2020 was a year for the history books. With lockdown after lockdown, most of us were confined to the walls of our homes and with not much to do, screen time skyrocketed and social media usage was greater than ever before. There are currently over 4.14 billion social media users across the globe, with 450 million people joining in the last year. That’s 1,209,600 New users per day! Social media definitely has its benefits, but we must consider how is it affecting our society as a whole and us as individuals.
Apps like WhatsApp and Facebook keep us in touch with friends and family all over the world and give us the opportunity to let people into certain parts of our lives. More recently, it has become a hotspot for keeping up with current affairs and promoting businesses. The positive impact of social media can be seen in all aspects of the world around us and cannot be ignored, but it most certainly has its cons. Let’s take a look at the science.
The continuous stream of communication and connection is changing the way in which we absorb information. Have you ever misplaced your mobile phone for a few minutes and had a little panic attack in the time spent looking for it? Me too. In fact, about 73% of people have said they experience that moment of anxiety when dethatched from their smart phones. Believe it or not, the cause of these withdrawal symptoms is our little friend, Social media!
Dopamine is a chemical released by our brains when we eat nice food, exercise and have sex. It is also produced when we receive positive feedback, get likes on a picture or nice comments on a post. It’s our rewards for beneficial behaviour and encourages us to do what we did to experience it again. If consider gambling, when people bet on something and win, they may experience an urge or motivation to gamble again. This continuous loop of reward and encouragement from our bodies to self-gratify is the issue with social media. The former Vice President of User growth at Facebook admitted to exploiting consumer behaviour and said he felt guilty for the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that they had created.
We have an unlimited supply of social stimuli, and although not as intense as some class A drugs, cause an influx of dopamine that could be destroying how our society works. Not only are we being constantly taken on a rollercoaster of highs throughout the day, social media is affecting the way we sleep, focus and having detrimental effects on mental health. So, is it time to throw our phones in the bin and delete all our apps?
Probably not, as social media isn’t going away any time soon. As mentioned previously, it has an array of benefits that can help us all in various ways, so the key here is self-control. Trying to limit the number of times we look at our screens in a day or run to check our notifications can significantly reduce our personal exposure to the negative impacts of social media.