Is it okay to spend time on social media today?

In recent years, studying human behaviour, we have come to the following conclusion: we are not programmed to be happy. Evolution does not "care" about your happiness. Its only cares about your survival.

Now let's imagine that my thesis is correct, what would that mean for us as a species? How will our lives change if we know for sure that we will never reach that tranquillity, that ubiquitous and ever-demanding Happiness?

First, because we are so invested in the pursuit of happiness, most of us will probably feel a denial, a nihilism, a loss of all faiths.

Secondly, once we become aware that we are not programmed to be happy, we will cease to be so upset that we are not happy and we will look at the world more objectively, having a more neutral lens.

Third, we will realise that people who are always happy are delusional or simply lazy: they care too much about what people do about them - a behaviour that is encouraged by contemporary society. Which brings me to the following idea:

Comparison is the thief of joy, and social media puts our vices in the forefront.

Happiness - as we think of it - cannot be attained. We never - and never can - be in a constant state of happiness. Instead, I think one thing we can achieve is a joy. What is joy? Let's take a look at the dictionary:

- Feeling of great pleasure.

I want to draw your attention to the word sensation. Joy is a sensation. But what is a sensation?

1. Impression; emotional state of mind.
2. Man's emotional attitude towards reality.

Feelings are feelings or moods, which we know are temporary, which means that joy is temporary - it comes and goes, but it never stays for a long time. Really happy moments are less in life. The usual state of the living world is survival and suffering.

But I would like to draw your attention once again to the second definition of the word sensation mentioned above:

- man's emotional attitude towards reality.

An emotional attitude towards reality? So you tell me that you suffer because you are not "happy", and happiness consists of the random moments of joy, and joy is a sensation, and the feeling is an emotional attitude?

Wait ... how the hell do you expect to be happy when the definition of happiness depends on a bunch of emotional attitudes that are essentially abstract and changing?

Maybe we should forget about the typical definition of happiness because it's too vague and unclear, and maybe happiness, in general, should not be our main purpose in life?

Yes, I know ... it's much easier to say than to be. True, it is relatively easy to analyse this rational topic, but the reality is that homo sapiens is an emotional being, we are primarily driven by our instincts and impulses, and at the same time we have a brain capable of recognising facts about our behaviour, what which means that we can detach ourselves from ourselves and we can self-analyse in a rational way.

So what do you want to tell me Andrei?

I mean, we as a species are aware of how primitive impulses of our brains work and we know how to exploit this.

Social media is the perfect example here. These networks are built to exploit us:

1. They encourage the creation of a fake and beautiful version of you.
2. They make you compare yourself with other people and more.
3. They cause your addiction.

Now let's explore each point and see how dangerous long-term social networks can be, and how they are already affecting our psychological well-being.
1. The world of social media is a fake world.

Remember: everything you see in the profiles of others (including mine) is a set of photos, posts, and well-selected opinions.

OK, I'll be the devil's advocate here and I will admit that not every one of us is so intentional about what they post online, they all differ. But I consider that we do it also subconsciously because it is in our nature to want to be liked by others. It's human evolution - we want to survive in the tribe, and we want to exchange resources, so we've evolved so as to present ourselves to others in a way that maximises the chances that we will please other people...

Why would social media make our behaviour even more harmful? Simple. In principle, the whole attraction of social networks is the ability to build a customised version of your image. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram give you the tools - and encourage you - to present the best parts of your life.

Because the internet is very crowded and no one has enough time, we know that people will judge us in a few seconds, and respectively these platforms feed our desire to show others our best, whether that is subconscious or not.

Well, that's not something new, is it? People always wanted to make a good impression on others. But what's new here?

What's new is how large the scale at which this behaviour takes place has widened, and how rates of depression and suicide are only rising. Why are today's children and teenagers falling into a depression so often? Because I feel the pressure to be as perfect as the rest of the social media because by trying to sum up the person in a beautiful package, you lose the essence that makes you unique - weirdness, mannerisms, thoughts, and godlessness - ugliness.

"People understand me so badly that they don't even understand my complaint that they don't understand me.

- Soren Kierkegaard

And so ironically, you become a superficial version of your person, all from trying to create an easily consumable and enjoyable version of yourself. You never build yourself and never really discover yourself, because all you do is compare yourself to others, and as a result, you simply lose your sense of self.

    "The biggest danger of all, losing yourself, can happen very slowly in the world, as if it were not even important. No other loss can happen so quietly; any other loss - one hand, one leg, five dollars, etc. - is sure to be noticed.

- Søren Kierkegaard

The illusion of individualism.

We live in a society that promotes individualism, but if you look better at things, you realize that the contemporary notion of individualism is actually a predefined set of common choices about who we are and how we behave and what we think.

In a world where Google's and Facebook's algorithms dictate public opinion, any diversion from the table is considered almost insane. There is less and less nuance in our time, and more censorship — at least in the West.

I give you an example of a former Google worker, James Damore. He was fired after in an internal memo following one of Google's presentations on diversity and culture, in which they asked for feedback, Damore spoke about biological differences between men and women and that there are biological causes for which women have other preferences. apart from IT domains. (I recommend looking for information on the Scandinavian study "Gender Equality Paradox") Damore was fired on the basis that in Google's opinion he promoted gender stereotypes and had misogynistic views, while Damore actually only described some real scientific facts about sex, and more than that, she wrote entire pages in that memo about solutions and suggestions to encourage and promote more women in IT.

Less nuance does not just affect public opinion about politics and lifestyles. This means that we will have less nuance in our way of presenting ourselves on social media. We become caricatures of ours - a collection of ticked boxes that learn algorithms about human behaviour and make it a quoted resource on the consumer market, further encouraging conformity and "perfection."

Which brings me to the following point:

2. Social media makes us compare our "authentic selves" with the polished versions of others.

First of all, I should address the problem of the so-called "authentic self". As I mentioned in a previous article, (in English) neurologically speaking our self is an illusion. All we are is a collection of instincts, impulses, and behaviours that are always changing. But for the sake of simplification, however, I will call it a "self".

Even if the self is an illusion, it is still an illusion in which we invest most of the time. Admit it or not, but most of us value ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, it has always been so and I don't expect that will ever change - it's just human nature.

But what will happen if what we are comparing is not real? What will happen if the identities of the people we see online are just their best moments, their polished versions, but not true? Sure, we know the difference, don't we? Well, rational yes. Emotional? Not really.

Our first reaction to any indication or social interaction (even online) is emotional because emotions are instinctive and instinct drives most of our behaviour. And so it is natural that the first emotion we feel when we see people online who look very happy is to ask us questions about their own value and occupation - as if that photo someone chose from some 30 of them or that trip through Europe it is the objective way of judging their life in general. We know it's just a highlight, but the emotional part of our brain doesn't know - at least at first. Which means that most of the time when we scroll through the Facebook or Instagram feed and see others having more fun than us, the first emotional response is to feel jealous and complex, and if we spend a few hours daily doing this, eventually this it actually affects our mental health, and can even lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Look, I'm not saying that we all have to give up social media and go the hell to live in the woods. (no annoyance to the people in the forest, I'm just jealous you can do it)

All I'm saying is that the first step in solving a problem is to identify that problem. Yes, I think social media - the way it is built and developed now - is a very big problem. These networks highlight and exploit our weaknesses and vices. That's why we need to talk about it more often and we have to look for solutions.

I can imagine that some of you would object now: Andrei, social media is not guilty that people are so vulnerable, exploitation was never the intention of these platforms, they were made to connect the world.

To which I would reply: Do you live in Disneyland or smoke grass all day?

We live in the era of the attention economy, and social media platforms exist to get more of our attention. Why do you ask? Because these platforms are "free of charge" and we are their product, not the customers.

We pay our attention free of charge in such a way that these platforms collect data about us and sell this data to interested companies to tag us and sell us stuff. The stuff we want or think we want or don't want yet, but eventually we want because there is an entire industry called MARKETING that studies human behaviour to explore — ekhm — sell fantastic new products. And are we surprised that companies like Facebook have grown so fast? Well, we pay them our attention - which is probably the most important resource on the market right now - for nothing!

And as things move, everything will get worse. Why so pessimistic, you ask? Well, because ...

