by Annabelle Wang ’22
Published Mar. 3rd, 2021
With more and more people sourcing their news from social media, apps like Instagram and Twitter have become fast-paced broadcasts of the world’s every twist and turn. News feeds show a clutter of five-second glimpses of environmental disasters, war, poverty, the pandemic, and corruption. People of opposing political viewpoints both clamor for equal access to freedom of speech and press, regular civilians point fingers at high-ranking government officials… and it becomes harder and harder to believe that the human race will not destroy itself in the near future.
Yet, one step back from this whirlwind of information is all it takes to be more present in life and find new sources of refreshment. A study about cognitive control in media multitaskers found that heavy social media users appeared less capable of focusing on immediate tasks, proving that we indeed sharpen our perception of reality and filter out distractions better without media’s constant jabbering.
Another study about the effects of media usage on the brain’s functions demonstrated that higher cell phone use is connected to fast reaction times and low accuracy rates in high-level cognitive tasks. This is because cell phone usage is positively related to intuitive thinking, or whatever thought materializes spontaneously, and negatively related to analytical thinking. In the context of the media, which claims a large chunk of people’s screen time, a weakened capacity to think analytically causes people to engage more in compulsive, pointless arguments.
One such example is cancel culture, or intolerance taken to extreme levels. Social media is the perfect battleground for poorly informed arguments about someone’s thoughts. Topics range from racism to which politicians a celebrity supports. Either way, the trigger for the barrage of insults is usually a single post that frames just one aspect of a person.
Clearly, the media prevents people from seeing a situation’s full context. The truth is, social media companies don’t prioritize the quality of posts on their interfaces. They want to increase views, build their user base, and bring in profits. Guillaume Chaslot, an Artificial Intelligence engineer who helped create YouTube’s Recommended bar, said that his project’s executives wanted “to maximize watch time at all cost. To just make it grow as big as possible.” And growing big meant growing, in any shape or form.
Gone are the days of seeking to fully understand other people’s perspectives. Today, when people encounter a post of something they don’t understand, they freak out, maybe cuss a little, and begin shaming and blaming to gain control over whatever it was that seemed so horrifying.
The reason is speed. Media simply moves too fast for people to sit down and discover why the person they disagree with posted that sentence, or what will happen next after a dispiriting global event. The next posts are already lined up a scroll away, and the clock is ticking on SnapChat and Instagram stories.
Social networks have been redefined by the media’s capacity to communicate and connect. But if society continues to grow on social media without taking a step back to reassess how media is used, the world’s development is doomed to be stunted.