Social Media Overload

There should be no doubt now that social media has become a critical element of society.

It fits seamlessly into many facets of our ever more mobile lives.

It is available in many options and styles, and variations of the two. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger…Tumblr, Instagram, Shutterfly…Spotify. So many ways to like and be liked.

It pervades a plethora of activities that we engage in every day: talking, sharing, pictures, stories, quips, comments, compassion.

It enables us to remain connected and relevant in a world that is quickly moving in the opposite direction.

It is almost impossible to escape it’s reach.

Almost impossible to say no. Almost like an addiction.

There are two camps of thought that I have found most interesting in helping to explain why social media is so compelling and what aspect of social media is so powerful as to impact the daily lives of so many people.

One of those camps is the one that explains the issues based on science. When speaking in scientific terms, the closed explanation is the concept of addiction.  Alcoholics Anonymous defines addiction “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. […] It is characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over […], preoccupation with […], use of […] despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial .”

Basically, if one is genetically prone to addiction, it will take hold relatively easily given the proper psycho-social and environmental pre-cursors. In other words, in a genetically prone person, anything can cause addiction.

So, based on this, social media can mutate into an addiction. Just like alcohol, drugs, food, etc.

There are some who continue to argue that the use of the word addictive is unwarranted and too extreme when discussing the effects of social media. They would argue that to be addictive, the activity must pervade and negatively alter the quality of everyday life. They would argue, as well, that even the thought of the activity must be constant and injected into all facets of everyday life. They would argue that social media is not a physical thing, like alcohol or drugs.

They are all wrong. More and more over the past decade, psychology and the social sciences have found through research that addiction is not so much about what tool is being used to feed the addiction, but more about the brain chemicals generated by that tool.

Those chemicals are called endorphins.  Endorphins  are the natural “feel good” agent for the human body. A personal drug. They are produced by the pituitary gland, and other parts of the body and brain. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain to block pain and control emotion. Endorphins can be produced from any activity, any element, that interacts with the body. As long as that activity or element, that tool, results in an endorphin-rush, there is a potential for addiction.

And, more importantly, as each body is different by God’s design, each person will get an endorphin-rush from different tools. The tool is irrelevant if it creates the endorphin-rush, and particularly if the body or person has impaired control over that choice.

Enter social media…

What social media outlet gives you your endorphin-rush? There are so many options, so many available tools.

What parts of those tools give you the greatest rush? And why?

The other camp that I found interesting is the psychological camp. Psychologists have a theory, based on Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. In Introduction to Psychology classes in college, we all learned about B.F. Skinner’s theory, which states that behavior that can be reinforced tends to be repeated; whereas, behavior that cannot be reinforced tends not to be repeated.

Makes sense. Rats do it; monkeys do it; dogs do it. Why not us humans?

Modern day psychology has extended that understanding through research and observation. There is now a term called “intermittent variable reward”. This term also encompasses the concept of behavior repetition as a result of reinforcement. However, it indicates that behavior is more likely to be repeated based on irregular reinforcement and not constant, predictable reinforcement.

In other words, you are more likely to do something when you are not sure if you will get a reward but you know you might (based on past experience) than when you are sure that you will always get a reward.

Do you see the parallels with social media like Facebook, WordPress, and any other social media outlets? Faceless places where you put an opinion, blog post, image, or comment out there and wait to see how many people like or comment.

Sound familiar? You are not sure if anyone will acknowledge, or even care. But the curiosity and need to connect compels you to keep logging in, checking, posting.

When this compulsion impacts daily life is when the addiction label can be applied. The concept of the quality of the impact, whether negative or positive or neutral, is relative to how much the other facets in life are affected by the repetitive engagement.

A topic for another post…

© 2010-2012 Kimberly Bluth or Kimberly Yoss. All rights reserved. No part of this online publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior approval from Kimberly Yoss (Bluth).


6 thoughts on “Social Media Overload

  1. Raunak says:

    I love the concept of intermittent variable reward. Am tempted to try it out in my organization!
    a great post indeed!

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