Sense and Sensibility of the Social Media Experience

Facebook, is now the communication scaffold of our lives. Built on the internet, mobile devices and algorithms – it houses a growing family of 1,368 million daily users.

Targeting our human weaknesses, conditioning our behaviour it continues to reconfigure how we communicate, advertise, hook-up, break-up, do business, vote, entertain each other, shop, learn, play, challenge and so much more.

Good or bad it is a societal infusion so significant that life without Facebook is looking strange. A future without Facebook has become inconceivable!

Can we conceive of Life without Facebook?

Earlier this week the former vice-president of Facebook openly stated that he regretted setting up the structure because – regardless of what we may think Facebook is now undoable.

With the writing on the wall and Facebook and social media definitely here to stay, we continue to see the rollout of Artificial Intelligence based on the Big Data that social media collects and feeds back into the AI systems. We are starting to see the next generation of permutations now and moving forward we confront a future where it is truly fused with our lives.

It’s not just a kids thing anymore – One wonders about the inclusion and the intrusion of Facebook into our lives. Indeed it’s quite a concern to some, because – if it hasn’t happened on Facebook it hasn’t happened.

As people are becoming aware – we are starting to see conversations around the development and design of Facebook.

Within the Ten years that we as a society have had access to this technology we have seen it’s exponential growth and with that has come to a fusion with our social norms the like of which has never been seen before. Perhaps it is time to assess the social impact this form of media is having on our lives. What we need to understand is that we are actually in control of this relationship at least in terms of how we choose to engage.

What is emerging, are conversations around the design of Facebook, how it was designed, why it was designed the way that it was. How its design is based on a menu designed to curtail choice and to steer those choices that we do make – some of this is normal program limitations, and some of the aspects have predatory undertones. As well as the perpetual advertising which is arguably selected specifically to target human frailties in order to generate sales and the pressure that keeps us engaged in that social media space.

Remember it is predominantly a marketing tool first and foremost. Attention from eyeballs watching those screens and clicks from those twitching fingers are what allow Facebook to make money and grow, to behave as it does and to continue to evolve.

How did it become so wedded to our lives?

Social Media is a great communication tool and it is being used to great benefit throughout the community. The Educational community has taken to social media and it is now widely used by teachers and students as well as school principals and school administrators. Many government and non-profit organisations use it to keep large numbers of people informed about activities, they run forums to garner support and gather opinion.

Social Media has proven itself worthwhile as a modern innovation that speeds up communication, connecting people in remote locations and in isolated communities. Indeed, it has become such a part of our lives that people announce Births, Deaths, Marriages and Engagements, all sorts of personal events from our lives.

And it is this very thing – communication, for which social media was designed, that makes it seem not only pervasive but an invasive entity within our society.

Users are constantly prompted to make casual connections and many make friends that they would not have necessarily chosen for themselves, clicking just because it has been suggested and it’s easier to move on.

With Facebook there is an emphasis on impulse, a constant pressure is generated that does not give one time to consider the decision at hand. There is always the subtext to “hurry up, you know how quickly things can change”, this frequently causes confusion, as nothing ever gets completely thought through or resolved and for some, this can be disconcerting.

These subtle pressures are how Facebook frames our experience and what we need to do is unpack some of that for people, deconstruct the phenomena so we can understand how social media operates and we can make competent decisions about how we choose to use it.

Whether by accident or design, quite often users of Social media are confronted by social pressures designed to encourage groupthink, consensus and other psychological properties that tend to manufacture public opinion. To some extent, the trends in Fake News are a logical by-product of these behaviours.

Many people are addicted to news and Social Media is fantastic for news. Recently it has taken a few criticisms of current trends in fake news, predatory and bad advertising practices as well as other forms of informational pollution.

I think there has been a bit of a public reaction against the information overload recently with a move toward genuine newsworthy content in the hands of competent responsible journalists and editorial professionals. With the capacity of Social Media to influence and manufacture public opinion – it is really important to maintain the integrity of our information flow.

Has Social Media technology in fact been designed to maximize the potential from human frailty?

Make no mistake there are undoubtedly as many Pros as there are Cons with social media – and much of the conversation about social media itself comes with a negative bias.
A bad story, as they say, makes for a great headline and news travels very quickly across all platforms of today’s media.

Many different technologies have dovetailed into what we now recognise as Social Media. We have mobile technologies, the internet, and Apps that all collectively come together to empower individuals as creators of content allowing them to share it with anyone who can connect.

