Social Media is the New Smoking

In The Guardian yesterday, Sean Parker, one of the founders of Facebook, has said that they knew they were creating something which could explore the “…vulnerability in human psychology”, when they were constructing how to make Facebook more appealing.

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Parker goes on to say how they exploited customers by using a ‘dopamine effect’. According to Science News for Students:

Dopamine also helps with reinforcement — motivating an animal to do something again and again. Dopamine is what prompts a lab animal, for instance, to repeatedly press a lever to get tasty pellets of food. And it’s part of why humans seek out another slice of pizza. Reward and reinforcement help us learn where to find important things such as food or water, so that we can go back for more. Dopamine even affects moods. Things that are rewarding tend to make us feel pretty good.

And Psychology Today said in in 2012:

Of course, sad stories or trying moments are shared too, but the goal there is to get viewers to secrete oxytocin, the “love hormone,” and elicit their help. Feeling supported during times of crisis helps mitigate the pain caused by the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people.

The Guardian goes on to say:

He explained that when Facebook was being developed the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content.

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

But what does all this mean for media students? Consider Parker’s quote of, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It’s clear that the primary function of Facebook is business facing but that shouldn’t be a surprise to us. It’s the strange place of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in which we find ourselves. We know Facebook and other social media companies are based on an economic model and that they have no real obligation to make our lives better yet we somehow choose to forget all that and jump head first into the abyss. There are many reports of how social media is harmful to our mental health and yet we keep scrolling by, keep double-tapping for love and retweeting that hilarious meme.

It’s almost as if social media is the new smoking. We know it’s bad for our health but we choose not to think about it. We choose instead to keep puffing away, willingly harming our self-esteem, attention span and understanding of the world around us. Got a light?

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Podcast: Jack Brown on Maths

In this episode I have coffee with award-winning maths teacher, Jack Brown. It’s a really fascinating insight into the mysterious mind of a maths teacher. By the way, you can find his amazing YouTube Channel here.

Cats on a Treadmill

Media in the Online Age

Facebook and online media in general often claims that thanks to the World Wide Web we are connecting with each other and making greater communities. However, more and more research is suggesting that in fact the opposite is happening. Companies like Facebook are actually atomising society and encouraging an ‘Echo Chamber’ effect on our fundamental ideas, values and beliefs.

In a recent article on Tech Crunch, Jon Evans argues that

At Facebook’s scale, behavioral targeting doesn’t just reflect our behavior, it actually influences it. Over time, a service which was supposed to connect humanity is actually partitioning us into fractal disconnected bubbles.

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A New Statesman article outlines how the Echo Chamber is linked to the recent decision for Britain to leave the European Union:

Social networks – and echo chambers specifically – might be partly to blame. A study carried out last year, entitled “The spreading of misinformation online”, revealed their concerning effects. According to Michela del Vicario, a co-author of the study, echo chambers are “closed environments, inside of which users are not reached by contrasting information”.

And The Independent even claim that social media Echo Chambers are in part to blame for the rise of Donald Trump’s success in the United States of America:

Instead of trying to reach out and understand why people felt moved to vote for Trump, too many admonished them. We retreated to our echo chambers, where we bellow our opinions at people who are already in agreement and enjoy having them repeated back to us. Our prismatic view of public opinion through tailored social media feeds not only hid from us the confused, angry people we needed to try and reason with, but it gave us a warped view of their motives. And this is where it gets particularly scary: Trump voters are fully aware he is sexist and xenophobic, they just don’t care.

But what is the answer? Should we all leave Facebook and the Internet for good?

Andrew Keen argues that the Internet is a failed experiment. That the promise of the World Wide Web has not been fulfilled. So, perhaps we shouldn’t abandon it completely but if research is telling us that social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are actually bad for our mental health then surely we should no longer use them?

We can argue that the Internet (and by extension your own social media) is like a mirror. If an idiot looks into it then it is an idiot who peers back. If you redesign how you use social media and the Internet then things can change. One of the most difficult things to accomplish is to navigate through the noise of the Internet. To look past the bigotry, the lies, the fake news and even the cats on a treadmill. To look past all that and to seek out only what makes us better is more  difficult than we think and this, I would argue, is because when it really comes to it, deep down, we don’t care.

It appears that Neil Postman was right when he wrote in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

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And so there it is.

As Adam Curtis says, Oh Dear.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Today is the last official class for A2 Media and whilst I’ll continue to update this blog before your final exam I thought I’d share this video from Steve Jobs.

 

Life Stinks (and that’s ok)

Mock Exam results are almost upon us! This is a critical time of the academic year and how you respond to your result can have far-reaching consequences. So, I’ve made you a short podcast to listen to all about resilience and coping with failure.

The image is taken from that time a seagull crapped on my leg as I was walking to work.

HyperNormalisation

Adam Curtis’ ‘HyperNormalisation‘, available on the BBC iPlayer. 

“We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless migrant crisis, random bomb attacks. And those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed – they have no idea what to do.

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This film is the epic story of how we got to this strange place. It explains not only why these chaotic events are happening – but also why we, and our politicians, cannot understand them.

It shows that what has happened is that all of us in the West – not just the politicians and the journalists and the experts, but we ourselves – have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. But because it is all around us we accept it as normal.

But there is another world outside. Forces that politicians tried to forget and bury forty years ago – that then festered and mutated – but which are now turning on us with a vengeful fury. Piercing through the wall of our fake world.”


This will be a great piece of additional work for you. Not only is it a brilliantly edited documentary with a wealth of found/stock footage montage but it also presents radical ideas. Please watch and then we can all get coffee one afternoon to discuss.