A new way to look at social media

Before WhatsApp, there was email. Before email there was fax. Before fax there was telegraph. Before telegraph there was air-mail. Before air-mail there was sea-mail.

We have come from sea-mail to gmail, and beyond!

When I worked in my first job, I remember days when I checked my email 50 times or more. In the recent past there have been multiple occasions when I have checked my phone for beeps 50 times or more in the span of an hour. In the times of sea-mail, one probably checked for messages 50 times a year. What an exponential increase!

Messages received from friends or ‘likes’ on social media stimulate the same reward centers in our brain that are excited when we see a loved one, win a lottery ticket, or have sex. Now imagine having that part of your brain being tickled 50 times an hour. Biologically, our brains are not designed to receive such a barrage of stimulation.

This high frequency firing of our reward center makes us less and less sensitive to the rewards. Consequently we need more and more to actually feel the same degree of pleasure. We want it more often and with more intensity. It makes us numb to real life because digital stimuli tend to be brighter and flashier.

Sometimes I even imagine that my phone buzzed, when nothing actually happened. Sounds familiar? It’s a well researched phenomenon called ‘phantom vibration syndrome’. So what? The result of constantly being on the edge waiting for messages and responses, tends to put our brains on a kind of a high alert mode. It makes us more anxious and less attentive. Consequently it affects our performance, our relationships and our state of mind.

But, I love social media! I LOVE TECHNOLOGY! It’s a powerful tool and I want to use it.

An electric chain saw is also a powerful tool. It can chop down trees in minutes. But would you use a chain saw without some training and without some safety precautions? I hear your answer. It’s the same with mobile technology and social applications. Over time they have as much impact on our brain as a chain saw can have on physical things.

Here is how I am beginning to think about social media. Imagine you have been invited to public gathering of 500 people and have been asked to speak for a few minutes. Would you prepare your speech well in advance? Would you think about what you want to say carefully? Would you practise your speech?

I believe of social media like this - the stage at a gathering of ten thousand people at a football stadium. Either I am the one delivering the speech, or I am the audience, or both.

It makes sense to think carefully about whether I want to buy the tickets and spend my time there, and if I am speaking, what exactly I want to say!