After a year of weaning myself off of social media, I decided to see if I was missing anything and impulsively downloaded TikTok. To temper myself, I resolved that I would consider this a self-experiment. If I noticed any negative habits forming, I would nip them in the bud and get rid of the app. I had initially deleted other social apps because of procrastination, but I told myself that this time things would be different. I confess, I had my doubts going in, and long story short… they weren’t.

I spent a week laughing at the never-ending feed of short home-made videos that kept popping up on my screen. However, after a few days of this I began to notice several things.

For starters, my productivity was at an all time low. Any time anything got boring or difficult I’d take a “5-minute break” which easily turned into half an hour if I let it.

On top of that, I could almost feel my dopamine receptors getting used to the instant gratification of overly convenient entertainment at my fingertips. As I became accustomed to constant dopamine hits throughout the day, I could feel my anxiety levels increasing when I wasn’t getting them. This began to make it more difficult for me to enjoy the little things in life.

A European study confirmed my suspicions. They found that social media can mimic the biological symptoms of alcohol and drug addiction. This happens when we use social media, and subconsciously seek a reward, (e.g. likes, views, comments) which releases pleasurable neuro-chemicals into our brain encouraging us to keep using social media. This phenomenon is known as a dopamine loop.

As the week wore on, the novelty of not knowing what was going to pop up on my feed next began to fade. While it was fun at first, it began to dawn on me that being inundated with a steady drip of viral internet-meme culture was eating away at my individuality by encouraging me to conform to the world I had entered through my phone screen. I began to notice that everyone on TikTok even seemed to talk with the same lingo. Lingo that I rarely heard in the real world.

A study from the University of California found that peer influence is heightened on social media through quantifiable social endorsement. The more attention and “likes” a post gets, the more likely that others will value the posted content and conform to it. This culminates in a herd-like mentality. The study argues this is especially concerning for youths, as peer pressure at this formative age is often associated with risky behaviours. I noticed these effects in myself as a 25-year-old after one week. I can’t even begin to imagine the impact non-stop social media has on a developing 12-year-old brain over the course of several years.

I would be remiss however, if I left this post having only painted a picture of the ills of social media. As history is being written through this pandemic, the likes of which we have never before seen, social media and the technology that supports it has been a blessing. At a time when meeting in person and widespread travel are not always possibilities, we remain more connected than ever. Yet, as we embrace the tools of digital age, we also need to learn how to use and manage them responsibly.

 

Blog post by Oliver Fenske, Volunteer

 

References

Maci̇t, H , Maci̇t, G , Güngör, O . (2018). RESEARCH ON SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION AND DOPAMINE DRIVEN FEEDBACK . Mehmet Akif Ersoy Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Dergisi , 5 (3) , 882-897 . DOI: 10.30798/makuiibf.435845

O’Brien, M., Moore, K., & McNicholas, F. (2020). Social media spread during Covid-19: the pros and cons of likes and shares. Ir Med J, 113(4), 52.

Sherman, L. E., Payton, A. A., Hernandez, L. M., Greenfield, P. M., & Dapretto, M. (2016). The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media. Psychological Science, 27(7), 1027-1035. doi:10.1177/0956797616645673