How Humans Relate to Social Media
Simon Sinek, in his now famous interview -- along with many others -- have discussed the dopamine distraction that is linked with technology. One big contributor to this is the fact that our brain is stimulated by novelty. Every time we learn something new, dopamine -- the feel good neurotransmitter -- is released. This means every time we see a new post, notification or email, we’re learning new information which gives us a small kick of dopamine.
On top of that, one study reported that talking about oneself on social media is intrinsically rewarding and activates a pleasure sensation in the brain usually associated with food, money and sex. To make matters worse, dopamine also gets released when we accomplish small tasks. So, every email we send or message we respond to is giving us a shot of some more feel good chemicals.
When you look at it this way, social media sounds pretty damn exciting. And to an extent, none of this is inherently bad for us. As Sinek says, “there is nothing wrong with social media, it’s the imbalance.”
An unreal reality.
The challenge is that this sucks us into an unreal reality. It’s no one’s fault that we all enjoy sharing positive things about ourselves on social media rather than negative things. The difficulty comes into play when we are only exposed to all the amazing things people are doing. "The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel," says Steven Furtick, founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church.
Our brain is naturally wired to protect us, so it is constantly on the lookout for any threats in our environment. One way it does this is by comparing us to that of everyone else -- to see where we measure up in the world. If that person has a better job, relationship or life than you, it can create instant internal reflection and make you question what you are not doing right or what you need to do more of.
The human brain also learns from repetition, the words you say to yourself and how those words make you feel. So if you are going on social media and subconsciously comparing yourself to this unreal reality of perfection, it’s going to potentially make you feel less of yourself. And when you repeat this many times each day, you’re ultimately training this lower way of thinking and feeling into your mind.
One Harvard study, that spanned over 75 years, focused on what makes people happy, and the result was one simple thing. The strength of the relationships in their lives. “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives," writes Liz Mineo, Harvard staff writer.
What is concerning is that other studies are finding that loneliness is on the rise today, especially among young people. How is it that more people today feel lonelier than ever before, yet we are supposedly more "connected" at the same time? With all the messages and notifications we receive, it may feel like we’re connecting and interacting with so many people; but to what level? Is it actually establishing close relationships or just surface ones?
The real question should be, how many social media interactions, likes, comments and messages equate to the connection we get from being in the presence of one person? Because often times, when you eventually do physically meet or hang out with people you’ve been connecting with online, you find out they aren’t as perfect as you once thought. They do have flaws, insecurities and challenges, and you realize that they’re like everyone else. You also realize you’re not alone in whatever you may be going through in your life or business.
Using the online world for good.
Every single one of us craves the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Being part of a group -- or "tribe" back in our caveman days -- gives us that inherent need and sense of belonging, which makes sense considering tribal culture was necessary for survival back then.
In Galya Westler’s TEDx talk, she shares how her brother Roy suffered from brain cancer and was in need of $10,000 a month to pay for a new treatment. They didn’t know what to do, so they created an online campaign. It unexpectedly raised more than $350K in one month. Often these campaigns explode because you have a group of people that share the same interest and are brought together for a good cause; with many of them having a previous face-to-face connection with the person they are raising money for.
Westler was then inspired to connect this concept to help solve the issue of loneliness and the data privacy issues we experience online. Her approach was done through her company, PlazusTribes, by building a blockchain tool for large groups (tribes) that share a similar interest. As people naturally chat within their tribes, they earn rewards and have the power to control how the data they share with one another is disclosed to advertisers, enabling them to collectively monetize their data themselves.
How can we combat the challenges of social media?
Understanding what is going on inside our brain while we use social media and being aware of this need to belong is an important component. We can’t control what we don’t understand.
It’s also critical, especially as an entrepreneur, to not become isolated in your work and disconnected from people around you.
As people age and their interests change, they often grow in different directions than some of their old friends. Don’t let this be an excuse to isolate yourself. Make it a priority to find your tribe, whether it be an online Facebook group with similar interests or friends you see on a regular basis in person.
We also must understand the importance of real world, in person connection and be reminded that what we see online is not reality. We can't get down when we catch ourselves comparing our life to that of everyone else. The only way to do this is by being in the presence of someone -- to see them for who they truly are and see what they are going through in their business versus what we see online.
However, the other challenge about getting older and busier is the difficulty to stay in touch with people. How many times do you bump into someone and wish you were making more of an effort to see that person?
There is one simple, powerful way to combat this and build a brand new habit. Pull out a sheet of paper and write out the most important people in your life. You might title one area "family," another "close friends" and another "influential business contacts." Then simply keep this on your desk, review it each week and choose a few people to reach out to and make plans with. Not only will you build stronger relationships, you will feel more in control of your life.
In an online world where many people are feeling lonelier than ever, one cure is authentic, aligned and consistent connection.