Social Media Is Changing How We're Hardwired, Giving Us Much More Anxiety

by Karan Singh

Do you keep refreshing the Facebook newsfeed on your iPhone for updates, even though it was just done five seconds ago? Having a dilemma of how to start the daily morning inspirational, educational or even self-loathing tweet? Some people in this world have that dilemma every day, and that’s just an example of Generation-Y’s growing social media dependency.

That’s not to suggest that social media does not have positive influences on our world. From the educational resources to communication tools it provides, we all know how instrumental social media has been to the growth of society.

But now, throw in the egocentric world we live in. What we do not know is that, while it’s not encouraged, it isn’t a crime to be dependent on your social media status.

In a study at Harvard, researchers learned that “the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex.”

Throw up some hash tags on a Twitter update, check in at your local brunch spot, post some pictures of your food, and you’ll feel the pleasure in an instant. Well, not really, but you get the point. Everything trending across the country has gained its popularity through social media, and apparently, it’s an epidemic.

The study, however, doesn’t answer the main question: why are we so dependent on social media? The explanation for this might be best portrayed by dividing Generation-Y socialites by their use of social media: professional versus personal. For those who leisurely use the virtual world, which is most of us, for personal purposes, we don’t realize that we have subconsciously created a personal brand image via social media.  The pressure to maintain this image is what contributes to our growing anxiety.  Julie Spira, author of “The Rules of Netiquette,” has actually coined the term SMAD, Social Media Anxiety Disorder, which has not yet been medically recognized.

Let’s delve into Americans and their use of social media. A recent study shows that Americans, on average, spend 16 minutes of every hour on social networking sites, which puts the U.S. ahead of the United Kingdom (13 minutes) and also Australia (14 minutes). Now, it’s up for debate as to what social networking sites are being utilized by Americans during those 16 minutes, but the truth is that there is a sense of need for this virtual reality.

When considering the presumed need to use social networking sites, one might suggests that moderation is the key to avoiding the anxiety caused by social media. Some might say that the use of social media platforms to publicly post exactly what’s on our minds, or share our feelings with the world, has become a therapeutic practice. In essence, the social world has become our personal shrink. But is it helping lower our anxiety over personal issues, or is it increasing our anxiety, overall?

With the availability of the Internet for many around the world, this social world of ours will only continue to expand and grow. As this transpires, the definition of a person with a social media addiction will change along with it. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) was recently published with revisions of certain personality disorders, one of them being narcissism, for example.  By definition, narcissism is a preoccupation within one’s self through power, vanity and prestige. Studies tell us that the incidence of NPD has doubled from ten years ago. Ironically enough, social media has seen unparalleled growth in the last ten years.

“People seem to be getting dumber and dumber. You know, I mean we have all this amazing technology and yet, computers have turned into basically four-figure wank machines. The Internet was supposed to set us free, democratize us, but all it's really given us is Howard Dean's aborted candidacy and 24-hour-a-day access to kiddie porn. People... they don't write anymore, they blog. Instead of talking, they text, no punctuation, no grammar: LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me it's just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people at a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King's English.” - Hank Moody, Californication

The Internet is a powerful tool, and social media has become the face of communication and influential technology. This isn’t a knock on the virtual world, but a mere reminder of what it is and what it’s doing to us. No one can deny the positive effects it has had on our society and will continue to have on the rest of the world. Look at the voice it has given people in other parts of the world.

But let’s also not deny what we all see happening before our eyes. Open up that Facebook browser and see what’s happening in the lives of your friends, like their updates, check-in at your doctor’s appointment and don’t forget your latest selfie.  Get your fix, and when it’s all said and done, feel the affects of the universal fixation with social media.

Photo Courtesy: Flickr