In my last technology post, I briefly mentioned “The Facebook Files” published by the WSJ back in mid-September. One disclosure was the company conducted research about the impact their platform Instagram was having on teenagers. Weeks later pundits are still weighing in about the potential toxicity of social media.
America runs on social media. By the numbers (primary source: Pew Research Center 2021 survey of U.S. adults):
- Seven-in-ten Americans have used social media sites. Note: Share data has remained relatively stable over the past five years.
- YouTube and Facebook are the dominate platforms with 81% and 69% of respondents reported using these platforms respectively.
- Younger adults (18-to-29-year-olds) indicated they use Instagram (71%) or Snapchat (65%), while roughly half say the same for TikTok.
The NY Times reported in the wake of “The Facebook Files” Instagram’s annual marketing budget of $390 million increased 500% since 2018. In a financial services survey, 22% of teenage respondents revealed Instagram was their favorite social media platform, less than Snapchat (35%) and Tik Tok (30%). During the pandemic the average amount of time teens spent on Instagram was somewhere between 3 to 4 hours.
I have often questioned whether social media is addictive, thus bad for you. I have researched the topic over the years to learn there is no conclusive study, but three digital technology catchphrases keep surfacing – high tech companies have incorporated dopamine driven feedback loops into the design of their products, FOMO, digital detox. Translation below:
- Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter (a.k.a. chemical messenger) your body makes. It plays a role in how we feel pleasure. Designing a dopamine-driven feedback loop creates a self-perpetuating neurotransmitter circuit devised to fuel the brain’s reward system. Sound confusing? Visualize someone playing a slot machine at a casino or better yet observe a teenager scrolling through their Instagram account.
- Digital technologies, such as social networks, online shopping and games are also designed to use a set of seductive, persuasive, motivational techniques to keep users returning to exploit the basic human need to feel a sense of belonging and connection with others. One outcome is the creation of a sensation known as FOMO (“Fear OF Missing Out”).
- Digital detox: People on digital overload are now taking a retreat/intervention from their digital world for a designated period of time for their well-being and to improve their real-world social relationships. I usually associated the process of detox when someone abstained from or rid their body of toxic or unhealthy substances (e.g., addictive drugs).