Is social media actually social?
We as humans have always been social creatures. More common than not we survive, succeed and cavort in groups. Our ancestral primates had surviving to keep their brains busy, they would explore new territory, advancements in technology and overcome an array of obstacles every day to stay alive.
From this we have developed a brain that craves advancement, we aren’t happy sat still with nothing to do. Which is why we have developed so rapidly as a species.
However, now when were bored we have media to keep us satisfied. But are we missing out on important downtime? Is this having a long-term effect on our advancement as a species? And is it even satisfying our social needs?
First let’s hear from Rike Dam with his depiction of the social segment in our brains. “The very outermost layer of the human brain is called the neocortex. If you take a human being in a social setting and use a Magnetic Resonance Imager (MRI) to scan his/her brain – you’ll find that the neocortex is where all the action is.
When you compare the neocortex in human beings with the neocortex of primates (monkeys, gorillas, etc.) you can see that the human neocortex is a lot bigger than that of any primate. In short, our brains evolved to deliver a social capacity.” (2)
This is what helped us to the top of the food chain, a typical human wouldn’t stand a chance against a bear, lion or other large mammals.
Technology, technique and method rapidly began to spread across the globe via word of mouth. It was our ability to communicate and work together that depicted us from other animals. But has this gift finally begun to hinder us?
The way we converse with friends and strangers is now beginning to alter. Comparing social structures from the 80’s to now they are clearly very different. Before people were limited to conversing solely with others present in the same room, they were confined to the walls around them.
Whereas now people have more options, they can choose to talk to others outside the walls. For some this could be a redeeming feature, but will inevitably slow down the process of getting to know each other. We’re no longer giving those around us our full attention or being forced to be with those that may not seem compatible at first glance.
“We are becoming attuned to the ways in which we are not speaking to one another”.(4)
People now crave acceptance through media, weather this be through number of followers or likes they attain or by coming across that they live a lavish Instagram worthy lifestyle.
Though social media advancement doesn’t come without advantages. It is now easier than ever to reach friends, remain face to face with people on the other side of the world, organising events and there doesn’t seem to be a requirement of punctuality anymore which is great for those last-minute setbacks. But is talking through a screen as effective?
A lot of people say “Yes, some people use it as an excuse not to go out, but then those are the type of people who were anti-social anyhow.” (1)
And too an extent I believe their right, there will always be anti-social people, we humans have filled every gap in the social market including antisocialism. But a big part of me thinks they are blind to the drawbacks, this could be because of a number of things.
People who are growing up with this technology see no other alternative, this is the ‘norm’. some people use media wisely, this then should mean that the drawbacks don’t apply to them so they see no problem. yet for others there are very real scary effects waiting down the line as a result of abusing social media.
The problem with consuming entertainment is that it doesn’t satisfy the parts of our deeper lives, the parts that provide a sense of purpose or meaning. In practicing this new alternative to socialising people are losing out on practising face to face in turn meaning that their social skillsets are depleting.
Social media has now become a defence against executing good people skills. Whenever minor awkward situations arise out with friends and strangers, people now pull out their phones and dull themselves because they don’t know how to deal with these feelings, they’ve never had to. However, dealing with the awkward moments is an important part of improving your social skill set. They have become ‘drunk on ignorance’.
People use Facebook because they want to feel more connected to other people. However, it has since been discovered (9) that Facebook use is largely paired with feelings of envy and depression in university students.
Whilst browsing the news feed photos of others drinking in the sun, driving new cars, waving Rolex’s or travelling the world it’s not unnatural for this to lead to comparison or competition between your life and others, be it current situations, materialistic desires or lifestyle.
Which in turn, easily leads to envy or depression. A factor associated with Facebook envy is Facebook surveillance (this is the passive use of Facebook where people don’t make direct contact or engage with other users, they simply scroll through other user’s photos or timelines).
Not only is this bad for moral but can understandably very quickly lead to envy or depression. “With our limitless opportunities for living online, there’s a real sense that it’s almost a part of our citizenship to get involved in the constant digital communication.
Yet at the same time, we are constantly being told via this medium that our physical world and environment is under threat. It’s a great platform for activists to get their messages out there about fracking or the decline of the bee population. So it’s not so much that we are neglecting it, but more that we are hyperaware of it, funnily enough.” (4)
Bored and brilliant was an app released to send instructions to people wanting to use their phone less, a challenge for example was to carry your phone in your pocket all day but not check it once. People claimed to be itching with temptation.
They also realised when and how much they would automatically reach for their phone. This ranged up to 1,000 times a day for the youngers members in the database. They would check walking from room to room, getting in the elevator, getting up from seats, walking in the streets, awkward social situations and even in the car.
It demonstrated the level of co-dependency people have adopted with their phones but also stopping the relationship between the mind and technology hugely relates to quitting smoking. When we ingest cigarettes, chemicals are released into our brain that make us feel better.
This same thing happens as we ingest social media. When we experience new novel things our brains release dopamine which is why we enjoy seeing these new and novel things online. Of course, it isn’t the same chemical but they both have positive effects on our moods. This could then mean media is addictive, making it understandable people are spending more and more time on their phones. Just like the smoker begins to buy more packs we use more data.
“There are findings from a new survey, which showed that as millennials spend more time engaged on social media platforms, it’s causing them to be less social in real life. The study, conducted by Flashgap, a photo-sharing application with more than 150,000 users, found that 87 percent of millennials admitted to missing out on a conversation because they were distracted by their phone. Meanwhile, 54 percent said they experience a fear of missing out if not checking social networks.” (3)
billions are spent every year trying to get every single one of us to spend more time on our screens. This is all for data, every time we click on something data is then given to someone to analyse and improve their niche in the media. Were almost recruited to improve this machine (media) to make it even more tempting.
