Part I: How Did Social Media Become King?

Part I: How Did Social Media Become King?

This is the first of a two-part series covering two sides of Social Media with the first part exploring social media and what it actually does for us (cognitive function, social experience, etc).  The second part, which will be out in another week, will analyze self-infatuation and how social media is ultimately the culprit.


It’s 10am on a Monday and you’re at work.  Coffee cup half full, inbox overflowing with emails, and Greg can be overheard telling everyone a funny story from the weekend.  Your phone sits haphazardly in the same spot you place it every morning with about 87% battery life left because you spent the 30-minute commute spying on what Tracy did this past weekend. However, you are paying no attention to it now.  Then, suddenly, your phone buzzes because someone liked your Instagram post that you made yesterday.  Immediately, your attention shifts and you are in the world of Instagram scrolling deeper and deeper until you realize almost 20 minutes have passed and you didn’t print out those TPS reports your boss Bill Lumbergh, requested on his desk 10 minutes ago.  It’s only 10am and you’ve already checked every social media app on your phone around 4 times according to a study by Mobile Advertising Watch (average person checks 17x per day). Additionally, according to Deloitte, you have clicked your phone from sleep to awake just to “check-in” at least a dozen or so more times (average person checks 55x per day, respectively).  So, the burning question is “why?”

According to a study by the University of Salford, U.K., a whopping 67% of surveyed users said that they are afraid they will miss something if they don’t check it – the FOMO struggle is real.  While 50% of users said social networks made their life worse, 66% lose sleep after spending a substantial amount of time on social networks, and 25% have reported relationship problems because of it.  So, again, uhh… why do we do this to ourselves?  Two-thirds of the population says X is giving them sleeping problems, but refuse to truly give up X.  You can say “I’m giving up (insert network here)” all you want, but deep down, you know you will either A) cave and be back on tomorrow or B) supplement that time gained with another social network.  This is all because of one word… comparison.  We want to compare our lives to others and we want to know that our lives are better than others.  Social media has blown the doors wide open on this and dually taken the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” and turned it into “Keeping up with the Joneses, Smith’s, William’s, and Miller’s”.

According to a Harvard study, when a participant would post something about themselves on social media, it would activate their Nucleus Accumbens portion of their brain.  Let me guess, “Uhhh.. What??”  [Warning: Science jargon.  Can skip] Your Nucleus Accumbens is part of the Basal Ganglia which has important control over things like cognition, learning, and… motivation.  The Nucleus Accumbens makes up a smaller part of the Basal Ganglia and is the hub for your brain’s “reward system”.  The Nucleus Accumbens is the reason why you are happy when you eat, and can get addicted to things like drugs or exercise.  [End of science jargon] When activated positively, it triggers dopamine neurons to fire off like champagne corks at a party.  Essentially, it’s the party boy part of your brain.  The interesting thing though is that the levels don’t rise only when being rewarded.  They rise whenever you experience something that is positive (dopamine) OR negative (serotonin).  See you’re better than Tammy on Facebook?  Great, keep it up!  See you’re worse than Debra on Instagram?  Grrr, I must get better!  It’s all motivation and it’s all a tangled web of motivation mixed with rewards.  This is the exact reaction that cultivates compulsiveness.  So, then again, maybe it’s not the party boy part of the brain?  Further studies of your Nucleus Accumbens has shown that it plays a role in depression.  In 2010, scientists reported that deep brain stimulation of the Nucleus Accumbens was successful in decreasing depression symptoms of 50% of patients who didn’t respond to other treatments.  This signifies the importance this part of your brain plays regarding the overall health of your being.  In a study that focused on eighth graders usage of social media, the researchers found that eighth graders who were heavy users of social media increased their risk of depression by 27%.  Meanwhile, eighth graders who played sports, or participated in non-phone using activities saw their chance of depression drop by almost half.

Social media is a trade-off.  You gain self-comparison abilities, but you also gain a possibility for depression.  Do they equal out?  No.  Self-comparison knows no bounds and you simply cannot keep up with all your friends.  This realization strengthens the depression systems and can sometimes send you into an out of control nose dive.  So next time, when you post something with intent to get all of the “likes”, we hope you are a little more aware of the double-edged sword you are wielding.

Stay tuned for Part II: Self-Infatuation


By Brian Flick



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