By Matthew Bow
Fancy Comma, LLC is excited to publish this article by U.S. Army veteran (and Sheeva’s high school classmate) Matthew Bow. Matthew wants to remind everyone not to just thank veterans for their service but to actually talk to them and ask them how they’re doing.
Hmm…where do I start? Well, I am kind of born in the middle, you could say. I’m almost 40 years old, born in Texas, and raised in Oklahoma. I joined the Army as a computer guy — always looking for efficiency in everything.
Well, today I see our Republic, and it looks, sadly, like the Roman Republic right before Caesar — not in its best shape. Our representatives from both sides appear to have lost the ability to actually concern themselves with what is currently going on in the United States. Or, perhaps they find themselves navigating the brave new world of social media in a pandemic.
A lot of the issue that I see with regards to political divisiveness has to do with the way that we use social media. We, here in the United States, have been “bio-hacked” by a drug called dopamine. It’s a chemical that our brains make when we experience reward. Our brains release dopamine when we eat a delicious meal, when we hear a good song, even when we get likes on Facebook. Dopamine rewards us for behaviors that serve us, encouraging us to repeat those behaviors.
“Social media has basically gamified life.”Tweet
You might ask me, “Bow, how would you know these things?” Well, as someone who has been bio-hacking my body due to untreated Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I would say that I know a lot about it. Social media has basically gamified life. The notifications, the bells and whistles, the likes, the arguments — basically, we want to feel like we are recognized for being unique while being in a collective group of like-minded individuals. The rewarding feelings we get from interacting on social media remind me of what famous behavioral scientist Ivan Pavlov observed in his experiments. Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate when he rang a bell. When our social media notifications ring and buzz, we feel excitement, knowing that someone out there has noticed that we had something to say, and has validated it by commenting.
Social media has an intrinsically rewarding component — and scientists have studied the neuroscience of reward for decades. In the 1930s, psychologist B.F. Skinner created a chamber known as the “Skinner box,” in which he used to watch rats play. The Skinner box was a way to test out what is known as operant conditioning, which is a type of learning based on rewards and punishments. Rats in a Skinner box could press a lever to get either a reward (such as food) or punishment (such as an electric shock). In the Skinner box, rats quickly learn to press the lever to obtain a reward, but to avoid the lever to evade punishment.
We can think of our smartphones’ social media apps as analogous to a Skinner box of sorts. Every new refresh of Facebook or Twitter brings a flood of likes, comments, and other interactions that we find rewarding. So we keep at it.
Oddly enough, the same systems that promote our happiness and survival can also go awry, and we can see the effects in our social media use. Yet, it remains difficult to measure social media addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which lists all of the diagnosed mental disorders, did not include social media addiction after much controversy. Despite this, according to The Addiction Center, five to 10% of people in the United States suffer from social media addiction. Data from Statista also indicates that social media addiction is very real and affects people of all walks of life, from ages 18-64.
So, all of this is why our internet friends often take to social media, mobile platforms, post livestreams, and so on, overgramming their vacations and taking to Facebook to discuss all of the latest happenings.
Beyond the addictive nature of social media, viewing life through “rose-colored glasses” can also take a toll, especially for younger consumers of social media content. Research suggests that content on Instagram actually harms young women by promoting unrealistic beauty standards and making young women feel bad about themselves. Researchers are making progress in studying this issue; for example, Dutch scientists van den Eijnden and colleagues have developed a scale to measure social media addiction.
Social media’s negative aspects amplify the problems happening in our country. People complain about the problems happening in the United States often, especially on social media, where we become aware of them. On social media, you might find people complaining about problems, but nobody actually wants to solve them. Perhaps we don’t have a way to solve our problems via social media. Or we are lazy.
The whole checks and balances thing only works if we actually participate in democracy in good faith. Think of every crooked car salesman, lawyer, agent…the list goes on and on. They have ruined it for all of the good ones, and scammed many people in the process. The basic flaw in humanity is that we’re wired to trust people, even despite evidence to the contrary.
“One can say that social media has obscured what is real. Instead, it promotes what gets the most clicks, shares, and likes.”Tweet
Remember the old saying, “the devil is in the details”? Well, this is literally what is going on when it comes to the world’s happenings. Do we know the details of what is happening in the world anymore? One can say that social media has obscured what is real. Instead, it promotes what gets the most clicks, shares, and likes.
So, now our politicians are trying to play this game, and both parties are concerned with pleasing the extremes. On social media, both sides of the political sphere are racing to the extremes because it causes clicks and engagement. This equals more effective political advertisements with more reach, and fact-checking becomes tenuous.
This is the quick type of arguing because you are sick of inefficient paperwork, contractors, vendors, forms, and all added layers of red tape that is woven into a Gordian knot — a metaphor for a complex, unsolvable problem solved only by bold action.
I bet if we lowered our egos for a second, and were able to laugh at ourselves, we would see it. We haven’t started what I would like to call the Army smoke pit version of democracy. It’s a type of democracy in which we grow despite feeling uncomfortable.
Now that we’ve talked about the problem, you might ask me, “Bow, what’s your solution?” The first thing we forgot to remember is to read the contract. I believe that, in general, historically, the founding fathers left a loophole for the rest of the Constitution. I swore and defended this document, but I could be wrong, and hey, guess what, no one is perfect!
Rather than going to the extremes, if we focused on promoting centrism and unity, we could actually live up to the promises of the founding fathers, such as the famous quote that Abigail Adams tried to make her husband, John Adams, realize: “Don’t forget the women.”
The Constitution is meant to be a living breathing record of the current times; it’s not supposed to be stiff and stern and unyielding. This means that things we currently do, like talk to each other on social media, that our founding fathers couldn’t even fathom, would still be relevant. If we don’t make sure that the Constitution’s applications evolve with the times, the foundation of our Republic becomes cracked and needs to be repaired.
I would like to extend a jumbo thanks to Sheeva for the opportunity to share my thoughts here. Feel free to comment below — it’s a conversation and I’d love to know what you think!