3. Social media causes addiction

A few years ago I started a satire/comedy vlogg on Facebook and some videos became relatively viral by the modest standards of the Republic of Moldova. I received tens of thousands of views and hundreds of shares. It was the first time in my life that I had received so much attention online. It was strange at first, I wasn't sure how to react, but after a while, my body and mind adjusted and everything became extremely captivating: seeing likes, comments from people discussing those videos. I couldn't stop controlling the notifications on the phone. This habit had become so bad that if I didn't post anything for a while, I would start to get depressed because I didn't get the attention I needed to get my dopamine doses before. I had drastic changes in disposition, and I often felt complex. My self-worth was almost entirely based on how I was perceived on social media. It took me almost a year to get out of the psychological thing.

Honest to tell you, besides the fact that I learned how to behave with attention from social media, I naturally matured with age. But the fact remains the same: social media highlighted my weaknesses and rewarded me, even more, when I was acting like a drug addict. Every time I checked my smartphone after a post to see the likes and comments, I received these doses of dopamine and felt valued and appreciated. And every time I didn't get likes, I felt crazy. This was exactly what a former Facebook executive, Sean Parker, was talking about in 2017. It was the "social-validation feedback loop":

    “Facebook literally changes your relationship with society, with other people. Probably and it intervenes in productivity in bizarre ways. Only God knows what to do with the brains of our children ... How to consume as much time and attention as possible from you? would invent, because you exploit a vulnerability in human psychology ... All of us are connected in the system, all our minds can be diverted. Our choices are not as free as we imagine

- Sean Parker, former Facebook executive, 2017.

Part of why scrolling through the Facebook feed is so captivating is because it's partly random: we don't know exactly what will appear on the screen and so we keep scrolling down, hoping for something funny or exciting or shockingly it will appear. It's almost the same mechanism as the casino gambling machine. It is the uncertainty and potential reward that are so captivating and addictive.

I am not an absolutist and I will not declare that all addiction is bad. I think we are all addicted or obsessed with something. Someone is addicted to heavy drugs, someone is obsessed with the gym, someone with the drink, someone with reading the novels. You see, there are better and worse addictions. I think you are wise enough to understand who they are.

Even those "bad" addictions can be made a little better in some cases. You don't have to leave social media altogether to feel mentally healthy. Unlike Jaron Lanier - the pioneer of virtual reality - I don't think giving up everything is an answer. I believe that the moderate use and awareness of the psychological dangers of these networks is a more pragmatic and realistic response.

The doses of dopamine we receive from likes and notifications on Facebook are not the de facto problem, we receive dopamine when we eat something tasty when we have sex when we get a pay raise at work. The reward system in our brain exists for a reason, it has been developed throughout evolution.

The problem with social networks is that it is a cycle that does not end, it has no end goal. (but it has a purpose for companies that hold our data, but not for us) Social media exploits this reward system in our brain and steals our attention, and I would argue that we could use that attention for more productive things.

Increasing rates of depression and suicide in adolescents

There are several studies that show a correlation between popularising social media (around 2010) and drastically increasing rates of depression and suicide in adolescents.

Social psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff wrote a book called "Raising the American Mind," in which they talk about the "safe-space" or "safe-space" culture that gained popularity in American universities around 2014, and in the UK, Canada, and other Western European countries. It refers to how the administrations of these schools have begun to use safety and hazard language to describe ideas and speakers, and how those administrations promote policies based on the premise that students are vulnerable or fragile.

Jonathan had an article in the British newspaper The Guardian discussing this phenomenon:

    “Terms like“ safe space ”,“ trigger warning ”and“ micro-aggression ”have entered our language. We believe that these terms are demands made by a generation that has been deprived of the necessary amount of social immunisation. Students now react with an allergic emotional response (often called "being triggered") to things that previous generations have either ignored or contradicted.

    It's not the children's fault. In the United Kingdom and the United States, parents became much more frightened in the 1980s and 1990s, when television and the Internet exposed all, in larger quantities, to the rare occurrences of brutal crimes and unusual accidents that, after as we report in our book, it is now happening more and more rarely. Outdoor games and independent movement have declined, and the time in front of the screen and the activities supervised by adults has increased.

