Is social media addiction real? Before I get all Black Mirror on you, let’s look at some science…
Scoring a match-winning goal, crossing the finish line of a marathon, being applauded by a captivated audience. That rush of happiness you feel is down to dopamine, a neurochemical known as “the reward molecule” that’s released after certain human actions or behaviours, such as exercising, or setting and achieving a goal.
Dopamine, is of course, addictive. Heroin being the extreme example, a drug that floods the body with huge levels of dopamine. As Renton from Trainspotting describes it:
“Take the best orgasm you've ever had... multiply it by a thousand, and you're still nowhere near it.”
From an anthropological standpoint, natural dopamine was mostly associated with physical exertion. However, modern life has allowed “the reward molecule” to creep into our more sedentary achievements…
According to studies, social media is a dopamine goldmine. When we post, share, comment, like, we are essentially reaching out for human interaction, looking for that social validation. So, when we get a like, a share, a comment, we get that little dopamine release. This becomes a “social-validation feedback loop”, a term used by former Facebook president Sean Parker (creator of Napster, Justin Timberlake played him in The Social Network.)
“And that means,” explains Parker “that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
According to Parker, this psychological vulnerability was not only recognised by the team at Facebook, but actively tapped into to make it a success, adding; “The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”
If the science adds up, how long before we start seeing pop ups of zombie-looking teenagers in front of a glowing smartphone with, “FACEBOOK CAN DAMAGE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH” like those pictures on cigarette packets. Maybe it’ll be more like the gambling sites, “WHEN THE FUN STOPS. STOP.” That kind of thing, or maybe…
Ah, I just went all Black Mirror didn’t I?
Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: “God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains”