Thursday, May 17, 2012

Are social media adding or subtracting from true social happiness?

Thanks to Elisha Goldstein for making some good points on this topic.  This post is based on my take on his ideas. 

I think his best point is that social media are not good or bad in and of themselves.  It is how we use them. Facebook doesn't kill social happiness, people kill social happiness (don't blame him - my corny joke). 

His other great point is that just like guns are dangerous and need to have some safety devices (like safety locks) to be an acceptable product, social media have some inherent dangers as well.  The problem with social media is that the dangers are less open and obvious than with guns.

It is very true that we have the ability to shut off Facebook/Twitter/et al when we need to get some work done.  It seems obvious that this should be easy.  There is a clear 'x' in the top right of our window that we all know how to click on.

But knowing how is not the same as being able to do it.  Cocaine has chemical effects that release endorphins, rewire the brain, and create a self-sustaining addiction.  Recent research in neuroscience finds that there are aspects of social networking that also have this effect.  Elisha says that as a culture we are not mature enough to handle this risk.  I am not sure mature is the right word, but the idea is spot on.

Experts design TV shows and ads with just the right camera angle shifts, color contrasts, volume changes, and messages to be compelling to our pre-conscious ("ACT NOW!! Limited Time Only! Just a few left !!" gets the prehistoric, resource-poor hunter gathered all worked up).

Social media have many of the same effects.  They are short, come at frequent but irregular intervals, have lots of variety, often involve people we value (social or work or shopping) and that notification beep is just so enticing. 

They are powerful and useful enough that eliminating the tools or locking them away until later is not the best solution.  Elisha's last point is better.  He says that we can use skills such as 'mindfulness' to overcome the hazards of social media while still taking advantage of their benefits. 

We all have the power inside of us.