    And yet free games in which children invent their own rules, take small risks and learn to master small dangers (such as snowballs) play a crucial role in developing social and physical competence as an adult. By depriving them of their free play, they stagnate their socio-emotional growth. Norwegian gaming researchers Ellen Sandseter and Leif Kennair wrote about the "anti-phobic effects of emotional experiences." They noted that children spontaneously try to add risk to their play, which extends to their ability to cope with their difficulties. , and respectively empowers them to pose even greater challenges. The researchers warned us: "We could observe increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are prevented from participating in appropriate risky games according to their age." They wrote these words in 2011. Over the next few years, their prediction came true.

- Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist.

Mental health statistics in the US and the UK tell us the same awful story: children born after 1994 - now known as the iGen or Gen-Z generation - suffer from much higher rates of anxiety and depression than the previous generation, born between 1982 and 1994.

You can see in the chart above that around 2010 - when platforms like Facebook and Instagram had increased - depression rates have increased considerably, especially for adolescent girls. It might be a coincidence, but I doubt it is. Everything connects too easily, social media should play a major role in our obsessive comparison with our "perfect" online versions. We spend too much time on these networks so that they do not affect our mental health.

In the video below you can see Jonathan Haidt again, this time on Joe Rogan's podcast, discussing the rising suicide rate.

Even more tragically, we also see this trend in the adolescent suicide rate, which is rising in both sexes in the US and the UK. In the United States, the suicide rate increased by 34% for adolescent boys (in 2016, compared to the lower rate for 2006-2010). For girls, the rate has increased by 82%. In the UK, the suicide rate in adolescent boys increased by 17% by 2017, while in girls it increased by 46%. No one knows for sure why recent years have seen such a drastic change in girls compared to boys, but the most popular explanation among experts is the advent of smartphones and social media. Girls use social media more than boys, and they seem to be more affected by chronic social comparison, focus on physical appearance, awareness of being left out of a group, and social and relational aggression facilitated by social media.

- Jonathan Haidt

From the point of view of evolution, this makes sense - women have evolved to depend more on their social skills and relationships in the tribe because they were considerably weaker and unprotected when caring for a child. Everything was for survival.
But there is still a light at the end of the tunnel, isn't it?

I don't know, I can't read your future in your hand like a gipsy, I can just look at trends and speculate. But some questions in their place would be:

What do we do with this information? What's the solution? How can we minimize the negative effects of social media for our good and our children?

Here are some recommendations from me:
1. Analyze your smartphone consumption and social media

I recently installed the "Usage Time" app on my phone. It's software that collects information about how much time I spend in each application, how many times a day I unlock my phone, and creates graphics that summarise all my digital behaviour. Surely he opened my eyes to some behaviours and gave me accurate information and then to make my own conclusions. Now I could compare how I felt emotional when using the phone 2 hours a day and when I stayed for 5 hours in it. What I noticed was that when I stayed more than 3 hours a day I felt a little more tired, frustrated, and had increased anxiety - my attention was everywhere, and it was harder for me to focus when I sat down to read. a book or thinking about my creative projects.
The optimal time will vary with each person, and you suggest uploading this software or something similar so that you have at least a general idea about your digital consumption. Personally, I found that for me more than 3 hours is too much, my productivity and feeling of happiness decreases. The optimal time I would say is 2 hours a day for me. For you, this might be different. Try it and see for yourself.

2. Do you have any occupations outside the social media world?

The technologies at our fingertips are so new and revolutionary that our biology is not yet (and cannot be) adjusted to them. We haven't evolved to watch digital screens for hours at a time, so it's only natural that we feel tired and restless when we do too much.

You have to be active, physically and mentally. Practice, read, think. Create something. Give yourself at least 30 minutes a day in which you have no evasion and you can simply "get bored." As I mentioned in a previous article (in English), we forget how important boredom is, and this is a bigger problem than it seems at first glance.

Boredom is the source of creativity and experimentation. We need a time when we are alone and we are not backed up to feel alive. And we need time spent outside, somewhere with trees and stuff. You know, nature. You need this, don't be mistaken. You are programmed to feel better when nature is closer. Concrete buildings and skyscrapers can and are miracles of engineering, but they do not feed your mind. So spend some time for nature.

3. Socialise in the "old-school" style more.

I used to be that friend who is very indecisive when people ask him to go somewhere. As a teenager, I was obsessed with video games or spending time alone in my room, living in my own thoughts and watching movies all day. Don't get me wrong, I still love my time when I'm alone. I'm more of an introvert after temperament. But I am much more balanced as a person than before. I value time with friends and understand that I need other people. And so I dedicate some time to them and the social activities that I get out of my head and from my smartphone.

