The social network is a drug? Is there a problem, depending on the gadgets

This article is a response to a BBC documentary, which explores how companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat attracted users. The experts who took part in the shooting, saying that the social network intentionally use technology that cause addiction among users. However, scientists interviewed by Business Insider, believe that this is no credible evidence.

Photo: Antoine Geiger / (fragment)

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Dependence on social networks has become habitual to us a “diagnosis”. Insiders in Silicon valley and psychologists throw in media reports about how tech companies are using “behavioral drug” in its interface. They say that Facebook and other platforms use psychological tricks to “catch” us on the hook.

But scientists at the Internet Institute at Oxford University do not agree with this idea. Director of research Institute, Professor Andrew Przybylski believes that the “sources” of Silicon valley don’t understand the psychology, which is trying to manipulate.

A “bottomless” bowl of soup and endless scrolling

One example is the function of infinite scroll, designed by an engineer in Silicon valley, Aza Raskin. This function is used by Facebook and Twitter and allows you to endlessly scroll through the news feed.

In an interview with the BBC, Asa said that he was inspired to experiment with a bowl of soup. This psychological experiment is based on the thesis that if you give people a “bottomless” bowl of soup, he will eat more than normal plates.

“Plate discreetly refilled, but you don’t see it. Would people eat more? It turns out that people eat a lot more, because there is no signal “I’m finished,” explained the Asa.

Engineers claim that due to the experiment with the bowl of soup he managed to create such a powerful design that people become dependent on it.

But according to Professor Andrew Przybylski this experiment has been criticized in the scientific community. “We know now that this study has been carried out poorly. The scientist himself was subjected to numerous investigations at Cornell University for self-plagiarism and manipulation of data,” he told Business Insider.

“If you really even knew something about the field of study you would never have told the BBC that use this model to create a technology that causes addiction.”

Dopamine from the “likes” on Facebook is not addictive

Dopamine is a chemical that is released in our body when we receive rewards or experience pleasure. The concept of a “dopamine loop” is sometimes used as proof that social networks can act on the brain like a drug. The idea is that we become chemically dependent on the emissions of dopamine caused by the “likes” of our posts on Facebook and reposts on Twitter.

And while it is true interaction with social networks can give the brain “dose” dopamine, it does not mean that you are “on the needle”, because your brain produces dopamine on a regular basis.

“Studies show that video game and technology cause the same release of dopamine, such as food and education. At the same time, cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain 10 to 15 times,” explains Przybylski.

Photo: unsplash

Psychologist, University of Oxford Amy Orben also is skeptical about the comparison video and hard drugs. “Screens are not the chemical substance that enters the body and in particular dose causes X, and the other specific dose – Y,” she said.

“There is no real scientific reason to compare technologies and heavy drugs.”

In the documentary BBC expert on addictions and the Director of Charter Harley Street Mandy of Saligari said to give the child a smartphone “it’s like giving him a gram of cocaine.”

Although scientists still have not come to a consensus on how long kids can use the gadgets without harm to health, Amy Orben strongly disagree with the fact that the phone is an analogue of cocaine.

“When people who look like experts say parents who give their children smartphones – the subject of daily use, what it’s like to give them a gram of cocaine, it causes undue anxiety in people who are already concerned,” she says.

Perhaps the hype around social media is a new type of marketing

According to Professor Andrew Przybylski the buzz surrounding the dependent on social networking is the flip side of methods that tech companies use to sell their products.

“This does not mean that tech companies failed to make money or convince people that their technologies are research. But when they talk about experiments with a bowl of soup or dopamine, you know that they have no idea what they are talking about,” says Przybylski.

“The same excitement that successfully sells shares of Facebook and other companies, which suggests that “we can change human consciousness” and “we can change their opinions and purchasing decisions” and so on, the same excitement on the other hand occurs when people are trying to sow panic,” – he said.

Amy Orben also believes that the media played a role in fanning the flames of technologies, using the comparison drug.

“I think it became a very useful metaphor in the economy, designed to attract attention”.

Photo: unsplash

Social networking can really affect a person – but no evidence of this

Professor Andrew Przybylski believes that the concern about the dependence on social networks is a new kind of moral panic. “This is similar to other variants of moral panic that we already had. We already panicking about the “Dungeons and dragons (fantasy tabletop game in the 80s was considered dangerous for the psyche of teenagers), rap music, violent video games. And now we panic for this reason”.

He believes that involvement in a panic and bad scientific data allow large tech companies to avoid discussing serious ethical problems.

“By supporting this hype distract us from the very serious questions: who owns our data, what is happening to our privacy. And it distracts us from conducting accurate research,” he says.

Neither Professor Przybylski or Amy Orben do not deny that new technology can affect human behavior, but they both highlight the need for further research.

“The main conclusion that we know nothing about it,” says Professor Przybylski. “It is important for large companies to share their data with scientists and the public. These studies should be transparent, and not to pass alone between the social networks and researchers”.


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