We live in a world where virtually everything we do is shared online. What we eat. Where we go. How we go. Whom we meet. And so on.
But we only share the best parts or the parts that would gain the most ‘likes’. We avoid sharing the seemingly boring parts of the day. The activities that the world would consider boring. We alter our lives to seem more exciting for the society around us.
Why do we share a glorified version of reality? Because of a little known chemical called Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain. The role of Dopamine is to reward hard work and give you a sense of satisfaction. In the ideal world, we would get a hit of Dopamine when we finish a challenge, complete a project or achieve something after lots of struggle. And it effectively motivates us to seek more of the same. To work harder and to contribute to the wider world around us.
But the clever chaps who run social media have “hacked” our brains with their notifications and little red icons. And boy, we do love the little red icons. They get our pulse racing. And more importantly, they generate dopamine because our gullible brain equates posting something online and gaining the subsequent likes as work and rewards us with Dopamine. This system of instant gratification is inherently unhealthy for human beings. Dopamine was never supposed to be used and abused like this. It was reserved for those few moments which truly warrant a sense of success. But once we subconsciously correlate the action of seeing the little red icon with a hit of dopamine, we want more. and more. and more.
We become like a drug addict who is willing to do anything for a score. But here, our score isn’t an external drug. Rather, it is an internal chemical. We want more of Dopamine and are willing to post anything that will trigger the little red icon. Subsequently, we end up sharing a more construed version of reality that is guaranteed to generate ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’.
The outcome is that social media paints a picture of life that reality can never match. When you scroll through your Instagram feed, and see those photos of your school friend on holiday in Italy, you develop status anxiety and a sense of disappointment with your own life.
Social media has a convenient way of showing the outcome and hiding the process. We see the success but not the hardwork. It isolates situations from the background processes. It is a false equalizer – it shows everyone removed from their background to make us believe that we are all like one other. Except we are not. And while we normally would have never seen this other hidden way of life, we are now able to see it now through social media. Albeit through a glass curtain, and we have no clue what really goes behind it and simply end up envying the apparent glamour. Eventually, it makes us feel bad about ourselves since our lives feel dull and we end up over working to achieve those false dreams.
The glass curtain is an old concept and Instagram/Facebook is just the latest manifestation of it. The glass curtain concept was taught to me by my economics teacher in school. The idea being that you see what goes on the other side of the glass curtain, aspire to be a part of the society on the other side of it, work hard to get there but you will never end up reaching there because reality is more than the fraction you see through the curtain. Just like social media. We only see the very best 1% of someone’s life and end up assuming the other 99% is the same too.
I think the real lesson here is to not worry about what others are apparently doing. The only person we should compare ourselves to is the past version of ourselves. And work to improve oneself every day, little by little but steadily. Discipline and consistency is a far better way to achieve your dreams than temporary sources of motivation and inspiration. So instead of scrolling through social media on your phone, consider reading an article on Wikipedia or reading the BBC. Or a well written article like this one.