About a month ago, Instagram came out with a press release stating that they’re beginning testing to remove likes and video views from posts. Their decision stemming from the growing concerns over the effects that the dopamine-releasing beeps and buzzes have on our mental health and collective wellbeing.
Facebook’s former VP of User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, bluntly addressed these concerns in a talk hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Business, claiming that “[t]he short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
The rules of addiction
Dopamine is a chemical our brain releases as we eat something delicious, have sex, exercise and have gratifying social interactions. It is a mechanism rewarding us for beneficial behaviour and motivating us to repeat it.
Now, smartphones have nothing inherently evil about them. What cause problems, are the immense social networks they plug us into. Whereas the social network fathomable for an individual maxes at roughly 150 people, our phones connect us to a network of billions of potential connections.
So, instead of forming and maintaining meaningful connections with people close to us, we’re pushed to obsessively seek for acceptance from a sea of strangers, all in the name of that rush of dopamine fooling our brain that “this is good, more of this, please”.
The sway this phenomenon has on society and politics will remain to be fully understood – considering the whole social media thing is barely in its teens – but one effect seems pretty undeniable by now. That social media causes actual addiction.
According to Trevor Haynes, Research Technician for Harvard University, “platforms like facebook, Snapchat and Instagram leverage the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine to keep us using their products as much as possible.”
Knowledge the one to suffer
Some might say that addiction is essentially human. So, if we’re all addicted to something anyways, why is social media addiction so bad in comparison?
The unquestionably good effect the mobile, interconnected social reality offers us, is the mass of key information at our grasp. But once the addiction begins to outline what you share and consume, hard knowledge is left an orphan.
Based on the experience on “what works and what doesn’t” on social – that is, what gets likes – the content we share homogenizes. Self-expression and hard information get overrun by the popularity contest over “likes”. Conversely, we are shown, and increasingly drawn to, the popular rather than the informative.
Add the much written about phenomenon of echo chambers that feed us what we already know and like, and we reach a stage where social media as it is, appears more toxic than beneficial to gaining new knowledge, keeping you happy, or to democracy at large.
Likes vs information
When the goal of sharing content is to inform and educate – as is in cases of company internal communications – you want to guarantee visibility to all kinds of informational content. Not just the popular.
With the knowledge we now have on the effects the “dopamine-driven feedback loops” have on both our wellbeing and the content itself, we should really consider whether that’s the world we want to incorporate to our internal communications platforms. It may not be the most productive decision to make…
We started with a few value-premises. One of them was to establish something we called the “anti-addiction” platform.
We started off with the hypothesis that everyone has a bit of knowledge or insight that would be beneficial to their respective companies. Hence, everyone should have the possibility to capture and share their insights, irrespective of their professional status, age, looks, gender or habitus.
This is why we opt out of showing “likes” or video views publically. We believe that true interaction takes place verbally, not by quick emojified reactions that may drive users to either dismiss or prefer certain contents merely based on their popularity, or lack thereof.
We want to present all knowledge-sharers the same opportunity to be seen and heard within their organisations. The best way to do that, we believe, is to offer an equal video communications platform. One that is not a popularity contest over who gets the most likes.
By Eero Alasuutari
The author works as the Chief Creative Officer for Struu
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