After my experience reading about the power of face to face conversations over digital media, I was intrigued by the science behind social media’s impact on the human mind, and, more importantly, eager to brainstorm solutions.
Scientifically, the brain’s reward center, the same place that is activated when someone wins money or sees pictures of people they love, is also activated when seeing large number of likes on a picture.
Social media users often will feel the urge to like images that are already popular or trending; then, they will model their own content to be similar to these so-called popular posts so they can garner the pleasure of more likes.
Ironically, the increased positive feedback loop feeds a negative, vicious cycle in which people start to engineer the most likeable version of themselves online.
Some of the most popular posts on my timeline include: amazing vacations, parties, new outfits (beach bodies), hanging out with larger group of friends, eating cool food, going to interesting locations (sometimes only for the photos!) and concerts, just to name a few.
When viewing these snazzy posts on a dull, slow moving day (after all, aren’t the dull days when you most likely want to find excitement online?), an automatic human instinct is to compare and compete.
Unfortunately, these awesome moments account for a very small percentage of a person’s life. Of course, people aren’t inclined to post about chores, homework, grocery shopping or other affairs of everyday life on social media.
Social media heightens FOMO (fear of missing out) by allowing a person to compare their valleys with another person’s mountains. FOMO can have drastic repercussions that extend into habits such as refreshing apps incessantly and even needing to check throughout the night to be available and connected.
While it seems natural to assume people turn their attention to social media when their real lives aren’t exciting enough, sometimes just the opposite is true. Often, people are so focused on capturing and sharing experiences that they forget to enjoy the moments in real time. Photos are valuable, but at the same time memories are invaluable.
Personally, I often joke with my friends that there is no need to head out to watch fireworks on July 4th or buy concert tickets when I can just see it all on Snapchat.
Unfortunately, this means that I miss out on a day’s adventures: a quick car ride to Andy Brown Park, smiling (somewhat awkwardly) at the people who parked next to us, searching for the best spot to put down a blanket, seeing and hearing the fireworks light up the sky right in front of me, and even the frustrating traffic on the way back home.
At this point, I thought the greatest problem is that social media causes us to create more perfect versions of ourselves and that we forget to embrace the normal moments of life, but then I saw the flip side: private accounts that are all about unfiltered posts.
From PTs (private twitters) to spamstagrams/finstas (Spam instagrams or Friends only instagrams) to private Facebook groups, almost every social media platform has a way to gather a closer, more secretive group.
On these accounts, people will post about their true, imperfect lives, rambling thoughts, and perhaps their slightly inappropriate taste in humor. This can be just as dangerous by creating a false sense of anonymity and security.
Just earlier this year, a group of Harvard admits felt immune to real world consequences and chose to post inappropriate memes on a Facebook page they thought was private; soon after, they lost their admission offer after officials deemed their humorous creations unacceptable.
Thus, the solution to the detriments of social media cannot simply be to share one’s true personal life; the unfiltered thoughts and ideas can often be too personal and lead to their own complications.
Instead, I propose this list of five ideas to ensure a positive social media experiences:
- ensure that any image that is edited (Photoshop or other enhancements) has a distinction on the picture or informative note in the caption
- use social media only for limited amounts of time to connect with a limited group of people who you know well in real life
- never assume that any form of online presence is anonymous or private
- do not be afraid to broach the subject with trusted friends/family; jointly agree on how to best use social media
- do not merely shut out social media, it can be beneficial and even if you block a certain site/app, thousands of others will be created; instead learn to adjust and grow with it