Is Social Media Taking Over our Lives?
When we consider why social media applications were originally created, it helps us understand why these empires are so addictive and how they draw in an almost cult-like following. Sean Parker, the founding President of Facebook, boldly stated years after resignation from the company that Facebook was not created to further connect people as we are led to believe, but instead when it was put into action it was on the basis that the website would distract users for as long as possible to absorb as much of their time.
Therefore it is no shock that due to the huge success of the site millennials are more isolated and prone to anxiety and addictive predispositions than older generations that have not grown up immersed in the current age of anti-social technology and social media.
All addiction stems from an abnormally large surge of dopamine in the brain. The human brain cannot filter this and it overstimulates the mind, generating an addiction as willpower is lost. Dopamine is a neurochemical commonly referred to as the ‘reward molecule. It is what urges us to achieve our wants and desires. This could be as small as getting a glass of water when you are thirsty, to working hard for a promotion at work. The rush felt after a sweaty and productive workout is thanks to dopamine.
Social media utilizes dopamine in order to hook users. Social positive reinforcement has been recognized as a dopamine catalyst, and social media does this in the same way but via the internet. Every time a person receives a like/comment online it has the same effect as being complimented in person. Building on this, if individuals share an activity that originally caused a rush of dopamine to their brain such as working out or going out for dinner then having people like this post then allows for a second shot of dopamine, making rewarding tasks even more so.
Creators of these websites and apps understand also how unscheduled rewards aid the addiction process. This works in the exact same way that gambling does. As individuals don’t know when or how many likes they will receive, who will message them etc. this incorporates the luck paradigm that is exhibited in slot machines. When a person does not know the outcome of their actions it makes it more exciting when they achieve what they desire or more than what they expected. American psychologist BF Skinner reinforced this theory in his experiment where he found the strongest way to teach a rat certain behavior is by rewarding it at random intervals. Humans can evidently be seen to be subject to this same principle.
The whole premise of social media is built on a vulnerability of human nature whereby we are drawn to dopamine-releasing activities. If used in a beneficial manner, social media has the capability of uniting people. It makes for a huge political platform where people can band together in support for online petitions and huge public events can be promoted through pages such as Facebook. Addressing this addiction is almost impossible, as it could be argued that the majority of millennials today are addicted to social media as they seek approval through online means and depend on this to feel wanted and secure in society. This is a catastrophic dilemma that may have to be accepted as the new ‘normal’ as the digital age takes over humanity.