I am not on any social media platform. I know that this fact might be really hard to digest, but it’s true. I deleted these applications after constantly being nagged by my parents, who blamed my phone for everything which was wrong with my life. That, and not waking up at 6 in the morning obviously.
It took a great amount of effort to resist the urge to re-download these applications. But after going through the initial withdrawal symptoms, I realized that I could now look at social media from an objective, vantage point.
What I saw was a society which was addicted to a constant need for validation. A society obsessed with broadcasting their lives on a public platform. A generation of young minds that find value in meaningless numbers. Instead of experiencing and living occasions in the moment, social media has ingrained into us the need to constantly capture these moments virtually. Why? Whenever someone “likes” your picture on Instagram, you feel a rush of satisfaction. Every time you hear that notification ping, dopamine - an organic chemical compound which mediates desire - is released in your brain. Through short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops in the form of hearts, smileys and thumbs ups, users stay hooked to such sites. In fact, the makers of Facebook consciously exploited a vulnerability in human psychology and designed the interface in a manner in which it can consume the most of your time and conscious attention.
According to a study conducted by Technology in Society in 2017, it was reported that nearly 210 million people suffer from internet and social media addictions worldwide. AT&T’s recent ‘It Can Wait campaign’ reported that 90% of drivers admit to using their smartphones while behind the wheel in the United States. Of these respondents, 50% reportedly use their smartphones to check their social media feeds. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each day 9 people are killed, and more than a 1,000 people a year are injured as a result of smartphone usage while driving. And the recent ‘Kiki Challenge’ certainly isn’t helping that statistic. The fact that personal safety is being ignored for social media validation which, at the end of the day is virtual, impersonal and hollow, make my apprehensions grow stronger.
Entirely annihilating the existence of social media just because it’s addictive can be considered a naïve move. With the use of only 140 characters, social media laid the foundation for the Egyptian revolution by uniting an entire nation in dissent of an oppressive regime. It has also stemmed important movements like Black Lives Matter, the Me Too movement, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This shows that social media not only educates and spreads awareness on very relevant issues, but also has a significant role in shaping the perceptions of young minds and in turn, society. However, on the other hand, we have some examples like the Justine Sacco incident and the manspreading of Tom Hanks. These are incidents where simple words and actions were blown out of proportion, for the purpose of schadenfreude- a term that refers to the sadistic pleasure derived from the misery of others.
Although, each particular individual, and how they choose to utilize social media is what matters in the end. Platforms like Reddit and Twitter can be used in a constructive manner, with a sense of purpose and in moderation. However, I must admit that clicking selfies, celebrating Mother’s Day with strangers on Facebook and posting pictures of dinner on Instagram were activities I considered beneath me. But all of that had changed.
A paradigm shift came in my perception towards social media when I entered college. I realized how crucial a role social media played when you are in the stage of getting acquainted with strangers, especially in the first year of college. You meet hundreds of different kinds of people on a particular day of college. But you cannot possibly keep up with all of them, face-to-face, every single day. Snapchat and Instagram make it easier to keep in touch with these people on a daily basis. And the fact was that even though most conversations are nugatory, filled with frivolous memes and emojis, it makes the other person remember you.
Therefore, I feel I will always share some kind of distance with my college friends simply because I cannot have Snapchat streaks with them, laugh with them on the latest memes, and share nonsensical dog filters snaps of myself.
Sadly, however illogical and immature these things might seem to me, the fact of the matter is that this generation will continue to communicate through these handles because, frankly, they’re addicted.
You may find your potential best friend over a meme and not a pseudo-intellectual conversation about nihilism. What I realized after all these years is that social media like most things in life, is neither black nor white. It’s blue. Most of it ludicrous and absurd, but nonetheless, important.