We humans, as social animals communicate, share, and through our ability of speech and reason create a complex network of interdependent relationships with fellow humans and thus create the society as we know it. We love to exhibit ourselves, and we also love to know what others amongst us are doing; we imitate and evolve. We have been doing this since our existence. This very exercise is what created great human civilisations of high culture.
With the dawn of the new century a new technology was developed, the Internet. It also created ‘Social Media’ an aiding platform facilitating our human endeavour of sharing. Social media for an individual is an agency, symbolised by the control of computers and its communicative possibilities to satisfy our desire to be connected with the world. It provides us with tools to present our lives as we like them to be and get appreciated for it too. But, is it really what it is? Is it merely a tool? Or has it become an indispensable part our lives?
Social media is impounding us in our own pleasure. Every time we see a ‘like’ our brain releases the ‘feel good, motivating’ chemical substance ‘Dopamine’ making us high on the pleasure of being ‘liked’. This is the very substance which activates our brain receptors while getting high on intoxication.
In the past one and a half decade, we have practically adapted our lifestyle to social media. Social media today has become an essential part of our lives so much, so we have started spending the majority of our day’s leisure hours on social media. According to a report an individual spends around two hours daily on social media. We tend to become frustrated, distracted and angry if we are unable to check notifications whenever our phone blinks; we are hopelessly hooked to our devices. Our daily actions, our thought process, our communication with our family, friends and others, and our ability to choose are all being influenced by our social media usage.
It breaks my heart watching friends constantly scrolling down through their smartphones while hanging out, a couple on a romantic date busy uploading pictures and not sharing smiles; families reduced to dinner time menial conversations etc. Social media is effectively making us more ‘unsocial’; it’s dividing us as we demand from it more. We are risking the intimate aspects of our personalities (communication) that make up our distinct identities.
On the network, we undergo an internal monologue while scrolling through the pages. We see people posting their vacation pictures, them being on a date, at the party, and we appreciate their activity by liking it, in turn, we have the urge to be liked the same way. Thus, we start posting only the admirable things happening with us – our highlight reel, or sometimes create something fake and make it appear real. We may not even be travelling, but a simple picture with a sunset in a park in the middle of the city becomes our hill station, copying a random quote from a famous book makes us a bibliophile, we unnecessarily associate ourselves with things we don’t do and what we are not.
This pretentiousness is due to the compulsion created by social media to be appreciated and liked on the network by others. This leads to a very serious personality withdrawal. We lose our distinctness and obliviate from our own self – becoming an impression of the contrived personality.
Social media has fast developed from a platform of sharing human experiences to being a market of capturing and reselling attention. The social media companies are devising tools to make their users spend more time on their network, which allows them to track our behaviour and predict our choices. They then target ads and suggestions towards us – which we end up watching because it suits our interest and curiosity, and surprisingly these suggestions turn out to be useful. This makes us more vulnerable – because by knowing our behavioural pattern they may also have the capacity to channelise our behaviour. The recent global testimony of Facebook and other data storage companies selling user information even to the political parties is very alarming.
While browsing through social media, we tend to click on content which has a certain number of views – because we believe if so many people have watched it, it should be interesting. Not only that, but we also tend to react similarly to how the majority of the people have reacted to it. This has caused serious electoral problems, for example, the 2016 US general elections. The US social media was flooded by millions of posts dedicated to the false imagery of US being under threat and Trump being the only messiah for the Americans. This polarised the US like never before and also created an atmosphere of hostility resulting in many events like the recent massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburg. Something similar can be seen India with the increasing mob lynching and cow vigilante attacks. This makes us a misinformed electorate, vulnerable to wicked politicians using us for their ends.
Most of us do have our reservations to many things; we don’t like certain aspects of a person or a people. However, in real life, we incline to be more tolerant even if we don’t like something. Social media gives an individual practical invulnerability to say whatever he/she wants without any moral responsibility. We see innumerable, unacceptable and vicious rants on people and celebrities alike. Popularly known as the ‘internet troll’. The keyboard warriors wage war in the comment section openly galvanising people. They post false facts to tarnish the image of a community or a person, publish fake news and threaten people with death threats. Social media thus becomes hate expedite, having no responsibility whatsoever on the racial, communal, homophobic, casteist obnoxious individuals and groups using social media to bully, demean and demonise vulnerable sections of the society. All because they know they won’t be prosecuted, and they are invulnerable.
We are so intricately tethered to social media that we have established a psychological dependence on the network because of the compulsive concern of missing out on an opportunity of social interaction. It often results in anxiety and depression because we are continuously concerned about missing out and if we do, we make excuses to reach back. Now, this is very dangerous because the network companies are constantly finding more ways to keep you hooked up on their sites and we are becoming addicted to it. Social media sites have become a significant contributing factor to the FOMO sensation.
“People develop negative feelings and emotions from social media sites because of envy toward others’ posts and lives. Social media has created an easy-to-access, centrally located spot for people to constantly refresh their feeds and find out what others are doing at that exact moment.” (Krasnova, Hanna et al. 2013)
Snapchat has dreadfully used this in its business model and seems perfectly benefiting from the human flesh. Social media users become envious and even get depressed by seeing the “perfect life” of others. Before social media, most people only had limited access to what their friends were doing which usually turned out to be similar to what they themselves were going through. This causes severe depression and feeling of loneliness in spite of having just enough people around.
Hegel argued that “our objects of inquiry are not ‘truth’ or ‘meaning’ but rather configurations of consciousness. These are figures or patterns of knowledge, cognitive and practical attitudes, which emerge within a definite historical and cultural context.” Thus, social media has become a cultural lens through which we construct or distort reality. We want to see only what pleases our eyes. We consume information that matches our opinions, being exposed to conflicting views we acquire new information enhancing our creativity. The desire to prove we are right and the pressure to maintain it trumps over open-mindedness. Social media filters out information, we see things that our friends have seen and liked, and thus we access only a bubble of information partly of our own choosing, and people tend to form mistaken beliefs based on that. The proliferation of such information perpetuates ignorance than knowledge. Excessive use of social media not only makes us feel lonely but also makes us ideologically isolated.
As apprehensive as it may seem social media is not going anywhere, I’m not saying that you must get off the network but know what it is doing to us. Take a step back and analyse are you becoming a victim of social media are you being governed by the technology and then change yourself. Have a healthy social media usage, don’t accommodate nonsensical behaviour of sneaking into other’s lives and envying it, identify if you are being a bully or being bullied on the social media and limit your activity accordingly. Don’t take any information on its face value – do a reality check yourself.
We need real arms around our shoulders embracing us gracefully not any virtual hug, we need face to face direct connection where we can sense the other person’s feeling through their expressions, we need the friend and family gatherings to be one with fun and joy, and sharing stories and emotions. We need dates to be romantic and not just a couple scrolling through their phones.
We don’t know where it would lead us, but we know at what social costs social media is providing its services to us. So, be a smart user. Try to have real-life conversations with people you love and care about and let those conversations go beyond the emojis and character limits.