Social Media Addiction, Surveillance Capitalism and Political Power

Close up of people with contemporary mobile phones

A recently published study, in the peer-reviewed journal, Behavioural Brain Research, does not establish whether less grey matter leads to more Facebook use or whether Facebook use decreases the amount of grey matter, but what is clear is that those who use Facebook addictively seem to have less.

Author of the study Christian Montag et al particularly focused on how social media use impacts the reward centres of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, which is stimulated when the brain recognises that we are engaged in a pleasurable activity such as eating delicious food or having sex. Montag told the PsyPost. “In short, the lower the gray matter volume in this area, the higher Facebook usage/frequency could be observed.”

Digital Distraction

These observations are perhaps not so surprising considering that social media/ apps are created to be addictively engaging. The typical adult of 45 and under uses four digital devices, and the average person in 2017 spends 90% more time their smartphone today than they did in 2013, that is a shocking rise in usage.  Other studies have indicated that our IQ is lessened by 10 points by the existence of ringing phones and email notifications.

Jason Shiers – A Psychotherapist with  says, ‘there are costs to the addictive use of technology, yes productivity is impacted but there is also a human cost which cannot be ignored, the process that fuels technology addiction is utilising the same reward centres of the brain as opioid addiction, this kind of process always has consequences for the individual and for those around them.’

Surveillance Capitalism

It would serve us well to mindful as well about how those platforms are being used by advertisers and those with a political agenda, we have all heard lot about fake news placed to impact the voting tendencies of the electorate.

Facebook is such a desirable place for advertisers is that Facebook analyses its users online and then both the news and the advertising is then tailored to groups of individuals based on their personal information, this practice of serving relevant advertising to readers is now an established norm in the advertising industry, we may feel that we are immune to it or at least have defences against it in our cynicism,  but we are human and we are vulnerable to manipulation.

Political Power

We should ask ourselves how those in power might be using that technology to consolidate the power they have, there has been a discussion around how the placement of fake news impacted the 2016 US election. Political campaigning has always been persuasive of course, but now that manipulation is targeted to those that it will impact most effectively, without those people knowing that that is what it is being done.

What Can We Do?

Even if we feel we do not wish to unplug entirely, be mindful that our brains are being hijacked to serve the agendas of others (political/commercial). If we are unable to moderate our smart phone use it will have a  negative impact on our own lives and the lives of our loved ones, and particularly the mental health of our kids, much like any other addiction.

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