Is social media making you dumb?

an informative 6 minute read

Social media, a bedrock in modern-day society. From your Auntie posting her banana cake recipes on Facebook, Instagram ‘influencers’ posing semi-naked selfies on the bonnet of a car they don’t own, to teens dancing around their messy bedrooms trying to get their little bit of fame on TikTok. We just love consuming that predigested, dopamine stimulating content. We love the feeling when our post gets lots of likes and views because apparently, that’s the modern-day form of validation. We must do it for the gram. And big companies and political campaigns LOVE using the data collected to spread propaganda and manipulate the masses. Ooo a controversial topic but f*ck it, you can google it yourself. Look up Cambridge Analytica and how this ‘Data science’ company took huge funding from shady organisations to collect Facebook users user data and then sent targeted ads (propaganda) to them to make them vote a certain way. (check out ‘the great hack’ on Netflix, It will explain it all and you will be shocked). It’s pretty easy to manipulate and feed people propaganda when they’re wired into this virtual reality we call social media. Anyway. Moving on.

Social media has gone from being an entertainment product to almost a fundamental technology. Companies have huge marketing budgets for social media advertising and if you want to get your product or service to a big audience, you use social media. I mean sh*t I use social media a lot for Biostays and for my other website kansailocal.com. But, there are some interesting things that social media use does to your brain, and your mental health.

How social media gets you addicted

We already know that alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn and unhealthy food are addictions. One of the most primitive and dominant parts of our brain is the part where we sense and seek reward. Food, fluids, fun and reproduction. The chemicals that increase in our brain when we have a rewarding experience is dopamine.

Our brain will choose and favour the easiest route to get dopamine. That’s what dopamine does. It’s a happy hormone/neurotransmitter. The problem is that social media uses EXACTLY the same mechanism as the above to get you hooked. In fact, social media companies hire ‘experience engineers’ whose exact job is to make you spend more time on the social media platform. Every time you scroll through your feed, get a message/dm, receive likes and views, get recognition and all these other things that social media offer, you get a dopamine dose. What happens then is that your brain downregulates the dopamine receptors in your brain to become less sensitive to dopamine. So then you need more! Just like the drug addict needs more drugs to get the same hit, just like the alcoholic needs more alcohol to get the same buzz, just like the gambler needs to gamble a little more to try and win more and get the same hit, just like the porn addict needs to watch more hardcore porn to get satisfied – you need that little extra scroll on your Instagram, or to post that slightly more naked photo to get more likes, or spend more time endlessly scrolling through your social media apps to get the same dopamine hits. And I am fully an addict too. The first steps of addiction is recognition, right? Isn’t that what they say at the meetings.  

The brain is super lazy.  It will choose and favour the easiest route to get dopamine. And when options like social media exist, it’s hard to stay away from it. Trouble is these days its so easily accessible. You can whip out your phone and you’re already getting that sweet dopamine. So why the hell would you bother doing other activities that are way more beneficial and constructive (like reading a book, creating a side business or meditating)  when you can get MORE dopamine quicker, doing naughty things. It’s actually really really hard. It’s no longer a conscious decision, it’s an instinctive default process. It’s not that you can’t be bothered to do those more constructive and less dopamine stimulating activities, you physically will find it difficult to do them, and you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. Your brain, as I said, is really lazy. It will go for the easy option. You know what it’s like, constantly flicking between social media apps, then watching some youtube, then back to Snapchat, then Instagram, then Facebook, and if you’re childish, TikTok. And before you know it, you’ve wasted 3 hours. At which point you really can’t be bothered to do anything else. You might get up and go to the fridge, get food *bosh, dopamine hit*, then go to your laptop and watch Netflix, *bam, dopamine hit*, then get bored of that and go back to your phone. We are all dopamine junkies.

If you can’t beat them… should you join them? 

For my dear beloved older readers who may be turning their noses up at us young ones for not working hard on stuff, you’re right. I do apologise. we are a spoilt and entitled generation. But we can’t help it. The problem is this. Are you really going to make a long term career as a social media influencer? One day you will be old and ugly and irrelevant. With such a competitive world economy, with so many smart people doing smart things and creating amazing companies and technologies, we need to be ever smarter and innovative to have an edge on our competitors. And anyone young, pretty and funny can get a phone and create social media content, but a 21st century highly competitive market does not reward mediocrity and things that anyone can do. It rewards people with cultivated skills who work bloody hard and master their skill or profession. And thanks to our phones and easy access dopamine stimulants, we aren’t really able to focus on doing real, constructive stuff.

On a lighter note, don’t get me wrong. There are some awesome things about social media. Promoting a business or social cause, speaking out about opinions and spreading the word, and consuming actually really good content from amazing photographers and artists. The best thing to do is practice safe social media. Don’t compare yourselves with the lives of people you see on social media – it’s not real. Don’t spend hours and hours scrolling through social media. Enjoy it in small chunks and keep in touch with your buddies.  Go outside and build a treehouse or something! ooh and then you could register it as an eco-hotel and then we can feature it on biostays.com

Cheers everyone. Over and out.