The technology is engineered to be highly appealing to both our senses and our sensibilities. It has all come together beautifully but you have to remember that what is sitting in your pocket – is like a little poker machine and every bit as addictive.

The addictive nature of social media – what part of our brains or our minds gets addicted to social media?

As people we constantly seek belonging, we seek validation from peers, from society and Facebook has been very smart in their design because they particularly prey on the elements of human nature that make us feel like we belong.

Biological Research has shown that when we do receive tokens of validation we get a little hit of Dopamine to our brains and this is what keeps our eyes on the screen, subconsciously chasing that feel-good-buzz that helps us feel connected and this is why we do it.

Facebook is, when all is said and done, a marketing device and is modelled to take full advantage of human weaknesses. They also conduct marketing in more traditional ways too – rewarding certain behaviour, presenting awards for hypothetical milestones of engagement and generally gamifying the experience.

As Facebook progresses we see they have moved on from the simple humble like button to be able to express a whole range of emotions to a given piece of content. So their traditional little feedback loop, set up to provide that token of recognition, whether good or bad delivers the Dopamine and the user will in turn experience some kind of emotional response and feel inclined to make a reply or respond and the cycle goes on round again.

Another example of these impulses is what we term Vanity Metrics, which are basically Likes and the Number of Friends you have connected with. This also feeds into the social validation, popularity and self-esteem but the value of these vanity metrics is largely based on perception and are no true indication of anything.

The Vanity Metrics of more likes and more friends have become almost like a monster that we must keep feeding – it is has become that one-stop communication shop and it is proving very hard now to gain some control over it, people seem to be having trouble with that particularly teenagers.

So how best to use social media in a positive way while minimising it’s darker aspects – Are there rules that we as individuals can put in place?

There are some really good simple rules that people can put in place – and questioning the validity of Facebook friendships is a good way to start. I have seen large groups of people on Facebook purging their friend lists.

The benchmark of communication has to be a face-to-face conversation. Nothing ever beats a face-to-face conversation. It is the starting point of communication, we may use technologies to extend that communication and as wonderful as the technology seems, it applies limits to communication and that tends to be a dehumanizing characteristic.

A face-to-face conversation has to be the optimum form of communication, the whole data source is right in front of you, unedited and candid, spontaneous yet reserved. Being in front of a person while having a conversation provides a much richer communication experience than anything that can be transmitted – having said that video conferencing comes close but is a much smaller sector of Social Media.

Putting some boundaries on context and the use of social media can be another strategy that we can employ. I think having a valid context for social media use is a critical parameter to using social media responsibly – it is a very good question to ask yourself – what is the context for social media in your own personal life?

Social media is one of the most efficient methods for connecting people over long distances. Social media bridges the tyranny of distance beautifully allowing people to share all the details of their lives and that is one of its strengths.

But it can be difficult to define some of these parameters in your personal life because the tendency is to use mobile devices for business, your friends as well as your personal life. The danger occurs in this blurring of personal interest and professional interest. Most people are not really aware that a distinction needs to be made, but in the context of social media, where the user is the product and the device is by default always turned on, it is vital to make this distinction when approaching social media use responsibly. It really is about taming the beast – and we are each our own beast.

Are we likely to see a whole generation of young people who become quite disconnected socially? Is there then a risk or potential for increases in self-harm and/or suicide?

There could be some real risk – there are some wonderful programs going on in the education space and there really are some things that we should address. There are three core things that are really important to adapt to the changes that social media represents in our lives.

In looking at extreme forms of behaviour such as self-harm and suicide …

The First is Prevention – there are an enormous amount of preventative programs going on out there through the education sector, search and hashtag search in and around CyberBoy.

The Second thing is that we need some really positive role models in place – and we really need to push back at those who are not positive role models, let them know through social media that their behaviour is socially unacceptable.

The schooling sector is a fantastic space – to role model – and in community-driven uses of something like Facebook. I have seen it connect Indigenous communities, multi-lingual communities, remote outback communities, people overseas – it builds identity and underpinning that is a really strong set of values centred around why we do what we do.

And the Third thing is parents – we need parents to lift their heads out of the sand and accept the challenges of educating their children in the world in which they are growing up in.

I hear a lot of – “ooh that social media thing it’s just taking over everything” – well we could easily allow those negative feelings of fear and change to paralyse us but it’s not going anywhere and there are a lot of positive aspects that come with social media.

 

Taken from a transcript of an interview between Pete Dillon for Noosa FM and the Social Media Sociologist – Peter Sutton of Kai Ming Consulting on the 2017-12-14.

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