Is social media really eroding our social fabric?

Social Media

Every generation has a moral panic, but is social media really eroding our social fabric?

Theory

Multi-tasking is up, our attention span is down, and it spells disaster for productivity.

Practice

While the Boomers and Gen X’s are quaintly adjusting their behaviour to the modern way, Millenials and Gen Z’s are making it a part of their DNA. It is not something they try to do, they are simply programmed that way.

The overall increase in IQs and advancement of girls in science are attributed to media-assisted learning and interactive game playing. On the flip side, attention spans are
shrinking, with many experts drawing a link between media stimulation and ADD.

A study by Bernardo Huberman of HP Labs found that we are more open to peer pressure within a social network. The experiment compared two photos and asked questions such
as ‘which of the two baby pictures is cuter?’ and ‘which of the two couches would you buy?’

The more time subjects were given to process the fact that others ‘liked’ one of them more than the other, the more we are likely to be swayed in that particular direction, despite the fact that we may have had the opposite opinion initially.

New research also shows that engaging with social media releases oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates trust and empathy. This perhaps explains why using social media has been shown to lower self-control, which is great news for
online marketers.

“Online, the normal ‘brake’ is lacking,” says Decates. “Behind your PC or tablet no one can see you, so we tend to lose our inhibitions.”

Theory

We’re getting addicted to the idea of people rather than actually relating to real people.

Practice

Experts believe you can become addicted to your cyber life. They’re calling it internet addiction disorder (IAD) and likening it to other pathological behaviours like gambling
and eating disorders. Withdrawal symptoms include shivers, nausea, anxiety and increased heart rate. Try removing a gamer from their game in a hurry and you’re likely to see all of them at once.

To find out what was actually going on in the brain when a person was on Facebook, a German team of researchers wired up a bunch of people and found that we are indeed
biologically wired to respond to ‘likes’.

Every time one of their subjects received a ‘like’, a little zing was activated in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, commonly associated with rewarding feelings about sex, money, food and social acceptance. So pronounced was the effect that the researches could look away and be sure when someone was hit with a euphoric ‘like’.

“It can catch you by surprise,” says Posen. “You build up expectations and habits and sometimes you only know it’s gone beyond a useful habit when you feel awkward and out of sorts and feel like you can’t meet your everyday responsibilities because you’re just dying to get back to the screen.” “If half a dozen of your friends come up to you over a given time and say, ‘that’s enough already, put down the bloody phone and talk to me’,
then maybe it’s time to listen to what they’re saying.”

CYBER-BULLYING STOPS WITH HIGH SCHOOL

Theory

If you think your fellow grown-ups are as level-headed, compassionate and mature as you, think again. There is many an adult taking their unresolved issues out on blameless strangers online. They mightn’t hate your blog post enough to find out where you live, but saying so makes them feel slightly less disempowered.

Practice

“There’s no question that people who bully at school and online grow up to bully in real life and there’s a clear link between that childhood behaviour and criminal behaviour later in life,” says adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. If they don’t turn into outright criminals, they’re likely to skulk around online as a master manipulator.

“Around 20 per cent of people fall into the category of master manipulators, so it’s no small number,” says Dr Mary Casey, psychologist, conflict resolution expert and author of How to Deal with Master Manipulators. Master manipulators have very few boundaries when it comes to getting what they want and the lengths they will go to make it happen.

“Master manipulators are very deceptive in everything they do. They’ll even tell outright lies if they have to,” says Dr Casey.

“They’ll charm you, pay you lots of compliments, discredit other people, drop little hints to you about someone else and constantly try to get information from you.

“They’re very conscious of what they are doing. It’s very easy for them. That’s just how they operate and they don’t consider doing it any other way. And you can’t change their behaviour.”

WE NEED TO UNPLUG AND GET BACK TO BASICS

Theory

We’ve all gone too far with our heads stuck to our screens that we’re missing out on what’s around us. It’s time to press the ‘dislike’ button, back away slowly, and schedule a crafternoon.

Practice

What’s too much social media for one person is a day off for the next. There’s no recipe for getting the balance completely right for everyone.

“If it’s an extension of your current real life network, I can’t see what the problem is,” says Decates. “I do think you need to have your feet solidly planted on this earth while you manage a little screen. The moment you have your feet planted solidly in the digital world, your world then becomes a screen and you have a problem.”

But could it be that in our drive to connect we are not giving ourselves enough old-fashioned reflective, alone time, or is that just way too scary/ boring to contemplate? A survey found that 66 per cent of people fear losing or being without their phone.

“If someone came to me and said, ‘Do you think it’s a good situation if I put everything down for a day and contemplate nature and not have my phone with me?’ I’d say go and try it, see for yourself,” says Posen. “If you start to feel really edgy and you feel like you
can’t do that then that would be a time to sit down and think, ‘What’s going on here for me? How is it that I’m feeling so edgy? What is it that’s driving me to be up to date and see what all my friends are liking and what they’re all doing?’

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