The Inevitable Sponge

I have been thinking lately, if we are in an environment long enough or exposed to a particular stimulus for a long enough time, are we powerless in letting it sink into our subconscious?

In 2008, a child first entering middle school, I spent most of my time watching TV or playing outdoors, but certainly not on my phone… so I was shocked to see some kids with an iPhone 1. I had a flip phone, but many kids did not even have a phone yet. By 2014, flip phones had already become a thing of the past, barely anybody had a flip phone anymore, and most phone companies no longer sold them. By 2016, almost everybody had a smartphone. The iPhone 6 was the new must-have thing and other smartphones like the Android and HTC popped up. I saw the sweeping influence of growing smartphone and social media usage in my hometown as people began interacting with each other less and less in public. Social media was already a part of everyday life. I got in an argument with my father when I said I wanted to get a flip phone and delete my Facebook account. By 2019, my iPhone tracker said that I spent an average of 3 hours on my phone each day. Social media was the link to all of my friends; hardly anyone called or texted me at UBC and instead contacted me through Facebook messaging. Not having it meant possibly missing opportunities.

But the new phone and social media revolution did not just exist in a void. Rather, it had a huge impact: As people increased their phone and social media usage, their mental make-up and thought processes also began to change. How we spend most of our time has a profound effect on our worldview. Each activity and the environment we put ourselves in pushes forward a certain set of values and beliefs, and these have a powerful impact on our thought processes.

Social media portrays certain meanings, values, and normative ways of acting. In the class discussion on Tuesday, we talked about how “likes” and amount of “friends” on Facebook  convey certain meanings leading to social comparison. In fact, likes were so important that people would delete posts for not getting enough likes. Likes have embedded meaning: It can signify to others how many people are willing to give you attention, possibly how many people like you, and therefore, some sort of value you have. The same applies to the amount of “friends” a person has on Facebook. These signals are not necessarily tied to reality: A person can have 300 friends on Facebook because they only add people they were/are close to, but they are well-liked by those people, or a person can have 1000 friends on Facebook, but nobody they consider a real friend. Nevertheless, the meanings and values of the Facebook world still influence people’s thought processes and behaviors in real life. People may compare themselves to others, evaluating their social worth based on the amount of “friends” they have, or the amount of “likes” they get on their posts in comparison to others. Even workplaces make decisions to hire people and determine their fit for a job based on these factors.

On a related note,  social media accounts represent a controllable portrayal of oneself. People can choose the types of postings they want to make to give a certain image to others. “RTV(Reality TV) programming promotes a culture that values competition… Heavy viewers tended to base their self-worth on competitive behavior.” (Stephanone et al., p. 12) People that watch a significant amount of reality TV are more likely to engage in social comparison. Stephanone, Yue, and Toh, propose that watching reality TV may have influences on selfie-related conduct and  on the quality of selfies people post. A selfie is a picture that the picture-taker captures of themselves. Similar to social media, it is a presentation of oneself that can be controlled, augmented, and improved by the picture-taker. Reality TV portrays a set of values involving aesthetics and competition. Stephanone et al. found that people that watched more reality TV were more likely to edit their selfies to improve how they looked before posting them online. The values and types of behaviors portrayed in reality TV influenced the thought processes of people that watch reality TV, making them care more about their appearance and how they compared to others.

The smartphone and social media revolution threw us into a new era, influencing user’s feelings about competition, how they relate to others, and their self-esteem. According to Rachelpav, “With regard to self-esteem, unrealistic expectations only make competition more difficult. “ In social media, users tend to want to portray the best parts of themselves and they are able to do this—by editing images, getting rid of blemishes, posting pictures of travels and social events, adding more friends on facebook, deleting postings that don’t get enough likes, and etc.—they are able to control the presentation they give to others. However, unlike their portrayals on social media, they also see all the unfavorable aspects of their lives and sentiments about themselves that they don’t put out. They may not have as many friends as they portray, or feel confident in their natural appearances. Nevertheless, because social media enables everyone to put themselves in their chosen portrayals, people see unrealistic portrayals in their feed, that individuals cannot match up to in real life. This can have detrimental impacts on a person’s self-worth and make them feel insufficient in comparison to others. Before social media, people did not have visible statistics(“likes” and “amount of friends”) available for social comparison. But the addition of these factors introduced new realms in people’s thoughts, new concepts to evaluate themselves, and potentially new motivations to increase these aspects.

How you spend most of your time has a profound effect on your worldview. Each activity and the environment you put yourself in pushes forward a certain set of values and beliefs, and these have a powerful impact on your thought processes. A lot of this impact is unconscious. These things influence us without our being aware of them. Regarding social media and smartphone technologies, it is especially important to be conscious of how they may impact our thought processes so we we have more control over how our minds are influenced and what we put in our minds. We are a sponge bound to soak up stimuli that we are consistently exposed to, but we are able to choose the environments and activities we engage in, and if we are aware of what we soak up, we are also aware of what we need to spit out.

#WRDS 350, #Social Media, #Phones, #Self-esteem, #Stephanone

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