9:17 a.m. The bright sun had woken me up once again. It was a nice start to a special day. No more “like and comment back” Instagram, funny and ugly Snapchats, continuous stream of statuses on Facebook or retweets on Twitter. Those little apps were going to disappear from my phone. I turned on my phone and started my journey one app at a time. They were gone and I was still alive. My day would be spent watching TV and reading instead of mindlessly scrolling and stalking. It was all going well until I felt that itch. The one that made me unlock my phone and press my finger down onto the App Store icon. Within seconds, I found myself once again staring at the little blue bird app and that little camera app. My two favourite apps had reappeared in my life within less than 24 hours. I failed. I couldn’t go twenty-four hours without reading tweets or liking Instagram posts. I was so frustrated and confused. Why couldn’t I give them up? What made me redownload them and fall back into my daily pattern? That is a question I continue to ask myself.
Social media has been a part of my life since I was 14 years old when my mother finally allowed me to get Facebook. Two years late (everyone was already over the Facebook trend) but I was still happy. I could finally post statuses and see what my friends were up to. One by one, “friends” were added. That was the beginning. Then came the Twitter. A few months later, my mother gave me permission to start a Twitter account. And so, the daily scrolls, likes and retweets commenced. The Instagram and Snapchat came next.
Every morning, I wake up, turn on my phone and open that little shutter app. I scroll, double tap and like probably one hundred pictures a day on Instagram. It’s become part of my daily routine to go on social media. It’s rare that I don’t. Social media has become integrated into my life whether I like it or not. But why? How have I let something that is not even a physical entity become such an influence and have such a big presence in my life? I am one to admit that I do spend time thinking of my Instagram captions and editing my pictures just to the way I like them. I’m also guilty of tweeting things just to get retweets and favourites. But that’s what social media’s for, right? Right? It’s to share what’s going on in our lives and it’s a way people can express themselves. So how am I so caught up in this world that does not even focus on my life? Simple. It’s neuroscience. Our brains like it.
According to a study by Paul Zak, going on social media can alter the levels of oxytocin in our brains. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone, known as the love hormone that produces feelings of love and satisfaction. Going on social media can raise your oxytocin levels by as mush as 13%, which is equivalent to the hormonal spike of some people on their wedding day. Similarly, a team of researchers led by Dar Meshi studied the use of social media and brain imaging data. What they found explains why we post on Facebook. The study observed that a region in our brains called the nucleus accumbens, which allows us to have rewarding feelings about food, sex, money and social acceptance, became more active while on social media. We get pleasure out of someone liking our latest status. It’s no wonder we’re all obsessed. Social media makes our brains chemically feel good.
I’ve thought about why I couldn’t do it for a long time. It’s just weird to think that I can’t give up a simple thing that does not improve or make my life easier. It’s quite the opposite. Looking at social media, particularly Instagram allows me to escape. I can start on one person’s page and then end up an hour later, on someone’s girlfriend’s best friend’s boyfriend’s brother’s dog’s Instagram page. It is quite the challenge to keep up. I can see thousands of posed models on the beach in one day, wishing it were I. Looking at social media allows me to escape my reality. My reality consists of not being on a beach in a designer bikini drinking a piña colada and also not having washboard abs. Not only that, it also provides a distraction; a distraction from my life and from studying. I can spend ten minutes studying and then decide I need a break. That break turns into an hour after scrolling through Twitter and Instagram.
“Lab #7: First Draft, take 2”
9:17 a.m. Cozied up in bed with my warm duvet, I opened my eyes to be blinded by the sun. I reached over and grabbed my favorite little device. I pressed down on the power button and my phone lit up. Its brightness caused me to squint as I tapped in the four numbers that would unlock a whole new world to me. But this online world was going to disappear. I held down on each app icon until it started shaking like an earthquake and then, I pressed those little x icons. Goodbye “tap to like” Instagram, Snapchat geofilters, Facebook statuses and retweets on Twitter. I was giving up social media. Mere seconds later, the apps were gone and I was still alive. After four hours of binge watching the O.C., my fingers found themselves unlocking my phone and pressing the App store icon. Within seconds, I was once again staring at the little blue bird app and that little camera app. I was so frustrated and disappointed. Why couldn’t I give up social media for a single day?
Social media has been a part of my life since I was 14 years old when my mother finally allowed me to get Facebook. Two years late (everyone was already over the Facebook trend) but I was still happy. I could finally post statuses and see what my friends were up to. One by one, “friends” were added. That was the beginning. Then came the Twitter. A few months later, my mother gave me permission to start a Twitter account. And so, the daily scrolls, likes and retweets commenced. The Instagram and Snapchat came next. It’s quite rare that I don’t check social media on the daily basis. Social media has become integrated into my life whether I like it or not. A reason for giving it up is that I felt as though I was too caught up in the online world. I spent too much time on those apps and felt like I needed to be more present in my life. According to PEW research center, 90% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media. 59% of Instagram users and 27% of Pinterest users visit these social media sites/apps daily along with 43% of Facebook users who log on several times a day. How can so many people caught up in this world that does not even focus on their own lives? Simple. It’s neuroscience. Our brains like it.
