The flattening of emotion: is overreliance on social media damaging to the human psyche?

8 years, 5 months ago

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The manner in which we share information via social media has dulled our emotional responses, increasingly numbing us to atrocities and distancing us from the things that really matter. By Tarek Lasheen.



Social media penetration in Egypt is a staggering 68.21% of total online population (Facebook focused). People spend more time browsing their friends’ profiles than actually engaging in conversation or meeting with them face to face. 

As more and more time is spent viewing the countless status updates, shares and likes, life becomes flat and with it we see a flattening of humanitarian feelings. Reflecting on personal experiences, news of Syria´s massacres and the sad loss of hundreds has become equal to news of newborns and birthdays; as the reaction on Facebook for both negative and positive activities is "Like" and "Share".
 
Let´s study what is meant by "Like" and "Share" for a moment. In the not so distant past, "Like" used to express our enjoyable agreement with an action. It used to stand for our support and consent to people´s certain doings which matched our emotional state at that time and hence our approval. "Share" has always been going that extra mile beyond liking; it´s the affirmation and unity in both action and emotion on that particular activity to the extent that a person wants to show their audience their full support (or ultra-dislike in some cases, like rival political parties’ supporters sharing each other´s current news, however rare). 
 
Due to current events and world turmoil in certain areas, I have personally observed time line browsers shifting between the various types of news from everywhere and I have watched their emotions, notably their facial expressions, the occasional nod of agreement or disagreement and smirks on a meme comment here and there. Over time those reactions have flattened and a view of a kid´s dismembered figure in a civil war has been equalled in emotions with a birthday photo of another friend´s birthday party just above the previous post. 
 
Damage to the psyche
 
My fear is that the very recent anomalistic evolution in social engagement such as Facebook and its ‘alikes’ are causing more harm to the human psyche. Are the new Social media flushing away what used to be genuine human expressions towards anger, hatred, laughter and joy; removing all the hard, bold lines between them in an instant; turning all of them into the blandness of flash cards that have no meaning in the reader´s mind?
 
For self-experimentation (which can be applied to others as well), have an internet connected laptop ready and ask one of your friends to log online to their Facebook page.  Let them go through their timeline and watch their reactions. Guaranteed results will vary from user to user according to the time they spend online and how much they get involved and interact with their friends online. However, for the majority who are spending much of their time online, a stiff upper lip will be the expected sentiment expressed. 
 
A further interesting experience would be to share two different stories at two different ends of an emotional string that are not too far apart in time. It would be fascinating to see how your followers interact to those two stories differently. This is a matter which, if it were to be exhibited to a psychiatrist 10 years ago, would have puzzled, confused and perhaps would have led him to mistakenly classify that person as schizophrenic. 
 
A messy blend of emotions
 
Another question that poses itself here: why do people like statuses that inform on other people’s death? What does "like" mean in this sense? Would it be, I feel for you? I am sad for your loss? Or is it really, good riddance and you had it coming? What would it mean for the person who is mourning his lost one when he reads, John Morgan likes your status: "My Dad just passed away, may he rest in peace". What a messy blend of human emotions that is. 
 
We need to evaluate the role social media plays in shaping the human psychology. What and how news gets shared and how all are the key players in building the blocks that constitute people´s characters. 
 
In the past, it was far more predictable in terms of when and how we shared news stories. If we wanted to know what is happening in the world we watched the news; birthdays and newborn babies were celebrated and introduced by people first-hand, and we all shared emotions through the transfer of information from one person to the other. 
 
Now a side bar tells us whose birthday is it today and even gives us the opportunity to bulk wish all of those born on the same day a happy anniversary. Instead of valuing the smile and firm handshake, a new quantitative form of appreciation has risen (how many of my 700 friends list wished me a happy birthday vs. who really cared and wanted to be there by my side?). 
 
Time and distance
 
Although not so dark a picture, the fact is that time has becoming tighter and distance plays a crucial role in our interaction with our friends. The true question to ponder here is how to reap the benefits of such a powerful upscale neo-power giant like Social Media without all these negative effects it can have on us.
 
It would be ignorant to overlook the positives of social sharing irrespective to the polarity of emotions subscribers’ exhibit. However, if there is one true fact, it is the certainty that for each action there is an opposite reaction equal in force yet opposite in direction. And in this particular case one can only pose and wonder what the antonym of social sharing on the internet is. 
 
Would it be social warfare like the very recent example of targeted organized attacks performed by "Anonymous" which social media played an important role in defining and structuring or will it be something completely different? Only time can tell.  
 
 
Thought Leader Profile
Tarek Lasheen, Public Relations Director, Memac Ogilvy & Mather Egypt.
 

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The Author

Tarek Lasheen

Tarek Lasheen, Public Relations Director, Memac Ogilvy & Mather Egypt.

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