Contributed by Katie Basey, Ithaca College, NY
Living in a world where 6.8 of the 7 billion people own cell phones, constant connectivity is not a thing of the future. There are two schools of thought: futuristic optimism versus universally detrimental. As an undergraduate college student in New York, one would think I would of course vouch for the former. Yet, the more people I talk to, the more I realize there is a delicate balance between the use of social media and connectivity at work and play. Those who have grown up in the age of this technology have an unconscious understanding of the do’s and don’ts, yet our parents have had to learn how to use these devices of social interaction and adapt to the new behaviors it entails.
Let’s face it, social media is changing us; it is shaping our genetics. Social media sites are now being used by one-third of the entire world. Ten per cent of us are allegedly unable to actively log off after surfing the web. Brain scans show that the regions of the brain that correlate with substance addiction are at play with internet dependence. Both addictions cause conflict within the social regions of the brain that control emotional processing, attention span and decision making. Humans are curious by nature and because social media gives us information within seconds, our brains have begun to rewire themselves: we’re becoming biologically dependent on the stimulations given from accessed information. The more information we obtain through social media, the more neurological elation we crave. Social media time releases the feel-good chemical dopamine.
Think about it. How many times have you been scrolling through your personal social channels and an ad pops up? Many times I have caught myself craving that new drink Starbucks™ just put on my feed. This provides marketers with a whole new level of behavioral pattern systems to seek to influence.
Because of this need for more and more stimulation, social media users switch between different platforms in very short bursts of time. In studies testing multi-tasking ability, it was found that employees who heavily utilize social media do worse than those who use it less — their brains find it harder to commit information to memory.
And there’s the phenomenon of ‘Phantom Vibration Syndrome’, where individuals think their phone went off when it actually didn’t. Technology is rewiring our nervous systems.
For many, having access to personal and professional social channels is a good thing. In the business world, constant connectivity opens many doors. In talking to my professors though, I realize the enormous impact of this never-ending social feed. Employees never really leave work; and keeping in touch is no longer primarily about face-to-face time: it’s screen to screen time too.
Through social platforms we build entire relationships with people we have never actually met. But our social media profiles are highly crafted, putting out there only what we want people to see and believe. This is changing the way we communicate. In-person communication gives your brain qualitative data— hand gestures, facial expressions, vocal intonation. Going online and seeing how effective your latest tweet was just gives your brain quantitative data: the number of likes, favorites, or retweets. People are missing out on the nuances of subtle facial expressions and mannerisms.
Large parts of our global economy favor the ‘self-made man’: America favors the entrepreneurial spirit above all else. This is shaping the business economy. It has forced companies large and small to constantly create new products to beat the competition: TacoBell for example creates a new menu item every month, publicized on social platforms, to drive demand and increase its customer base. If used and analyzed properly, social platforms can without doubt be a catalyst for success. Understanding how and why people use different social platforms from a customer or employee’s perspective is crucial to gaining, maintaining and building retention and loyalty. Used skilfully, content and interaction on social channels can provide persuasive messaging in an almost subconscious way.
Whatever your belief about whether social media is detrimental or helpful, no one can deny that it impacts the way we do business. It allows companies and their customers to communicate more directly than ever, and with that, brings the potential to form stronger relationships. For as much as social media is starting to rewire us and chip away at core human interaction, it is opens up new and innovative ways for companies and individuals to promote themselves, connect with wider audiences and interact with more people than ever before.
Born in 1998, I believe social media is driving societal and business communication for the better, and living in a world of constant connectivity will ultimately be seen as progress.