According to a study conducted by Paul Zak, going on social media can alter the levels of oxytocin in our brains. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone, known as the love hormone that produces feelings of love and satisfaction. Going on social media can raise your oxytocin levels by as much as 13%, which is equivalent to the hormonal spike of some people on their wedding day. A test subject of Dr. Zak’s, Adam Penenberg experienced a decrease in the stress hormones cortisol and ACTH by 10.8% and 14.9%, respectively. The release of oxytocin Penenberg experienced while tweeting reduced his stress hormones which might reduce cardiovascular risks, like heart attack and stroke, “[His] brain interpreted tweeting as if [he] were directly interacting with people [he] cared about or had empathy for,” Zak said. Similarly, a team of researchers led by Dar Meshi studied the use of social media and brain imaging data. Their findings explain why we post on Facebook. The study observed that a region in our brains called the nucleus accumbens, which allows us to have rewarding feelings about food, sex, money and social acceptance, became more active while on social media. We get pleasure out of someone liking our latest status. It’s no wonder we’re all obsessed. Social media makes our brains chemically feel good.
Furthermore, a recent study shows that the more time people spent on Facebook, the more they believed that other were happier and general had better lives than them. In fact, for me, this is definitely the case. I spend hours looking at pretty models posing on beaches while I’m at home lying in bed with a bag of popcorn and chocolate. I’m not diving off of cliffs or swimming with pigs in the Bahamas. The most likely scenario is I’m spending Saturday night in bed after a long day of studying. Comparing my lives to those on social media definitely make my life seem so unadventurous and uneventful. I experience so much FOMO that I miss out on what is actually happening in my own life. Social media addiction has been a distraction from my own life. It’s a negative way to live and detaching myself from social media would allow me to focus on my life and not what others have. Having a positive outlook on my life is important and social media has been preventing me from it.
Social comparison is quite common on social media (hence the social part). The social comparison theory states that we determine our self-worth (social and personal) by comparing ourselves to others. We compare our attractiveness, wealth, success and intelligence to others to boost our self-esteem or in some cases, lower it. According to Susan Finch, a psychology teacher at Dawson College, “at a certain age, how you compare to others is so much more important than at a different age. So, for a fourteen year old is very concerned with how they compare so they may feel more addicted. A thirty-four year old may be less bothered by how they compared”. At 18 years old, you’re still figuring out who you are and using social media to compare yourself to others can be detrimental. All it takes is someone’s cute, flawless selfie for you to feel down.
What we perceive on these sites isn’t always true. Last year, Essena O’Neill, an Instagram model, quit social media because social media had created this false image of who she really was. She changed all her Instagram captions to what really went behind the scenes of her pictures where she looked “perfect”. Pictures were strategically taken to show her toned body and the many clothing items she was paid to advertise. Her Instagram was all a lie. It was fake. Clinging to these ideas of perfection from Instagram lowers my self-esteem when, in some cases, what I am seeing isn’t even true. A study found that people on Facebook create their idea selves and the image of more positive life than reality on this platform. We share what we want people to see instead of reality. Many people are guilty of posting those “workout” photos when they haven’t even broken a sweat in their workout gear. Social media can be used as a mask to hide what our lives really look like. Stina Sanders, a London-based model, started posting real pictures on Instagram and as a consequence, she lost thousands of followers. She shared pictures that weren’t glamorous but instead, portrayed real life. Rather than creating a perfect life through her social media, she showed the world her real life.
Now, imagine you’re sitting in class. You’re a few minutes early and you have nothing to do. You can smell the body odors of the previous people in class. It isn’t a pleasant scent. You take out an apple and begin crunching into the fruit. You can hear yourself chewing the McIntosh and so can everyone else you conclude. You sit impatiently for a few seconds feeling bored so you turn to your phone. Your eyes gaze down towards the screen and you click on the little blue bird app, Twitter. You start scrolling through endless tweets and retweets until you realize that the hushed whispers have stopped and class has begun. By the time you realize, it’s too late. The teacher has called on you to put away your device and you feel your face turning beet red. You’re embarrassed because you’ve just been called out. Now, imagine if you hadn’t gone on Twitter and just sat there eating your apple. It would’ve saved you some humiliation. Most often, we get so caught up in the social media realm that we don’t see what’s in front of us. We’re too busy on social media to be present nowadays. How many times have you had to repeat what you said because your friend was busy snapping her boyfriend or typing her latest Instagram caption? We’ve become so attached to something that doesn’t even physically exist. Social media has become a distraction that is taking away from the important things in life. We’ve become addicted.
Addiction does not only encompass drugs and alcohol. It’s the condition that results when someone engages in a pleasurable activity but eventually becomes detrimental to their lives by consuming too much of their time. When I asked Susan about addiction, she explained the mechanism behind it. “The main idea would be about your dopamine receptors and that when you get a burst of dopamine, it makes you feel good…I take something to make myself feel better”, said Mrs. Finch. It’s like when you start eating that tiny sliver of double chocolate cake that you were craving and somehow find yourself with an empty plate of crumbs in front of you an hour later. You can’t stop even though you know that the entire cake contains your daily caloric intake. The same thing applies to social media. We go on Facebook because we release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. It’s a real addiction.