On Dopamine Hijacking

Yet another study shows a correlation between social media usage/screen time and teenage depression. The negative effects and social complexities related to social media continue to grow. While correlation certainly does not imply causation, there has yet to be a credible study showing an opposite relationship between social media usage and mental health.

The recent disowning of Facebook’s impact on society by its former executives has received a lot attention, with former company president Sean Parker stating that Facebook’s newsfeed and ‘like’ system are a “social validation feedback loop that exploits how human brains work.” The studies of negative effects and rising criticism even forced Facebook itself to admit that usage of it leads to a deterioration in mental health. The principles of dopamine hijacking are not reserved for Facebook, but social media as an industry. Toss in the fake news echo chamber effect, and the cost of social media quickly outweighs its benefits. An extreme example of this is taking place in Myanmar, where Facebook is the platform for spreading the call for genocide.

Social media is not a zero-sum game. There are positive benefits to it, as Facebook was quick to counterpoint in addressing its negative effects. A friend of mine who knows of my dislike for social media will often let me know when he has a nice experience online, or is able to better stay in touch with an acquaintance through social media. These are good experiences, and show the benefits of social media. Individuals may be able to use social media well, and its benefits on a micro-level are often indisputable. But on the macro-level of culture, the costs are clear: deteriorating mental health, increased division, decreased exchange of ideas, and enhanced spreading of misinformation.

Technology and its effects are not neutral, nor are advancements in information technology always beneficial. The use of tablets and laptops in primary education has had no notable effect, and laptops for collegiate note taking have a negative effect. There is a reason the leaders of Silicon Valley minimized or barred screen exposure with their kids. Technology, like social media, is not a zero-sum game. It needs to be treated not as an absolute good or evil, but their revolutionary transformative effects on society and individuals need to be soberly recognized, which in turn should lead to decreased usage.