For the open-minded, non-topical internet user...

Monday, 9 December 2013

Social Media Behind The Curtains

Needles stamped with popular social media site's banners.


   Social media - a term burned into the cerebrum of the whole world. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn - you name it - we know it like the back of our hand, some even better. But why is our world revolving around these seductive networks for the past ten years?

As a freelance writer, I do my job in front of the laptop and naturally have an account in most media for one reason or another. Sometimes for professional purposes like to promote my content, other times for information, news and trends, or for creating social networks and meet and befriend new people. I won't lie, I spend a quite few hours a day into social media sites and most of them are logged the whole time while I'm on the computer.

So, an image I saw today poked my curiosity into why am I compelled to maintain these profiles and update my statuses or read other people's, why are social media sites so attractive and how do they keep me coming back? After some thought and going through some materials on studies, here is what my answer is.


Social Networking

A 3d visualization of people standing in circle around a web.
...is not a group of spider-men cosplayers

It's a collection of relationships between us and other people, or groups of people. It's fundamental to human communication and it's been around for as long as we are. An example of a social network is our family - we maintain a relationship between us and each member of our family. And together the family as a whole is social network to us. Clubs, classes, circles of friends are all individual networks which are part of a bigger network - everybody we know of.

These networks allows us to communicate with each other in a very targeted manner. For instance our family and friends will want to know about our personal health or problems. Conveying this information to THEM will result in much higher attention and response than if we told it to the cable repair crew for instance. Another example is the class. The will be much more interested in how prepared we are for the test or if our homework is done than how many channels on the telly don't work correctly.

Now members of different social networks can and will overlap, so a person we know can be part of multiple networks. Our best friend might be our twin sister, who is also in the same class, which makes her a member of three different networks.

Why is this important to the article? Well, every social media is a social network on it's own, which again interact with all others. It is a place people share relevant information to their peers in hopes of response and attention. Also, unlike the family table or the classroom during recess, modern technology allows us to be connected to this network 24/7. We have our computer, our phone and our tablet connected to our accounts and have instant access when and where we want it.

We Are A Narcissistic Species

A man enjoying his reflection in the mirror.
Like... A Lot...

 We like to think the world revolves around us and everybody is interested in our lives. A study called "Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding" by Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell of the Department of Psychology in the Harvard University shows astonishing data about how narcissistic we actually are.

"Humans devote 30–40% of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences."

Of course, the numbers are unique to each individual, but generally, we talk about ourselves more than about anything else. Which is completely stunning to find out gives much justification on why we are updating our statuses constantly.

This information explains why Facebook and Twitter are so popular and so addictive to us. They offer us an easy way to talk about ourselves in the form of status updates and tweets. Furthermore, they feed it directly into our social network AND all that regardless of time or location. Whether niche specific sites like LinkedIn or general topic ones like Facebook, all of them utilize our urges to share our thoughts and the content of our minds.

But why do we urge to talk about ourselves? What makes us do it? Further in the study it's stated:
"Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area."
What this highly sophisticated and term crammed sentence, which I barely was able to comprehend say is we experience pleasure from the act of talking about ourselves - the same pleasure we receive from food or showers or a good massage, only psychological. Simple as that, we like it. And we like it so much, test subjects in the study declined a small sum of money, offered to talk about others, in favour of talking about themselves.

In the United States, psychoanalysts are incredibly popular. What a session with the so called "shrinks" essentially is, is a comfortable room which we enter with our troubled mind. A trained professional then asks a series of questions and leaves us to comment and talk about different topics, mostly ones that are troubling and then summarizes or analyses the answers and gives a conclusion and possible remedy. It's especially effective, because by talking about the problem, patients often conclude to the solution themselves, or if not, they receive disclosure and relief and exit the room refreshed and calm.

Facebook Is Not A Therapist

An image with a sarcastic comment about Facebook
But it's pretty close for some.

The status update bar will always have a standard question inside like "What are you doing?" or "What's on your mind?" It basically acts as a "shrink" on it's own - asks questions and gives the freedom to answer them for as long as we want to. We can say anything to the status update bar. Then, peers will receive the notification and ask further questions, support us and may even analyse and give possible solutions.

While it's not a therapist, the similarities cannot be ruled out and it's not a surprise some people find it a viable way to look for a solution to their problems or just to share out their pain.

How Stuff Works gives the best possible analogy that comes to my mind:
  "sort of like having your own entourage that follows you everywhere, commenting on and applauding everything you do."
And all that comes free of charge and completely available when it's needed. Furthermore, we are no longer limited to words, expression of mind becomes available with photos, memes, videos, games, music and any other media you might think of.

Communication via online methods is much easier than face-to-face for a variety of reasons. Behind the screen we are hidden and protected. Our body language wont give us away like it would in a real time live conversation. We have time to think before answering, which lacks when talking in person. There is little shame and anxiety to limit the communication. And this type of user experience is exactly why social media sites are so brilliant in their design.

Disclosure is the biggest factor for the success of social media, but there are other factors in hand as well.

Information

A girl inhaling the facebook banner written in a drug like substance.
Very similar to coke in taste...not that I know how coke tastes...

It's in our genes to be curious and to crave for more information on our surroundings, including the people we know. Originally as part of our survival instinct, now curiosity is burned deep into our psychology. We urge to know more and a site like Facebook is the perfect place to find information on our acquaintances.

Like everybody know they also relay relevant and fresh information about themselves and form the feed. This feed is like a psychological drug - we want to find out what they are doing, where they are, how they feel and constantly refresh the feed in search of new content. When we have two hundred friends,  for instance, the feed updates so frequently, in order to get through each update we have to spend hours and hours inside the platform.

And when the feed slows down,  we get distractions just to waste a bit of time until it updates again. Facebook offers thousands of different activities to keep us from going away. From games through quizzes to groups and pages which share additional content for us to look at. There is always something we can do inside and exactly because it's impossible to do everything and quit, we spend all our time in and ultimately, become addicted.

Conclusion:

And addict sitting against the wall with facebook written next to him.
"I need to update my status...Just this once and I'm done.."

We're are not wrong to give in to social media addiction, it's in our mentality to find it pleasing and attractive. The developers of the platforms are not to blame either. While they certainly make their millions off of it, they offer us a product and it's up to us how much we use it. We abuse ourselves into craving more and more of the given platform, which is a battle one must win by himself.

I hope it was be as interesting for you to read as it was for me to research and write. Hope you have enjoyed and stay tuned for more from me and Geoff.
Audrey, out.