Are you living for likes?

Are you living for likes?

11/12/2018 09:00:00 by Bev James

Social media has weaved its way into our culture and has become a part of our daily lives. This is because it offers a potential of connectivity that is immense. With endless content, a podium to speak our minds and even a chance to show off a little, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat elicits a rush of dopamine in our brains when we post, share or like something online.

However, it is this same potential that has turned many people, particularly younger generations, into social media addicts. Have you ever posted a picture on social media and spend the next hour obsessively checking the number of likes? Have you ever felt anxious when you can’t check your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account?  This anxiety is becoming a familiar, almost normal phenomena today.

A great example is a recent image of an elderly woman at a movie premiere that went viral. The woman in question stands with a smile on her face, as she looks in the same directions as the rest of the crowd, however, one key thing sets her apart: she is the only person without a mobile phone.

What this viral image had succinctly summed up is that unlike previous generations, today we are living through a lens. In doing so, many of us are pulled out of the moment and into a digital and polished version of our lives.

The obsession with social media and our digital selves

Our social media profiles tell an exciting tale of our lives, which often only represents half of the overall picture. Filled with glossy pictures and perfectly crafted posts and perhaps, every so often a dash of vulnerability we have created edited versions of ourselves. 

Dr Elias Aboujaoude, professor and author of Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality, explained to Marie Claire that ‘we’re living in an era where humans are putting forth these edited and inflated versions of their lives, this ‘idealised self,’ and then they are, quite literally, falling in love with themselves.’ While loving yourself is important, falling in love with your ‘digital self’ is something different, as Dr Aboujaoude says, ‘this person, this you-but-not-you, seems sexier, healthier, and cooler, because they’re made up of only the good memories, and so you end up lusting after them because you admire how much more likeable they are.’ This is a phenomenon that has spread like wildfire throughout society and when looking at the psychology behind it, it’s rapid growth makes a lot of sense. Erin Vogel, Ph.D., psychiatry fellow at the University of California, points out that “When everyone around you has a strong social media presence, even if it’s clearly fake, it can create major internal anxiety,” she continues, “Crafting a persona that’s filled with only positive information—like an embellished Instagram profile or an exaggerated Snapchat story—will create a positive self-acceptance that’s very stabilizing and soothing.”

However, this creates a disconnect between who we are online and who we are in our day-to-day lives. In a sea of selfies, picture-perfect holidays and delicious food pictures, sometimes it can feel like we are living for likes. Research supports this, finding that social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are as addictive as slot machines and has a powerful impact on your brain.

Your brain on social media 

People crave social acceptance and affirmation. Social media plays to this desire, activating the reward centre of the brain and tying itself to our self-worth. Research shows that social platforms are designed to keep us logged in and active. Here’s how social media is affecting your brain: 

Activates your brain’s reward system

Social media can affect our brains in the same way that a hug does, according to recent research from RadiumOne. The finding of this study, along with several others, confirmed that people get a rush of dopamine every time they post, share, like, comment, or send an invitation online. Furthermore, psychologists suggest that receiving positive feedback via social media acts as a positive reinforcer to continue using these platforms. 

Effects your memory 

It’s not all bad news! Social media actually has some positive effects, including that it can improve your memory of certain events. According to a research published in the Journal of Memory by Professor Qi Wang, certain events that were posted online were more likely to be recalled than those that were not posted online. Furthermore, social media posts which included pictures can significantly improve people’s memory recall. 

Reduces your attention span 

Although social media can help you recall events more clearly, it also has a negative impact on your attention span. A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who heavily used social media performed worse at being able to effectively switch from one task to another than moderate to light social media users. These results suggest that people who are constantly plugged in, referred to as ‘heavy media multitaskers’ are distracted by the plethora of stream of media that they are consuming at ever given time. Additionally, findings from a 2015 report by the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada found that the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds now. Which is less than the 9-second attention span of a goldfish. However, it should be noted that some journalists, researchers and psychologists dispute these findings.

Messes with your nervous system 

The constant buzzing and vibrating of your phone could be affecting your nervous system with a psychological phenomenon called phantom vibrating syndrome. According to a study published in Computers In Human Behaviour, this refers to perceived vibrations from a device that is not actually vibrating, causing your nervous system to dwell in a state of hypervigilance. 

So, what can we do to improve our social media experience?

Monitor screen-time 

Like many things that bring you to enjoy, the key to using social media is adopting a moderation approach. Surprisingly, smartphone and social networks can be great tools to help you do this. As iPhones now have a Screen Time feature which tells you exactly how much time you spend looking at your screen and which apps have captured your attention. This feature also breaks down how you use your phone (i.e. entertainment, social networking, productivity) and allows you to set app limits and screen downtime. It’s a push to help curb an obsession, anxiety and depression induced by over-using your phone. Social networks like Facebook and Instagram are also following suit, offering a daily limit feature, which will notify you if you have spent over your allocated time on the network. 

Ditch notifications 

Have you ever wondered by notification bubbles are red? The colour demands urgency and it makes you feel like you have to stop what we’re doing and check it. This sense of urgency is distracting and can cause a sense of anxiety, there when you turn notifications off you’ll benefit with greater concentration on the task at hand. Fewer notifications could also reduce your levels of anxiety by removing the sense of urgency created by the pesky red bubbles. Moreover, when you turn off social media notifications, you may have a build-up of more likes, shares and comments, which will activate your reward system and make the experience more rewarding each time you log in. 

Connect off-line 

Instead of living through a lens, keep your phone at home, in your bag or turned off when you are spending time with friends and loved ones in real life. While it might be tempting to snap a picture of your tasty brunch, or check in with your Facebook during Christmas dinner, make a conscious effort to switch off and be present. 

Social media can yield many benefits if you’re able to use it in moderation. So, instead of getting trapped behind your screen, take a break and make a mindful effort to enjoy life’s pleasures without sharing it on your social profiles. 

What are some techniques you use to monitor your social media use? Tell me in the comments below.


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