Yes, I realise that in our age the way to socialise has already changed. Most of the communication is online, and that's OK, it's easier to find the world and keep in touch. But this can by no means be a replacement for genuine face-to-face interaction with someone. It's just an alternative. Which means that the old-school method of socialising should be a priority. Don't underestimate the healing power of laughing out loud when a friend dropped glass of beer in a restaurant or when friends started dancing like ballerinas in the middle of the parking lot under the song "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion and you couldn't stop laughing.

You need other people, even if you're the biggest introvert in the world. And so when that friend invites you to go somewhere, do it, in case you have no legitimate reason not to. You can stare at your smartphone later, it's always in your pocket. That friend is not. That friend is a man who needs genuine connections with other people just like you. Finish being so cynical and appreciate your people next door, they will not live forever.

I hope everything I said above will get you out of your head a bit, and at least for a while you will stop comparing yourself to the "perfect" people on your social media feed, and start living and you have more compassion for yourself and others. Maybe then you will have more joy in life. Maybe then you will finally stop trying to be "happy" and you will simply be.

But again, I am not an expert, there are even more nuanced tips from people in the profession who study human psychology, and here is the case that I agree with Jonathan Haidt. Here's what he had to say:

“What can we do to reverse these trends? How can we raise our children strong enough to be able to cope with the ordinary and extraordinary difficulties of life? There is a piece of good advice in the people: prepare the child for the road, but not the road for the child. Once you understand the concept of anti-fragility, you will understand why this advice is true.

- Jonathan Haidt

"Anti-fragility" refers to the concept invented by Nassim Taleb in the book "Anti-fragile". This concept describes a small but very important class of systems that benefit from shocks, difficulties, and disorder. Human bones and banking systems are such examples; both become weaker - and more inclined to catastrophic failures - if a long time goes by without any stress or hardship. Our immune system is the same.

    "Of course, we must work to make our lives safer by eliminating physical hazards from the environment, such as drunk drivers or paedophiles. And of course, we must teach our children to treat each other with kindness and respect. But we also need to let them travel the world without us. It's what most of us over the age of 40 have done (even in decades with the much higher crime rate) and it's what most kids want to do. At first, it's scary for parents to let them. But when a 7-year-old boy jumps up and down in excitement that he has fulfilled a self-care task, it becomes easier to let him alone go to a park to play with his friends - where they are everyone learns to take care of each other and resolve their own conflicts.

    We cannot guarantee that giving primary school children more independence today will lower adolescent suicide rates tomorrow. The link between childhood over protection and adolescent mental illness is suggestive but not definitive, and there are other possible causes. And yet there are good reasons to suspect that by having a broader spectrum of experiences on our intrinsically anti-fouling children, we are systematically stunting their growth. We need to let go - and let them grow.

- Jonathan Haidt

The more I see how exciting smartphones and social media can be, the more satisfied I am that at least half of my childhood was without these intrusive technologies. At least I know what it's like to be on the other side - the time before the internet. I am part of the last generation (the first half of the '90s) who lived through that time. Everyone born after 2008 is born with smartphones around, the brain is developing alongside the smartphone. I can bet that if you do some research, you will find that five-year-old spend more time playing on the iPad than looking at the mother in the eye.

Maybe I'm dramatising, maybe I'm too stereotypical now, talking about my "old generation" playing with sticks in the sand. But I know it's at least partially true.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy that there are social media because I can post my creative projects there and people can appreciate and criticise them. I also made some good friends through these platforms, and some of the best memories of my life are associated with social media. However, I cannot ignore the negative parts, and I have noticed the continuous growth of these negative parts in the last years. All I want is for people to be more aware. I want them to have more control over their attention because to know how to control your attention is to know how to take control of your life.

Our world has changed, and it's changing faster than ever. Biotechnology and bio-engineering are new industries that will probably change forever the way we think about the human species. But before we think about synthesising human organs from scratch and dreaming of colonising Mars, it would be more useful to draw more attention to how today's digital environment is affecting us and our future children.

The stars in the sky can be spectacular, but if we are preoccupied with just the nose in the phone we will escape the smile of the child, without talking about our dreams about the Cosmos.

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