The Social Scream

I woke up this morning to the usual Facebook and Twitter maelstrom. Another mass killing, another tsunami of identity politics and self-righteousness expressed in clever factoids, mantras and (even from people I like and follow) such an unfaltering sense that each pithy statement can collapse any situation into 140 characters of clarity and understanding.

Nothing has prepared us for the onslaught of intimacy and rage that social media fires into our ape brains. We are just not designed for this. 

I once interviewed an addiction specialist who led with the statement that while we do have a choice to take a drug, we have very little choice on how the drug will affect us.

Credit: Marc Schafer: Unsplash

The drug analogy is a cliché, but it fits. You may choose to abstain, but if you don’t, it’s not possible to choose to be unaffected.

Cognition, reason and thought don’t stand a chance against the sheer emotional tidal wave. Millions of years have fine-tuned us into social computers; empathetic and awake to the smallest nuance in our fellow humans.  You don’t get to see, read and watch Facebook feeds and Twitter tweets without it triggering your limbic system.   We are switching on and off a panoply of hormones through fear, anger, happiness, elation or disgust.

And the algorithm behind each next recommendation (certainly for YouTube and Facebook) can be shown to consistently lead you to the ever more extreme. The fringe can fast become mainstream.

Our social circle might be capped at around 150 of our “tribe” (the much-popularised Dunbar number), past that we struggle to maintain stable social connections.  Yet the average person on Facebook has 338 friends (the median is 200), and growing year on year. While this science might be contentious, if you focus on the fact that you are linked in a never-ending stream of intimate and personal disclosures to a multitude more – all of your friends, and their friends and likes and passions and so forth. This “intimate” social network grows vastly larger than what we can cope with.  Add to that the environment is likely an echo-chamber (which it is) and consider the forced intimacy of all those uninvited and uncorroborated ideas flowing unceasingly into your psyche. Remember that most of what you read is opinion. It’s not fact, its feelings. It’s not real, its narrative – personal, political or philosophical. Wonderful at times. But overpowering – almost certainly.

There is no chance for our biology to catch the rate of our technological evolution. Only culture can keep pace, and arguably even that is more in hindsight.

As apes with our fingers on many large, glowing buttons – the danger for what this continued frenzy will produce ranges from choosing a new singer for Britain’s got Talent, to launching a nuclear strike. 

How do you make a choice in all the noise? 


One thought on “The Social Scream

  1. Hi, first of all I would like to wish you a very Happy Holi. An Indian festival of colors and love, it comes every year in spring season. This time it’s on 21st of March.
    Now I would like to thank you for writing “The Social Screem”. I really liked it, a big thumbs up. The social media has become a medium to spread hates and violence instead of love. How people can hate someone so much that they start killing people. Why people start differentiating based on race, religion, color and so on never ending list. Why can’t people spread happiness, love and humanity. I mentioned above about Holi, not in any cultural or religious context. This day is a celebration of love and happiness, people splash colors on each other with love, forget about all the differences and forgive each other. Everyone is colored in colors of love and happiness. Each human being is one on this day. To spread love and happiness we need such kind of celebrations more and more without any cultural or religious contexts.
    We are human, here to love each other and spreas happiness. Not to kill each other, this is not humanity. I wish this world becomes a happier place one day where people will not talk about race, religion or gender. There will be one race – human race and one religion – humanity and no gender – just love only love. Thank you.
    P.S. I am neither a good writer not a native English speaker, please ignore my writing mistakes. 🙂🙏

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