Is the social media you use made with good intentions? Far from it. A recent BBC investigation opens up about the meticulous work that goes into making social media apps as addictive as possible, and that roughly the third of the world’s population using social media fails to realize the problem: their inadvertent exposure to the manipulation of a powerful industry dedicated to creating a drug-like dependency for its own financial gain.
Social media has been deliberately built to influence our emotions, preferences, decisions, impulses, energy, attention span and interactions. Leading technology experts now speak out about what has become a well-established process to penetrate our minds and pockets. “It’s as if they’re taking behavioral cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back,” said a former Silicon Valley engineer, Aza Raskin, in the British investigative report.
Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, also publicly admitted that the company set out to consume as much user time as possible, “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” This is what led to the design of self-validating features such as the “like” button that gives its users, in Parker’s words, “a little dopamine hit,” stimulating them to post more and more content.
“We are not designed to process data like a computer or to store information like a cloud server. By activating the modem in our hearts, enabling deeper and more meaningful communication, we will experience more positive connection and much more satisfying social lives.”
A Thumb Down to Disconnection
Today’s culture measures us by the popularity of what we upload, as if it defines who we are and what we are really worth. This creates a compulsive habit of checking our smartphones far too often and ignoring the people directly in front of us. In particular, the younger generation is living proof of this broken communication link. Verbal, spoken communication with eye contact and body language has diluted in favor of looking down at our phones, tapping them with our thumbs, and sending pictures and short emoji-filled phrases to each other. Such behavior negatively affects kids’ and youths’ social development, and has been found linked to depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness in youth.
It is a catch-22 situation. Social media is supposed to create more human interaction to alleviate loneliness and depression, but in contrast, people spending a lot of time using social media as a substitute for real personal connection feel more isolated, depressed and anxious.
We constantly compare ourselves to others, pressured and obsessed with the idea of showing our perfect picture of success and fulfillment, while in real life there is a deep void that only worsens through this artificial reality.
What can we do? There is so much dependency on social media today that unplugging everyone at once would be counterproductive. Crime, violence, drug abuse and suicides would all increase because our human capacities have been practically hijacked.
What is needed is a comprehensive social rehabilitation process. It must be carried out gradually until it becomes an alternative, positive social network, one that properly addresses human nature and promotes warm and supportive relations instead of a place always open to slander and vitriol.
“In a nutshell, social media in its current form fails to meaningfully connect us. It does, however, reveal to us the consequences of our egoistic relations.”
Finding the Modem in Our Hearts
How can we transform social media into a space of real human connection that binds people together without competing for the greatest number of likes and shares? We can do it by focusing on the power of friendship and unity at the center of positive human relationships.
Nature already operates in a way that balances all of its interactions. For example, cells and organs of a human body each focus on the whole body’s well-being, and each receive only what they need in order to give whatever they can for the whole body’s benefit. We too can connect to this positive power of friendship and unity if we consider the benefit of others and the benefit of the whole human network we’re parts of. We just need to use technology and the available means more wisely to learn about and plug into such a positively connected system.
But how can we achieve such a lofty goal considering that human nature is innately egoistic, i.e. aims at self-benefit at the expense of others? We need to realize that any technological innovation failing to advance humanity toward greater positive connection only harms it. Organizations that can influence the spread of social media, including governments, would do society good service if they conducted investigations into the harmful effects of social platforms and regulated them to prevent further damage not only to our privacy, but also to our overall well-being.
We are not designed to process data like a computer or to store information like a cloud server. By activating the modem in our hearts, enabling deeper and more meaningful communication, we will experience more positive connection and much more satisfying social lives.
In a nutshell, social media in its current form fails to meaningfully connect us. It does, however, reveal to us the consequences of our egoistic relations. We can thus learn from the problems in the current situation and start motioning toward a positive change. Such an awakening of the public is one of the steps toward a real transformation. We can start this massive transformation by looking into the future and taking measures ahead of time to ward off deeper social media brainwash, and by investing efforts in a profound global “heartwash.”