It seems like almost everyone who has a internet connection, fiber or dial-up, has a Facebook account. You can use it to learn more about the guy you just met (or want to meet), catch up with friends from across the globe, or see tidbits of information regarding current social movement. For many, it’s a way to update others on the amazing details of their lives and for them to keep up with other’s.
How does Facebook allow us to accomplish this? Well, as just about all of us know, Facebook employs a wide range of options for the user: you can start a group, post a photo album, or write a quick line, among others. At the heart of all of these options and Facebook itself is the ‘like’ button, a way for one to announce his/her approval for another person’s displayed information for all to see. For the one receiving the ‘like’, it carries all the weight that is associated with approval. In our day to day actions, approval, whether we like it or not, determines how we live our lives to some degree. As social creatures by nature, our dopamine transmitters are hardwired to activate when we make those around us happy, when we receive recognition or admiration. Unfortunately Facebook applies a metric to this extremely complex and organic aspect of social interaction, in essence quantifying the amount of recognition we receive in terms of ‘likes’. When the actual effort needed to convey that approval boils down to simply moving a mouse and clicking with your index finger, Facebook begins to change the way we interact. And the culprit that Facebook unintentionally exploits? Our dopamine system.
Conversing and interacting in real life requires effort and undivided attention, resulting in genuine and uninhibited connections with others. It’s not easy paying attention to body language or using our surroundings as fuel for connecting with others but it definitely grounds us. All of a sudden, humans now have a way to hide behind a computer when they want a conversation with others. We can choose which moments get preserved on the public bulletin and how we’re portrayed to others. These capabilities coupled with the fact that the act of giving recognition takes about ten seconds of reading and minimal muscle usage really has the potential to alter our behavior; in many ways, it already has. This source of dopamine is so abundant, infinitely abundant one might say, that it becomes a more preferred way of interacting. We begin to sit in the confines of the haven of our computer while updating the world on the events that take place out outside of it, ironically spending less time out there . Dopamine not only drives the determination of what’s pleasurable but also the mechanisms involved with seeking out those pleasures. Then wouldn’t this huge pool of potential dopamine release draw us towards it, even though the time spent tapping into it would be sacrificed from actually interacting with the world?
Facebook can bring people together to solve problems or share lost memories, but it can also slowly replace our perception of what it means to genuinely connect with those around us. Though dopamine stands central to our human neural functions, we shouldn’t allow it to overshadow the worth of real, pure interactions.