Hi! My name is Jim Duffy and I haven’t been on Facebook for six months… I’m clean and sober in respect of my social media. I don’t do other sites like Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn that I feel are harmful to my mental health and potential addiction. Yes, whereas an alcoholic will introduce him or herself at an AA meeting with a phrase similar to this, I believe that in the next 25 years, we will have “Facebook Anonymous” meetings. It is inevitable… and with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram working hard to build in “attention grabbers” to their sites, then many will get hooked and constantly need a “hit” just to get through the day [and night].
Many of us suffer from addictive personality types. That is why a drug like alcohol becomes so prevalent in people’s lives. I always wondered why in Scotland we talk about our obsession or fixation or high propensity to alcohol consumption. “Is it cultural?” many sociologists and scientists have pondered. For me its plain to see without endless hours studying human behaviour.
We have, through immigration, a large swathe of the population who have addictive personalities. From the Vikings to the Irish, we have an dependency gene hard wired into us. I’m living proof. This manifests itself in many ways at different junctures in our lives. But, not just with alcohol.
We have known for some time now that the big tech companies just love us spending hours on their platforms. Many workers who have exited the likes of Facebook and Google have disclosed details of attention grabbing software and algorithms that keep people fixed on the sites for longer. It has even been referred to as the “attention economy”.
Google has released an academic paper this month that strikes a depressing yet somewhat unsurprising note. In short, that the tech industry has turned us into “brain fried zombies” whose attention has been hijacked by digital devices and apps that ensure we remain engaged and clicking. Add to this the admissions by software engineers and tech insiders stepping into the limelight to admit that they had designed social media to be like “behavioural cocaine” and now it becomes clear that we have a massive societal problem forming.
At any time in our lives we are no further than 2 metres from a piece of tech. And how we consume this tech is causing problems. The London murder levels are now unprecedented. Almost every week a youth is gunned down or stabbed in the UK’s capital city. Much of this violence is fulled through social media. Indeed the Met’s top cop, Cressida Dick, has come out to state that social media is a catalyst for young people to get involved in knife crime and murder. Trivial disputes escalate into murder “within minutes” due to the influence of social media, Britain’s top cop has said. And this is just the tip of the iceberg as social media makes us a lot braver in challenging someone for a cyber “square go”.
Whether you posses an addictive personality type or not, our easy access to social media means we are scanning it at least once daily to check our friends and favourite groups. Chats start to form where people then take a position. The lack of context and use of emojis then flares up emotion and before you know it, a “square go” is on the cards as the language becomes toxic and aggressive. The tone becomes accusatorial and pugilistic. Ordinary people metaphorically “spit” venom at others and the scene is set for a showdown. A showdown that is very public, but that never actually takes place in the “real world”. It all just forms online.
Would it surprise you to know that police forces spent just as much time now following up social media arguments and threats and they do investigating burglary? Maybe. The social media “square go” is now a phenomenon that is art and part of everyday police work. The worrying part in all of this is that females play a big part. When I was at school 99 per cent of the square gos were between boys. Nowadays, the cat fighting takes place on the cloud and it is vitriolic when it starts. One only needs to tune into some of the Facebook groups to find fights and arguments breaking out over simple questions people pose. So, it appears not only are many of us hooked on social media platforms that are coded to keep us hooked, but our worst behaviours are manifested here, resulting is bad blood and general nastiness.
As I proudly admitted at the start of this column I am social media “clean and sober”. It’s been six months already and I don’t miss it at all. In fact, I wonder how I had the time to surf and click as I am as busy as ever in the real world. It takes discipline. But, I can see beyond these communication genre now and the potential dangers for addictive personality types like me. Whether it be alcohol, gambling, sex or drugs, many have fallen foul of the addictions that can quickly creep up on people. Social media is exactly that same and the 21st Century “addiction” that will have huge consequences for us in the next half century if we do not address it now.
The cyber square go paints a disturbing picture of ordinary people falling out on social media.
It becomes deadly when knives, guns, gang culture and turf wars exacerbate its effects. And the scary thing is – this is not happening in a movie. It is real and happening on a device near you....