THE NATURE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is a part of most of our lives, unless you’re BBC (Born Before Computer) or go out of your way to avoid it. Yet when it comes to how positive or negative it is, the answer is never clear. I myself am aware of the dangers of social media and yet I moderate two groups and I’m active in a few others.
Cal Newport, a university professor, discourages it. And he has good reasons. Developers went to casinos and studied gambling and the nature of addiction to make social media as addictive as possible. Ever wondered why you get the urge to check your phone every thirty minutes? Or why you feel down when whatsapp seems dull for a bit? Now you know why.
Addiction involves dopamine and serotonin. These are simply chemicals in your brain that reward your behavior. They make you feel good. You update your status, change your profile pic and you expect immediate response from others. Being on social media releases those chemicals making it enjoyable. And Like Pavlov’s dogs you repeat the process for the same enjoyable experience. In short, developers make social media as addictive as possible. The problem with addictions is that time spent satisfying them is time taken away from something else. Like time that could be spent listening to a class lecture, reading a book or actually talking to people. Face to face. Have you ever interacted with someone who broke the conversation to respond to something on social media? Not pleasant is it?
Social media also causes countless distractions.
Another one of Cal Newport’s points, but certainly not new. Many employers and lecturers/ teachers try to limit phone use because of this. The problem with submitting to constant distractions is that it decreases your attention span. I have a female friend who finds it difficult to concentrate on conversations. I suspect it’s partly because she’s so active on social media. The problem with a limited attention span is that serious work requires sustained long periods of concentration. TED believes the brain can only concentrate for twenty minutes at a time, which is why their lectures are all 20 mins. But with effort I believe this can be increased. Flow is a state of hyper focused concentration, where the person loses all sense of his/ her surroundings and focuses on the task at hand. This allows for higher productivity. (Think zone my kuroko no basket fans).
It unfortunately can’t happen if people are constantly multitasking and distracted. Unfortunately humans aren’t as good at multitasking as they think. And good work comes from long sustained periods of intense concentration.
Here’s the counter argument though. Social media allows for seamless communication. I’m a student. And annoyingly enough, unless I constantly check social media, I’m always out of the loop. I once failed to check the class group and went to class when the lecturer had cancelled. It’s also a way of reaching others in other geographical locations of like minds. YouTube is considered social media and I can’t say I haven’t learnt a lot from there. Psychology and finance most of all. Yet we can’t deny how after watching one video we’re tempted to watch another (if you have the data) And we can’t deny that businesses actively use this to communicate with clients. There’s no conceivable way to avoid social media if you’re in charge of promotion or customer relations. Even the CEO has to check what people say about his/her company every now and then.
Then there’s the fact that it’s a cost effective form of promotion if done right. Cal Newport says promotion on social media isn’t a big deal, anyone can do it. If a six year old can ace it so can you. First I need to find out which six year old has so many social media followers. Second, how would he know how easy it is? He’s never been on social media. As a scientist he can talk about the effects of social media but how hard or easy it is to manage? I doubt it. The emergence of the lean startup has shown that startups have to rely on constant experimentation based on feedback from their most loyal customers. Some of those customers can only be found by using social media. Especially if your products are digital.
Then there’s the last point. It destroys human communication and relationships. That social media promotes narcissism. The culture of ‘me’. People are just sources of validation. And real relationships are replaced with online acquaintances. I’m sure all of us have seen the picture of the family that doesn’t talk but texts each other. Many of us may not have it that extreme but… we can’t deny that talking to ‘certain people’ over social media is frustrating. They keep us guessing when a simple face to face would allow for a more obvious answer. Some of our relationships would be easier without it. Simply because social media erases context. Not being in the presence of the individual sometimes leaves understanding the meaning of their words to guesswork.
However this has all been said before. Aristotle said books were bad for the mind. Can you imagine? And people said television would make humankind irreversibly stupid. New media is always met with fear. But each has its utility. And social media will find its place.
Some scientists have suggested scheduling social media use. It’s sound advice. But it only works if the rest of your life is also strictly scheduled. And if you can control all the messages you will receive via social media. In our parts it’s frustrating how much information is received last minute. If you always schedule social media screenings you might miss important information. This may lead to embarrassing consequences (For example going to a cancelled class)
But what do you guys think about social media? I want your interesting opinions.