The pitfalls of social media and technology

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Technology is not an invariable good in society (image via pxhere).

Social media and the internet has rewired our brains and society in important yet sometimes worrying ways, writes Dali Sulejmani-Blackwell.

SOCIAL MEDIA, also known as the "participative internet", has grown rapidly in the 21st Century, creating a digitally-conscious world. It’s rare to have dinner with a friend or family member where there isn’t a phone on the table next to your food. Is this our fault, or is it a by-product of a digital world that has changed social mores?

There’s nothing wrong with social media being a source of feeling good about ourselves, but is it actually detrimental to our, health in the long term? In a recent interview, Simon Sinek, a well-published culture anthropologist discussed the addictive nature of social media. Particularly, Sinek labels millennials (“approximately anyone born after 1984”) as the most susceptible demographic due to factors such as parenting and other social factors.

The key issue that Sinek raises relates to the enduring negative impacts that social media can have on our ability to effectively interact with others. Those who use Facebook and Instagram profusely should be most vigilant, for they create a sense of entitlement and make it difficult for us to manage and control impulse and gratification.

The interview is a must-watch for anyone young or old as it helps us understand what the digital age can do to the human psyche. 

In a 2012 study, Harvard research scientists reported that talking about oneself through social media activates dopamine, the happy chemical in our brain that is produced when we eat food, earn money and have sex. This study further elucidates the fact that the excessive use of social media is pernicious to our welfare and societal balance, as it creates happiness instantly and almost entirely based upon others.

Happiness is an ephemeral feeling. Allowing others in some ways to dictate this can stunt one’s personal growth and independent sense of self.

Memorably, philosopher Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, wrote:

‘The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.’

Furthermore, another study by Samantha Rangel discussed the nature of stereotypes and the negative impact it can have on a person’s ability to perform up to standards in the workplace. Employers found that Generation Y (millennials) was harder to talk to face-to-face and that social media hampered their “soft skills”. As a result, employers had to evolve to accommodate the characteristics of Generation Y, creating roles that were based upon the use of technology for communication.

Overall, there is enough evidence to suggest the negative nature social media can have on our ability to interact with others. Is this now a part of our genetic material? This is a question that will be answered with time, but as we become more dependent on social media for happiness, it will create a world with less meaning.

In some respects, social media has created a cognitive virus that is infecting other areas of our culture. This can be seen by the lack of soft skills in the workplace and in the bullying tactics of schoolyard bullies.

Bullying has long been an inexorable part of growing up as children, but with the emergence of social media, it has created a situation where a child or adult can no longer feel safe at home.

A virus can take many forms. Some are sufficiently covert or subconscious as to seem normal. When we walk down the street, some of us have been told to have our shoulders back and head up, but now with the introduction of smart technology, our heads are always down, our necks at an acute angle staring at a mobile screen. "Text neck” is a chiropractor's nightmare. They wince when they see a pedestrian crossing full of people walking with their heads down, glued to a technological device.

Social media is certainly not all bad. It has its uses, as it creates an easy way to communicate with friends abroad, long lost family members and more. But its potential to feed that urge for instant gratification is dangerous.

If we look at our own usage, we can see a lot of it is based upon the urgency for instant gratification.  Addiction of any type is generally bad, but as far as social media, it remains to be seen what precise impact it will have on our society. Although there are signs, the results are not yet set in stone.

Viruses are ubiquitous in our society, they emerge and inhere in different places, animals and often spread like wildfire, uncontrollably. In this era of the digital age, it’s important for us to inspect things with a keen eye, rather than be uncritically immersed in something that can easily affect other areas of our lives.

Dali Sulejmani-Blackwell is a law and arts student at Swinburne University.

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