Social media is arguably the most significant innovation of the last decade. When people look back on the years that ran from 2010 to 2020, they’ll chronicle the rise of Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to global dominance, and how they changed all our lives.
But social media and tech isn’t all good news. It has a dark side. And it is taking its toll on our health.
When you think about it, social media offers a very different kind of social interaction from anything that has come before. Historically, people would meet with each other in person, get to know each other authentically, and then part ways. But with social media, there’s no escape. There’s no downtime. You carry your social life around with you twenty-four hours a day.
That kind of pressure can take its toll. If you’re prone to worrying about what other people think about you, it can become a source of perennial anxiety. Social media ceases being a place where you chat with the people you know and turns into a competition where you always have to present yourself in a certain way. It can be emotionally exhausting, not to mention expensive.
Of course, all this begs the question of why people bother with it in the first place. If it is so harmful to our mental health, what the point of using it?
It turns out that the success of social media has very little to do with its intrinsic value. Despite what people say, it isn’t a ground-breaking innovation say, like the internet is. Instead, it is more like junk food or gambling. It feels good at the time, but then it eventually takes the joy out of your life and leaves you feeling miserable.
Social media appears to be playing tricks on our brains. Many people discover that it is a place where they can get a quick dopamine hit from all the likes and comments that they receive from their friends. But, of course, sometimes that feeling never arrives, and that’s when things can spiral out of control.
It is no surprise, therefore, that we have seen the rise of the social media addiction treatment center. These facilities take in people displaying similar symptoms to substance abusers. Receiving the admiration of others is like a drug. It stimulates the same feel-good factors in the brain. But just like substances, we can become dependent on it. And when somebody takes it away, it leaves us feeling crushed.
Interestingly, social media giants know all about this phenomenon. It is how they have built their business empires. And it is why these platforms have taken the world by storm. They’re tapping into something fundamental in the human condition, and it is compelling.
Unfortunately, like so many other things in our lives, social media is horribly divorced from the environment in which we evolved. We’re not designed to be in contact with everyone we know, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. From time to time, we need a break. Whether we will get one, though, is unclear.