Sharing our meals, style, routine, work, relationships, friendships, opinion exercises, likes, and lives has become so normal, it’s now compulsive. We joke that if you didn’t post it, it didn’t happen. But what if one day, you went to post your beautiful meal on Instagram and you can’t find the app. Anywhere. There is also no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. This can’t be happening. Social media has disappeared. Would there be chaos? How would communication change? How would your brain change?
Social media is a huge part of everyday life, with those 16 to 24 years of age spending 3 hours a day, on an average using social media. At this age, if we live to our old age, we’ll end up spending seven years of our entire lives on social media. And it’s an amount expected to rise with younger generations. It would be a rough wake up call to lose connections and friends that were solely based on social media apps like Instagram. You would immediately feel disconnected, uninformed, and lost. Your brain would also be going through some major withdrawal symptoms. Using social media releases dopamine through the Ventral Tegmental Area of the brain or VTA, it’s the same neurotransmitter that releases those good feelings when you win a lottery, make love, or eat junk food. It makes us feel wonderful, at least momentarily, and the continuous craving keeps us coming back for more.
Social media is a drug and many of us are willing addicts. The VTA evolved in humans as a social tool, helping us in learning good behavior from bad. Now, the same chemical response once prompted by a real-life-friendly hug or celebration for personal achievement is triggered by virtual likes, or hearts or comments. Yet social media can make us feel the opposite of happy. The fear of missing out(FOMO), anxiety, jealously, insecurity, and needing instant approval from others, these are all impulses that increase with social media use.
So, while your brain is going through withdrawal, you’ll also be discovering what it feels like not to have to be connected all the time, which could be pretty refreshing. Just remember we did survive with no media for millennia. One of the first platform Friendster, came online in 2002, followed two years later by Facebook. It wasn’t until 2005, that YouTube changed our world. You still have e-mail and Google, so not all is lost, texting and calling still exist, so staying in contact with friends and family just requires a little more effort. You might begin reading books and magazines again, something needs to fill that void where influencers opinion used to be. You’d also have to get news the old-fashioned way without the filters of algorithms, which means you would be better informed. More than half of the world population get some form of news from social media, but platforms such as Facebook or Twitter do not have the ethical requirements of traditional journalism. The information on social media channels is not fact-checked, leaving it up to you to figure out what is credible and what is simply an opinion or worse a complete lie.
However, the actual good news is that you might get to know your neighbor, the lack of social media could bring physical communities closer since there isn’t the online option anymore.
We have a complicated relationship with social media, it has the potential to be both highly positive and very negative. In the global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, social media became one of the only ways people could reach out to each other, during nationwide lockdowns. It brought comfort, connection, and entertainment during a difficult time. But at the same time, it also spread miscommunication about the virus.
Social Media is not disappearing any time soon, but it would be worthwhile for your mental health to consider how much time you spend on social platforms, then spend less, there is probably even an app for that.