While evaluating reviews on the book ‘The Digital Cretin Factory’, by Michel Desmurget, the thought that we are wasting precious time and losing our brain to social media and other smart devices has risen as a reality. Hardly, we ask critical questions about the social relations, and hugs that we had so much missed during the long periods of lockdown.
Nowadays, I see groups of friends walking side by side with their eyes and attention glued to the small screen. The physical proximity becomes irrelevant because individuals are in one’s bubble. Before any hypocrisy labelling appears, yes, I do use social media, and I find it a convenient tool for easy and fast communication.
According to Desmugert, we are facing a state of intellectual stagnation. And I trust he is right, at least to a certain extent. Because the screen itself is not evil but the number of hours spent in front of it is staggering and alarming.
The simple physical contact of holding the smartphone gives a sense of comfort; checking messages frequently are signs that ‘my mobile became my life’ – and without it, something is amiss. This sense of coziness felt just by holding it can become an addiction. Well, people can become addicted to a range of causes – and social media is one of them.
As in many situations, dependence can be explained. And with social networks - including gaming - it is not different. Desmurget refers to cognitive measurement. The emotional effect that dopamine has on the human brain: a chemical messenger that involves reward, motivation, and it releases a feeling of pleasure – the gratification that comes from likes, hearts, and sharing, gives a sense of approval.
Social media is a tool. It can cause a negative impact but also it can bring positive outcomes. Metaphorically, it represents evil and benevolent as one entity. If for one side it opens space for haters, lies, and bullying. On the other hand, it can save lives, provide awareness, real-time information, and develop a sense of identity, and solidarity.
Social networking platforms have been widely used during natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, wildfires, etc. The fast way they operate provides speed communication that saves lives, helps with preparedness, with gathering volunteers. A myriad of benefits. In Oman, as happened with the tropical storm Shaheen, and other storms in the past, social media has proved to be an exceptional tool for communication crisis management.
Nevertheless, there is a need to reflect on another aspect that we have faced recently. The outage of social media platforms brought an outcry around the globe. Conspiracy theories, angry people, and pointing fingers at people, at government, and weather conditions. An outpour of reactions to the failure of ‘my mobile, my life’.
Just a couple of hours without access to various platforms has demonstrated that we are turning into digital zombies, idiots, or ‘cretins’ as Desmugert defines. The sense of fear, panic, and confusion has shaken the globe - all because Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook had a break. The addiction has been tested and confirmed. People – in general – no longer can function without their smart devices.
Our reliance on social media, and other apparatus, has multiple effects. From social behaviour to neurological assimilation, media content creation, business development, but also a channel for humanitarian aid, a tool for education, and countless well-intentional initiatives
Still, the claims that social media or gaming makes us lazy or stupid have nothing to do with technology but with people’s attitudes. This embodiment of the evils and benefactors of our world might even get unhealthier with immersive relations experiences. To better understand where we are heading to, just learn more about the Squid Game and its hidden connotations between forces in life.