IT is an epidemic that has stealthily infected us over the last decade. Its tentacles have crept into our organs colonising our every move, decisions, even thoughts. Whether it is twittering in our inner ears, smiling or screeching from a smart-phone, I-pad, I-pod, laptop, desktop, social media inhabits our lives like the plague did in the medieval cities of Europe during the fourteenth century.
Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram, social media controls our lives. It is like a drug that puts us to sleep and wakens us up; it accompanies us on our walks and runs, coffee breaks and gym workouts, dinner dates and work appointments. We get jittery if we forget to take our daily dose, check our updates, change our profile pic, share our latest thoughts about what we ate for breakfast, what the dog did before his breakfast, what the cat did to the dog while he was flaked out in front of the fire after his breakfast.
A Harvard University study throws some benevolent light on why we have been seduced and become addicts of cosmic cruising.
The researchers learned that ‘the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex’. (Scary, isn’t it?)
Experiments on the study’s participants, who were hooked up to MRI machines, showed that the regions of the brain associated with rewards were strongly engaged when talking about themselves, and not so engaged while talking about other people.
Oh! but if the endemic effects of this virus were only to make us want to talk about ourselves or as the band Blur recently observed in an interview that millennials can be defined as ‘the Selfie generation’.
So enslaved are we by this modern-day disease, which we think makes us cool and sophisticated, we repeatedly smile and pose, pout and grin into its dictatorial digital maw, like cheshire cats high on happiness. Except, by many accounts, it doesn’t make us happy.
Cosmic cruising makes us grumpy when we are brought back to earth with a bang. It can transform us into delusional escape artists who will, undoubtedly make a lot of lawyers, medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists very rich in the future.
Sourness of social media
IN her Irish Times column last week, Una Mullaly, mused about the fact that in future years there would be studies written about ‘the moment social media turned sour, the point where it stopped being about free hugs and backslapping and became more a pit of rage’.
She rightly observes that: “Narcissism has always been the fuel in the social media engine but recently there is a sense of things tipping over into surreality. The idea that we’re ‘being ourselves’ on social media is now quaint. It was always a construct but it’s beginning to feel like a parallel universe.”
Mullaly quotes a friend who recently said of the lure of social media: “I want my brain back.”
What a good idea. Perhaps it is time to start a campaign, like the smoking ban. No more texting, sexting or emailing in public places! Can you imagine the fall-out?
All one needs to do it trawl the comment threads after opinion pieces in any of our newspapers to become concerned about this new form of discourse. Under the anonymity of an avatar, enraged, fulminating, seething remarks are made about anything from Joan Burton’s temporary incarceration in her car by water protesters to Paul Murphy’s height or Donald Trump’s toupee.
But it is not only people who have chosen to lead public lives who are the victims of such diatribes and abuse. Everyone and anyone seems to be fair game in this shady world where hysteria and outrage dominate.
Where has all this anger come from? Are we part of some vicious and viscous social and cultural virus that has been spawned because of the high expectations created by the all-intrusive media? The earth will hardly stop turning on its axis if we plug out for a few hours each day.
Time to turn off our phones, disconnect the wifi and reconnect with ourselves. (Breathe slowly.)