Think of technology this way: life on this planet has always revolved around an energy exchange of some sort. A carnivore eats a herbivore, yet the energy of the herbivore’s body returns to the ground to fuel other life forms, including the progeny of the herbivore.
The currency of exchange for a beautiful work of art is typically money.
The transaction that occurs is typically regarded as a fair exchange for raw talent, years of experience and hours and hours of attention and creativity expression, a value that can be subsequently traded (recycled).
With social media, the exchange is often very unbalanced. We give to it (attention, time, ideas, creativity) and we get little more than a dopamine hit in return. It leaves us feeling emptier and more unfulfilled, a bit like trying to fill a bottomless bucket, but we go back for more dopamine. We are turning our youth into dopamine junkies.
According to Charalambous: “The problem is when something looks like it’s going to provide that, but it doesn’t. Now, rather than us stop, what we tend to do is more of it. If somebody doesn’t feel socially accepted, that’s a part of their psyche that’s not fulfilled, they’re going to seek likes.
“The problem is, you know the typical thing on social media when someone likes your post, that will give them a short burst of motivation or enjoyment or pleasure, but it won’t be fulfilling enough because it won’t ever reach that deep part of them.
“So then they’re going to find themselves in that constant cycle. When it comes to adolescents, to be socially accepted is massively important.”
The formal science of evaluating the risks and benefits of social media appears to give the impression of balance. Some identify negative consequences of social media such as cyber-bullying, cyber-racism and issues relating to the exchange of sexually explicit content between minors.
Yet many papers deny or ignore any link between depression, anxiety, social disconnection, low self-esteem, poor self-image or body dysmorphic disorder with the amount of time spent on devices.
That’s despite these effects being frequently cited in the popular press, because they are widely observed, being supported by limited studies. On the contrary, the literature (that often in turn reflects the interests that fund research), frequently bigs up the benefits of digital technologies used almost ubiquitously by our youth.
For example, a recent review reminds us that social media is now the “primary mode of peer interactions and communication among adolescents,” this trend has been further magnified by the Covid-19 era. Another review finds that “social gaming may also increase feelings of connection and sense of community.”
In Indigenous communities, “mobile phones are viewed as an extension of a person and may be shared by family members” whilst “forming community through social media can act as a process of uniting and healing for the Indigenous community,” finds Emma Rice, a researcher at Georgetown University.
Others go as far as saying that isolation in young people is more common among those who are disconnected from digital sources of entertainment and social media. Yet, does social media offer genuine connection, and is a digital connection equivalent to a real-world connection?
Edward Hallowell, Harvard psychiatrist, writes in his paper about the “human moment” to illustrate meaningful connection as “an authentic psychological encounter that can happen only when two people share the same physical space.”
This might have something to do with our improved perception of non-verbal communication when we are in close proximity to one another.
But it may also be linked to the close interaction of proximal human biofields (the electromagnetic field that radiates beyond every living being). With digital technologies, we can all agree that we have connectivity, but perhaps we don’t experience connectedness.
This is the Story of Separation that contemporary thinker and philosopher, Charles Eisenstein, elaborates on in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.
In this story, we are led to believe that we are “separate individuals in a universe that is separate from you as well … you are a bubble of psychology, a mind (whether brain-based or not) separate from other minds and separate from matter.”
Technology of course is just viewed as a further (and inevitable) separation of ourselves from the natural world, with neurotechnologies and AI increasingly being sold to the youth as the champions in this adventure that we must embrace, not reject.
For those not willing to blindly accept this pre-ordained path created by our technocratic “masters,” solutions are unlikely to be found without shining a bright light into the darkness, upon this seemingly unbreakable bond between young people and digital technologies.
As Gabor Mate, renowned addiction expert, has often said, we have to look, not at why the addiction exists, but why we are driven to it when there is often so much pain, and so little gain. Young people with poor social relationships and isolation are more likely to abuse social media and get addicted.
A lack of real-world friends is the primary driver of extended use of social media, which in turn leads to dependency and potential addiction. The solution then must lie in changing our environments and cultures in ways that enhance the quality of our lives, helping young people to develop and nurture a strong sense of real-world connectedness.
With each other, and ideally also with the natural world, a relationship that is also strongly related to improved quality of life.
According to Charalambous: “You’re seeing people more and more unfulfilled and more and more hungry for all the things that we need as a human. We need to feel a part of society, we need to feel like we’re fitting into groups and that we’re socially accepted.
“We need to bond to partners, obviously, social media is causing a lot of problems in that aspect. We need to feel that we’re providing a purpose and we are making an influence on the world. We need to feel safe. It’s about reconnecting back to reality or our perception of it at least.”
As with many addictions, the remedy is often found within the addiction itself and studies are looking at how virtual reality exposure therapy can help treat phobias, high anxiety and addictions. Phone applications such as Calm or Insight Timer can also potentially help young people cultivate mindfulness.
Runaway technologies could be used as positive tools and various “protocols” can help youths and parents alike change their relationship with technology. However, the best, easiest and most accessible remedy is, and always will be, found in nature.
In a world that is increasingly trying to transform us into human-machine hybrids, the remedy must lie in developing a higher level of consciousness of our innate humanness. Building those connections that don’t just trigger a short-term dopamine buzz that needs to be repeated and repeated. But to build a sense of connection and bonding that comes through the release of oxytocin, the love hormone.
Building solid, long-lasting interactions that allow us to build purpose and meaning in our lives. Ultimately allow human transcendence, not posthuman, digital transcendence.
It’s our time to choose and to help bring a wider understanding of the pervasive and potentially destructive nature of digital technologies to those around us, to the youngest members of our families and communities most particularly.
- The Defender report / By Rob Verkerk, founder and executive & scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health and Paraschiva Florescu, mission facilitator of the Alliance for Natural Health International