According to some, today’s technology is negatively impacting our children. Social media in general – and Facebook in particular – has been accused of this on many occasions. But where do the benefits of technology end and the negative connotations begin?
I’m no longer a child, but I have experienced the negative side of technology. I used to write about all things travel-related and slowly but surely became addicted to the (false) praise that I was receiving. When I realized it was happening, even as I became one of Europe’s top travel/restaurant/attraction reviewers for a well-known travel site, I immediately quit reviewing.
The problem was that I was getting a rush from seeing how users reacted to my posts. I stayed glued to the site because I was getting a “little dopamine hit,” as former Facebook CEO Sean Parker puts it, when folks responded to my posts. I was unwittingly becoming part of the “attention economy” that is social media today.
I did so, as Parker points out, “because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever… And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments. It’s a social-validation feedback loop.”
Rather than wean myself off the addiction, I quit reviewing cold-turkey. Being an adult, it wasn’t too difficult to do. However, suppose I was an impressionable kid. What then? The potential damage may not be limited to social media postings. This “brain damage” is not limited to Facebook and social media, certainly. However, for now, the focus is on the addiction of social media postings and what it may be doing to our children’s brains, as well as their productivity levels.
According to a recent article in The Telegraph, brain scans have shown that addiction to Facebook and the internet mirrors that of drug addiction. Research found that Instagram was the worst culprit in terms of impacting young people’s self-esteem. Its negative reach encompassed everything from body image to sleep to fear of missing out.
More than two billion people around the world use Facebook. Users spend approximately 20 minutes a day on the website. However, many spend much more time in the posting-pursuit. I’m sure Facebook will offer counter-arguments to the claims about brain damage and addiction. However, it’s much harder for the company to deny the impact on children’s productivity that the time drain of Facebook usage can have. Parents looking for reasons why their child is somewhat listless (or downright lazy), and why school grades are declining, may find the answer lies here.
Parker is not alone in his criticism and warning. A former Google engineer, Tristan Harris, said on Twitter,
“The race to (the) bottom of the brain stem is not my opinion, it’s the truth – I’m describing how the system works… This isn’t about criticising the tech industry, it’s about (the) urgent need to reform the way the attention economy works.”
That’s scary to contemplate. What is even more worrisome, according to Parker, is that the leaders of Facebook and other social media outlets understood that they were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” yet “did it anyway.” If true (and it clearly looks as if that’s the case), these social media moguls aren’t much better than the Big Tobacco titans who produced cigarettes while knowing they were not only harmful but addictive as well.
Sean Parker had little doubt about the prolific growth prospects of his social media platform, Facebook. He didn’t hide his confidence that it would “hook” users:
“I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”
Such was his confidence level – and such is the powerful pull of the platform.
Opinions are the writer’s own.
Image credit: By Concept Photo/Shutterstock.com