New technology comes out all the time with new features, its wireless, its portable, its quick, easy. It’s all instant access to avoid being bored, to avoid all the gaps, moments and alone time. It’s easy to be consumed, its entertaining, fun. It’s better than just waiting for the next thing, the next day. However, this applies to short term benefits. Is it better in the long term?
What are we missing out on? That’s the feeling we adopt to justify scrolling the feeds. We’re missing out on being bored, we no longer have this feeling and some like the new silent generation may have never even experienced true boredom.
If were at a restaurant and the person we’re with goes to the restroom the likelihood of us immediately pulling out our phone is very high. Say there’s a family a few tables over who have just experienced a lull in the conversation, they will most likely now all pull out their phone in an attempt to numb the brief moment of boredom. When they should be sat with their family there observing strangers past time.
Downtime (boredom) has forever been the place in which we have strived forward. Wether this be through inventing, practicing or learning. We now have so many distractions from our downtime (television, social media, games, etc.) all of which are things that don’t contribute to the advancement of our skillset.
When people are bored the mind begins to wander, this is useful for stressful situations or challenging times as you find your mind will begin to question past moments, overcome future obstacles and prepare you for moments yet to encounter.
It allows us time to process, time to express and source our emotion. We as humans are always looking for the ‘next’ thing, that something to occupy us and we seem to have found a method, for the first time in our existence of over 200,000 years which fills every silent moment we arrive at.
This new method, this way of living, the constant mass of information has only been around for just over a decade and has already had such an effect on us as individuals.
The problem with this spiritually is we have evolved around these moments of silence; our body and mind require them. Allowing for the moments of silence, peace or ‘boredom’ allows us time for our body to catch up. It allows past time and emotion to surface for us to analyse, greve, feel joy and understand our inner self.
We have all these new excited ways of staying connected yet we have become detached from ourselves. We’ve seen 60 videos today but we don’t understand why we were grumpy last week.
According to leading neuro scientists when we get bored we ignite a network in our brains called the ‘default mode’ our body goes onto auto pilot but our brains are busier than ever. we begin autobiographical planning where we look back at the big moments in our life set a personal narrative and then we set goals, and we figure out steps we need to take to reach them.
By doing nothing we are actually being our most creative and productive self. We need moments of silence to explore the contents of our own minds. In order to develop inner worlds, make creative connections, daydream, self-analyse and push ourselves in the right direction.
By endlessly searching through our phones We are actually depleting our brains of its natural resources. Neuroscientist Dr Daniel Levitin says “every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that.
So, if your attempting to multitask. you know, doing four or five things at once you’re not actually doing four or five things at once because the brain doesn’t work that way. Instead you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural recourses as you go. (switch, switch, switch your using glucose, glucose, glucose) and we have limited supply of that stuff”. (6)
If we look at the results from 2003 we see that people shifted their attention approximately 70 times per day. Now people are shifting their attention approximately 700 times per day. This is very interesting and it would be even more so if we could see the effects of this on our evolution way down the line.
If this level of social media was able to stay around long enough how would we adapt? Would we evolve? Would we devolve? We’ve learnt that everything is a result of our past time. However, we no longer require survival of the fittest and don’t seem to be pushing ourselves in the direction of productive evolution.
It is scientifically proven that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. Given that there are 8,064 hours in a year and from studies conducted by Flurry (10) on U.S consumers show that most people spend over 5 hours a day on their phone.
Over a 60 year period this would equate to 12 and a half years. I can’t help but question why we spend this time mindlessly observing when we could be practicing new talents, exercising or bettering ourselves in any other way.
What’s interesting is that we are bread to socialise face to face, we make pre-emptive assumptions from expression, emotion and speech. Before social media while meeting someone, we would never have assumed to know them or be constantly available to someone else.
However, now with our new social structure were available to people who aren’t directly with us in the room. Were also able to see parts of all our lives, photo albums of holidays, nights out, past summers even ex-girlfriends. Thoughts, journals it’s all there for the world to see.
The idea being sold is that we’re all in it together. There’s a misconception that we feel we should be feeling close to people, but social media erases all distinctions between ‘each other’. We can communicate in this way, and yet we know we are not really totally satisfied.
Its advancing, improving and moving forward at a rate of knots social media is most likely here to stay. The impression given is that it will soon be part of citizenship to have an online presence. Alongside this information we also have knowledge that media consumption isn’t healthy for us which is why there is industry for digital detoxing. This then tells us that were simultaneously obliged by and afraid of media, there seems to be no way out of the rabbit hole.
This doesn’t have to be daunting, nor does it have to be a bad thing. Technology and social media have huge advantages to play that times before would only dream of. What’s important is how we use it and what we use it for. Our phones were designed to be tools, somewhere along the line these tools adopted advertisement and media power.
We don’t have to be consumed by media we can instead use it to our advantage. If were off to meet a friend for coffee and a catch up ask, Do I need my phone? We can easily leave it in the car for when we are finished. This way we will devote all our attention to each other, we will be more connected, understanding and interesting because we have less to think about, less to process.
We don’t know how much time we each have, all we know is there is a limited supply of it. When we look back on our lives I doubt we’ll think of a single video we saw on Facebook or the awe inspiring Pinterest boards we created.
We’ll look at the big moments, so while were here in the present with nothing to keep us entertained it makes sense for us to practice, self analyse and prepare ourselves for the big moments ahead. That way when looking back on them they’ll give us an even bigger smile. But it will also give us more confidence in the present and a clear understanding of how we can succeed as individuals.
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