Social media has become an increasingly significant part of our world over the past two decades. According to the Digital 2022 April Global Statshot Report, 4.65 billion people use social media worldwide. That's 58.7% of the global population, and the number keeps growing.
Social media today impacts every aspect of our lives, such as how we communicate with friends, date, get news, study, work, engage in conflict, raise children, shop, and travel. It shapes our everyday life to such an extent that it is causing more and more concern.
With so many gimmicks, so many new opportunities, and so many attractions, social media is hard to resist. The world has never been so interconnected, and information has never spread so quickly as it does in the era of social networks. However, let's take a more alarmist approach to this.
The dopamine loop
In 1932, British writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley published his famous novel "Brave New World", in which he depicted a future society that finally gained victory over the suffering and pain that tormented humanity during its previous histories.
Citizens are engineered in artificial wombs and go through childhood indoctrination programmes, which predetermine their castes based on intelligence and labour. However, the touchstone of this society, and the main instrument to keep its population conform and peaceful, is the constant consumption of a soothing, happiness-producing drug called Soma.
Modern biology connects the state of happiness a person achieves to the effects of dopamine. This organic chemical plays an essential role as a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between neurons) involved in the functioning of the brain.
Dopamine is a "pleasure chemical" which is released in the brain's reward system. It makes us "feel happy". This is the same chemical our brain releases when we eat, have sex, gamble, or use our smartphones. Social media proves to be highly successful in exploiting the biochemistry of our nervous system.
For some users of social media and consumers of video content, their brains may increase dopamine when they engage with Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or other platforms. When a user gets a like, a retweet, or an emoticon notification, which acts as a reward for efforts and recognition from other members of the virtual community, the brain receives a flood of dopamine, and the person feels terrific.
Furthermore, dopamine reinforces our desire to repeat the experience. The cycle of motivation, reward, and reinforcement is called the "dopamine loop," a mechanism that encourages users to seek rewards more frequently. This leads to an addiction to the source of easily obtainable dopamine.
In real life, we face many difficulties and anxiety, and social networks often help us manage stress, loneliness, or depression. However, it can also create new challenges or aggravate existing issues.
Psychological dependency on social media increases as users repeat this cyclical pattern of relieving undesirable moods with social media use. It's not uncommon for compulsive social media users to isolate themselves and chase the constant reward system, which can result in interpersonal problems, such as neglecting real-life relationships, work or school responsibilities, and physical health.
Social media overuse often results in symptoms associated with substance abuse disorders. Tik-Tok, a popular short video social media platform targeting primarily young audiences, fostered such high levels of addiction among its users that the company had to add an addiction-reduction feature.
In contrast to old-fashioned drugs, social media allows a person to manipulate the dopamine reward by making them more visible to others, optimizing or pessimizing their virtual profile based on their content and opinions, or even suspending or closing their accounts in case of severe evildoers. You really need to behave well to get your dose of Soma… or, in other words, 15 minutes of glory on Facebook.