It seems fairly innocent. All you have to do is pull out your phone to check what’s happening on Twitter (even the what’s happening motto has an addictive quality to it) and someone has followed you! What a surprise!
In a flash, you catapult your breakfast out the window as you scroll through your news feed that never has an end. You look at the clock. Thirty minutes have passed. You shrug and get back to your plans for the day.
Wait. Hold up.
A news feed that has no end. Is that a new trend in the human realm?
While this is an exaggerated example, social media is designed to keep you addicted. You might have suspected it before, but not known it to be true. While those who are in charge of programming social media don’t always have bad intentions, common social features like likes, follows, infinite news feeds, and even fake loading pages are designed to keep you on the screen for as long as possible.
In this blog post, I will discuss the potential ability of social media overuse to wreck the Christian faith with Theo, my uber-researcher friend. Social media is not bad, and I have seen it used for good many times, but how much is too much?
Let’s get started.
My Conversation with Theo Begins
Me: “G’day, Theo! I asked you to research the ways social media can be addictive. What have you discovered so far?”
Theo: “Almost every aspect of social media is addictive. It’s not as addictive to cats since our psychology is different. I will start with likes and follows.”
Me: “I can already see why likes can be dangerous.”
Me: “When you enter a social media app, you might look at a post. Let’s say it’s someone who posted a nice picture. You get that feeling in your chest and click the like button. Now what about that person? That person is going to get a notification on their phone and get a boost of… well, energy. What’s the technical term for it?”
Theo: “I’ll talk about that after I provide background information. The reason why you feel that burst of energy is because of a hormone called dopamine.”
Me: “Dopamine sounds like a science fiction planet to me.”
Theo: “Hah. Hah. How funny. Dopamine is a hormone that is vital for your health. It helps you feel the emotion of happiness and also pleasure. Ever heard of it?”
Me: “Nope. I never took advanced biology classes in high school or college.”
Theo: “How pitiful. Anyway, humans instinctively desire to love something and to be loved. Because of this, a like serves as a social boost. Your brain interprets it like a hug or a complement from a friend.”
Me: “I get that.”
Theo: “Likes are friendship candy. The problem is, it’s not the real deal. You keep checking your phone to see if you got a like. Then you get absorbed in your newsfeed. This is a major factor of social media overuse.”
Me: “And that is the same with follows?”
Me: “Likes can be a way of showing your honest appreciation for a post. The problem is, we don’t think before we like. This puts us on a sort of autopilot and it makes it easy to get addicted to social media. Instead, select the posts you like carefully and show them you appreciate what they posted by making a comment. That is how social media should be used, not the mindless clicking of buttons. If you truly care about what other people post, that can lead to meaningful conversation and healthier social media usage!”
Theo: “I want to add that just because you have a lack of likes on your post doesn’t mean your post is bad. It depends on who happens to see your post, how busy someone is, and many other factors. Concluding no one likes your post doesn’t make sense. It can also worsen your opinion of yourself. If you are in that situation, tell God how you are feeling and allow Him to help you. He will.”
Me: “You should also turn off notifications and try to check social media less often. Do this slowly. Eventually, you will not use social media as much.
Theo: “Next up: the dreaded newsfeed.”
The Newsfeed of Horror and Dread
Me: “Whatever you do, don’t scroll through your newsfeed without thinking!”
Theo: “The newsfeed you might have on Facebook or Instagram is an addiction landmine. There are no pages, so you don’t have time to think or consider leaving the app. You continue scrolling and lose your sense of time. Your brain expects a good post eventually, so you keep scrolling until you get that burst of dopamine.”
Me: “I avoid the newsfeeds on social media altogether because it is so easy to get addicted to social media that way.”
Theo: “For the Christian, it is also easy to see things you don’t want to see on the newsfeed. Social media companies engineer the newsfeed to keep you on as long as possible. Don’t fall for the psychological tricks they use.”
Me: “If you must scroll through your newsfeed, say out loud how many posts you are going to look at (for instance, five). Then, look carefully at each post and think. Your usage of social media will become meaningful because you will be able to appreciate what people have to say. You will have a better time and not fall into the Newsfeed Trap!”
Theo: “Again, this is how social media should be used: intelligently.”
Fake Loading Screens and Social Media Design
Me: “The moment you enter a social media app, there are links everywhere. If you aren’t careful, you’ll fall into a rut of clicking on people’s profiles, scrolling through their posts, clicking a post they reposted, and so forth.”
Theo: “Social media seems to be designed so you never reach a dead end.”
Me: “The loading screens that appear when you enter an app are fake. There are loading screens for a few seconds so your anticipation rises. Am I going to get a like? Am I going to get a comment? Did my best friend post something?”
Theo: “When it pops up, you get a rush of dopamine and want to keep visiting for a reward (notifications). Even if you don’t get anything you like, you still want to come back to see if you find a reward. This is playing off a principle used in training animals known as Variable Rewarding.”
Me: “I am not a dog and I do not intend to be treated like one!”
Theo: “Social media companies borrow psychological tricks from casino machines, but I’m not going to mention every psychological trick social media companies use for the sake of time.”
Me: “This was an eye-opening discussion. Before you go, can you explain why it is important to use social media in a healthy and intelligent way?”
Theo: “Yes. It is important to not be addicted to social media because addiction is treating yourself, God’s creation, in a way that is harmful and sinful.”
Me: “Social media overuse also gets in the way of things that should come first, like family, work, real-life demands, and most importantly, God. Using social media in an intelligent and orderly way is better than abusing it by making it your entire life.”
Theo: “When used properly, social media is an effective way to grow closer to God. Pray, pray, pray. Trust that God will give you the means to escape social media addiction. Establish strict measures to ensure addiction doesn’t develop or get worse.”
Me: “Thank you for joining us today. Have a good rest of your week.”
Thank you for reading! I hope this helped you and gave you a new perspective on social media. If there is a topic you would like Cat to discuss, let me know in the comments.