OPINION COLUMNS

Social media fuels compulsive quest for validation

By Joy Carrico | Published Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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I have a friend in graduate school who called me the other night because, she said, she felt like either the world was crazy or she was. As a part of her studies, she works with undergraduate students. She told me that for days she felt like everyone around her was hopped up on something, and there was this feeling of a whole conversation that was going on in which she was not involved.

“It’s like they’re operating on a whole different frequency that I am not tuned into,” she said. “And it’s not something I want because it feels like chaos.”

She described to me how these young adults are truly, frighteningly hooked on their phones. Not the phone itself. The phone is a syringe. It delivers the drug; it isn’t the drug.

The drug is this process of putting themselves out into the world of the social web and getting a response (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.). My friend said, “if they don’t get the exact and IMMEDIATE response that they want, they get really upset about it. They are constantly recording themselves, they are constantly putting these things out there, responding to others and looking for that validation, and if they don’t get it, they act like addicts.”

Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook, gave an interview in the past week in which he said:

“If the thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them … That thought process was all about ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ And that means we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while 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 and it’s a social validation feedback loop. … It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. I just think that we, the inventors, creators, it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom of Instagram. We understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway.”

There have been many exploiters of humanity who built their empires on the backs of slaves. These men are not drastically different in their ruthless disregard for their fellow men in pursuit of their own gains. And I’m sure every generation eventually looks at the younger generation and says, “This is an alien being.” That’s what the generation gap is all about.

But there’s a difference between girls cutting their hair, shortening their skirts and dancing to jazz music and what’s going on now.

Content used to be purchased, edited, fact-checked. We used to know who was behind whatever words we were reading. Information used to cost us money. Facebook, Instagram and the like are free. Well, they are free in the sense that we do not pay a fee to use them.

Anyone can put anything they want on the internet, and the sheer vastness of the content makes it more and more difficult to carefully examine the content we are seeing or to know who provided the information.

Social media has created an atmosphere where people can share, post, repost, retweet and basically distribute anything that strikes their fancy. And for the most part, they aren’t reading it, or at least not carefully. And when it’s reposted by your best friend, you will intrinsically believe the content. Betsy wouldn’t post something untrustworthy, after all.

And it’s all coming at us so fast. It creates an environment where anyone who has the know-how, like, say, the Russians, can create a campaign designed to divide us, and they can succeed.

Also, and more alarmingly to me, people are giving up their personal information to these people. The very nature of social media is that you share yourself online. Even with the most strident of privacy settings, Facebook itself has all this data on you. Everything you’ve shared, posted, commented on, every photo. Everything you put out there is now in the possession of people who, by their own admission, are hackers looking to exploit you in any way that benefits them.

The whole concept of privacy is changing. The undercurrent my friend talked about involved these people documenting every aspect of themselves and publishing it. While they were in the same room, talking, they were also conducting conversations via Snapchat, creating, dual or multi-leveled conversations that seriously complicated their interactions.

And the kids who are currently undergraduates have never known a world without the internet.

So we have this beast called social media that was deliberately designed to suck people in, and it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do. And people are hooked on it. My friend was right that her students were high on something.

Humans have a hard-wired need for belonging and acceptance. Social media, via the syringe-like delivery system of the smartphone, can provide little pings of validation “hits.” The instant hit of a “like” or a comment has the quick-acting effect of a drug and hits at the core of human need: belonging. Like any quick hit, it doesn’t last. The user needs more and more of it to get the same result and not getting it becomes more and more of a problem.

Everything has a price, and I fear what the eventual price of social media will be.

Where is all this taking us? I don’t know. Sean Parker doesn’t know.

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he stated.

I believe that humans are adaptable. People smarter than me will recognize the problem and develop methodologies for dealing with it.

But I do worry that if we don’t look up from our screens soon and notice the development of this addictive undercurrent of information being controlled by ruthless opportunists, we’re going to lose an entire generation to this virtual unreality of false validation and fantasy.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

One Response to “Social media fuels compulsive quest for validation”

  1. This process, how we already know, is going to be much more explosive in near future.
    We are overtaken by advances of technology where definition of humanity is forming new form.

    We are in control if we want to be, or we are crazy if we choose to.

    And this is reality of modern technology stake.

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