues in personal relationships, and lack of focus and attention.
Let us look at some of these.
Narcissism. External Validations. Comparisons. Fear of Losing Out. Anxiety.
We start by posting our family pictures, that we had taken in front of the magnificent Taj Mahal, on Facebook.
Then we eat at the new 4.8 rated Mughal restaurant and post pictures on Instagram, travel to Iceland as it is one of the top 10 unique experiences as per some-random-traveling-review website, visit California for work, and check in at the Sheraton.
All these activities get likes.
We try to look and live like our filtered Instagram profile picture in sunglasses at the top of the Goa fort. Because 203 people liked it.
These likes make us excessively narcissist*.
Facebook and other social media feeds are full of how everyone is either traveling or getting married or making the prettiest babies or getting promoted or how an old man who has been making dosas on the roadside for forty years inspires people.
But does Facebook also shows the day when we get laid off or we cannot afford flight tickets or we shout at our cleaning lady or get jealous because a gorgeous woman messaged our boyfriend?
This show of an overwhelmingly happy life — the sum total of all the best things people are doing around us — screws us up. Unconsciously, we start validating everybody in our social media circle — creating an excessive need for external validation for ourselves.
We compare ourselves and are afraid of losing out. We think we are late for everything.
People have reported that their anxiety goes up every time they check their phone as many small nuisances get into their heads — whom I did not reply to yet, what am I missing out on, who said what to whom — to name a few.
Dr. Nancy Cheever, who conducted research on the relationship between cellphone use and anxiety at California State University, suggests that phone-induced anxiety operates on a positive feedback loop — phones keep us in a persistent state of anxiety and the only relief from this anxiety is to look at our phones.
Social media has inseminated artificial social pressure within us — letting it drive our impulses, desires, moods, fears, opinions, and actions. Hell, even our perception of reality.
We first think in the language of social media and then act.
Personal Relationships. Human Interaction. Loneliness.
First, we take a picture of the rainbow cake and share it on Instagram and Snapchat.
While we reply to the WhatsApp messages and do a Facebook check-in, an Instagram comment pops up, “You seem to be having so much fun. Red hearts. Kisses. Pink hearts. Love. Kisses.”
Of course, we are having fun — we are hanging out with our best apps.
We do not look at the person sitting across the table.
While we are on a virtual high the other person is trying to be busy by checking out his social media.
If he asks us if we liked the cake, we say — Didn’t you check out my Instagram update? Duh, I said I loved it. What about the first bite and the sparkling smile on your face which suggests that a half-an-hour drive in Bangalore traffic was worth it?
Social media has taken over while human interaction lurks in the background. Relationships are like stretched rubber bands under the pressure of social media.
I was in a relationship in which our major arguments were around social media and phone. Whether it was dinner or a couple of beers or the early mornings and right before bed — social media was an uninvited guest. If I asked to keep the phone away, more often than not, the argument became about personal space encroachment and that it was part of who he was.
How could social media be so engraved in anyone? That is not how homo sapiens evolved. Or are we constantly high on the dopamine?
In fact, the one who is not on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat is ridiculed at. People wonder how could you not know that a latest Honey Singh video went viral on Facebook.
Not using these mediums is socially unaccepted. Friends do not connect otherwise. I once called a friend and she asked me if everything was okay. Why did I call her out of the blue?
Rather than opening our rooms and walking to each other, we send Whatsapp messages. If you do not reply to them, it is a problem. But if you walk past by and do not say hi, it is okay.
I have friends who, when we meet, take out their phone to reply to one message because, of course, it cannot wait, and then they go on to Instagram, and then to Tinder, and then this goes on.
A decrease in human interaction and an increase in virtual connections — push us into loneliness. This intrusion of virtual connection estranges our human relationships.
An Atlantic article — Is Facebook making us lonely suggests that we are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible.
Sociologist Eric Klinenberg pointed out in his book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone — it’s the quality of your social interactions, not the quantity, that defines loneliness.
More friends on Facebook and a high number of virtual social interactions make us feel that we are friends with a lot of people and are connected but the quality of those connections and friendships is what is important.
Coming to the Biggest Problem — Our Sedated Attention and Focus.
Social media is the best thing which could happen to us when it comes to news and people’s opinions on Twitter, a few pictures on Instagram, finding some old friends on Facebook, and connecting with the college alumni group.
As long as it had stayed to that.
But now we start browsing the internet, and then we go to our Facebook wall, just for a minute, and watch popular Youtube videos there, and then share some of them on other social media, and then we get dragged into other trending things in these other applications, and this goes on.
You get my point.
The trick is — it is hard to identify when we get addicted to social media. The distractions are designed for us to fall — and we do — because we are humans. On an average, we check our phones 150 times during the day.
Whether it is at work or movies, with friends or partner, while eating or reading — our focus is diluting faster than we could ever imagine.
Wherever social media — the drug — goes — our wandering mind follows. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
We have allowed social media to sedate our focus and attention: the two most crucial and difficult aspects to achieve success and stay happy.
Also Read: What is Mindfulness and How to Achieve it?
What to Do?
A large section of the world we live in is built on social media. Even if we want an out, it seems impossible.
It is like the Tobacco industry which kills more than 7 million people each year but is worth 770 billion US dollars.
What to do about social media — the drug that can be downloaded for free?
Whenever your mind starts getting sucked into the black hole of social media, take a conscious decision.
Remember: social media comes at the cost of your — own — beloved — sedated — attention.
*Many studies are being conducted to find the relationship between social media and narcissism but none of them has been conclusive yet.