• ansh agrawal

Social Reality and Social Media

Various Social Media blocks
Colourful Social Media blocks

The question before us that is increasingly becoming relevant, in this age of the 4th industrial revolution, is that “how far can we push ourselves before we reach the point of no return?”. For those who are unaware of the phenomena of “point of no return,” it is a time period that, if crossed, we cannot retain our fully biological human capacity. We will be transformed or evolve into something unknown, or some would like to call it “cyborg.” Some intellectuals predict this to come about with, gradually increasing integration of technology with our minds and bodies. Whether our future will enhance us and the environment around us into something better or worse is a question for another time. For now, let us stick to the present and explore the phenomenon of integration of our social reality with one such technology—particularly social media.

The basics first

But before we talk about anything further, “What is social reality?” you might wonder. As the name suggests, it is an individual’s reality that is created via social interaction. Humans create institutions such as governments, universities, businesses, all of whose existence is dependent on a socially constructed fact. As explained by John Searle, these institutional facts exist due to a certain level of mutual understanding between humans. For example, a hundred-dollar bill is known as money because it is a socially agreed-upon fact. If we stop acknowledging cash and instead think of it as paper, it will lose value. And therefore, this value that seems inherent to money or any socially constructed institution is only possible by interaction between humans in general. Of which, communication is an intrinsic part. This includes the different kinds of languages, unique gestures, cultural traditions, etc. Any activity that requires interaction with other individuals.

Back to the point

The invention of the world wide web gave rise to many IT and business industries. One major industry is social media. It's the 21st century, where communication has taken a completely new form. There is no disputing that there are features like instant messaging, live webchat, and direct messaging that have revolutionized human communication. It has benefitted many, no doubt. However, the darker side of social media, which is less talked about, has quite the potential to ruin an individual’s life itself, more than it has the potential to benefit someone. This is because social media has become an intrinsic part of our lives, which has totally altered the natural way of social interaction. The individual’s biological brain suffers a major adverse effect of this alteration. Many people, who are usually social media users, do not realize that their behavioral psychology is being used against them. They think they control their behavior, and they do start that way, but they gradually lose it. This process of losing control and behavior autonomy, which leads to deteriorating mental health and various brain disorders, is not an accident as many would like to believe. If you think that scrolling Instagram or Twitter feeds for hours on end, with no end goal, is an accident, think again.

It is fundamentally the result of a gradual increase in limbic resonance with the artificial modes of communication, namely, social media apps. This makes social media more appealing and harder to quit, or at least using it moderately, as time moves on. As the resonance increases, the resistance to making individual decisions, and the rationality of thought decreases, and social media's integration into our daily social reality increases. This is why we often see people just scrolling through memes and random posts, even when they have a deadline or work to do. Or when we see teenagers thinking negatively about themselves if they weren’t able to get enough likes or views on a post. Their power to reason gets suppressed by the idea of social validation, created by the worldwide presence, artificial social interaction (social media), and hence, inevitably fall in a spiral of depression and loneliness. It creates a form of fantasy. Now, some would argue that social validation existed before social media came around too. But that is not the point. The issue at hand is that increasing social media integration in our lives is inherently causing us, as human beings, to lose our natural biological capacity and interact socially. Therefore, we increasingly witness more and more public preferring online conversations, online fixing of dates, and any mode of communication online rather than physical ones.

There are fundamentally 2 reasons why this integration is taking place. First, it is the constant use of social media every day on our behalf. This has created an environment where everyone carries their phones everywhere they go. If mistakenly forgot to, then depending on the individual level of integration with social media, a similar feeling to “missing limb syndrome” is experienced by individuals. We behave like it is an AI extension of ourselves, which, in a way, it has become one. Second, the whole biological neurochemistry that social media giants have based their algorithms upon. Particularly, the limbic dopamine system is responsible for the “feel-good” chemical dopamine. This keeps users' attention flowing by features like the “follow the button” or the “like button” because these features create an illusion of reward, which as a knock-off effect, produces dopamine, which makes us temporarily feel good. This process alters our reality to make us think we have achieved something worthwhile, but real gainers are the social media giants in physical reality.

Ultimately, it comes down to awareness. When everyone around us uses it as a main source of communication, it becomes difficult not to use it, and so, for starters, try to be aware of your actions and consequences. Because once you become aware, you can potentially escape the negative feedback loop by empowering more self-control and willpower. You will know what you are doing instead of unintentionally being sucked into a loophole, which will make it possible for you to retain a degree of control over your actions. Next step - use that degree of control to regulate social media use the way you wish to. Whether you wish to prioritize work or family time instead of scrolling through the feed hours on end is up to you.

I hope this helps!