18 December 2017

Can your brain be hacked? (social media stats)We all know that cybersecurity is a huge concern when it comes to protecting our business assets and our personal data – but can those hacking techniques be used against us in even more concerning ways?

It seems the answer is yes.

Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, says that’s exactly what social media is doing. In a recent feature on BBC’s Newsnight, the discussion around social media and its impact on our lives took an altogether more sinister turn.

Parker explained that Facebook’s aim is to get you to spend as much of your time as possible on the site so it can reap the rewards. The social network fulfils our basic need for social validation: You post content, which gets you likes. Those likes release dopamine, the happy hormone. This chemical release encourages you to repeat the behaviour, therefore posting more content. Then you get more likes, and so on. It’s a “social validation feedback loop”. The technique is effectively exploiting a “vulnerability within human psychology” as Parker puts it, much in the same way that hackers exploit vulnerabilities in code.

It’s ground breaking.

Exploiting the human brain?

But what does that mean in real terms? Are we being manipulated – scientifically – to become addicted to our devices? We’re certainly wasting huge portions of our time and often we don’t even realise it! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started scrolling through an app on my phone and before I realise it, two hours have passed!

The ‘attention economy’ is centred on making money from ad sales, the time and frequency of our visits to websites is driving prices.

I’ve written often about the dangers of using smartphones and how they are effectively taking over our lives, yet never before have the motivations behind the rise in social platforms been so clearly laid out. It’s extremely concerning.

For me, the concern centres on the younger generations. Friendships centred on messaging back and forth, or conversations about the current most popular memes. Smartphone addiction has the potential to fundamentally change the behaviour of entire generations.

The impact of social media

By its very nature social media, especially Twitter, is an amplifier. It gives a voice to every single person, good or bad, and links them with like-minded people, good or bad. Combining the amplifying nature of the platforms with the fulfilment of this need for social validation is surely a recipe for disaster. Trump and his fake news phenomenon is perhaps the first real example of the negative potential of this amplification; spreading a message that ticks the boxes of a section of society’s basic human needs, to influence the outcome of arguably one of the most important votes in the Western world.

The impact of social media and our smartphone addiction goes even further. It is becoming so prevalent in our society there’s now a word for it – Nomophobia – No Mobile Phone Phobia. Not only is this addiction changing the way we communicate, it can also have serious health implications; from extreme anxiety to poor posture leading to spine and respiratory problems.

The conclusion is simple: It’s time we learned to step away.

I’ve written about it many times before. Letting go of the habits we’ve built with our phones is undeniably a challenge. But, as we come up to the new year, I know that I will be setting a goal to guarantee some time in the day to turn my phone off. That could be during meetings, whilst having dinner or playing with the kids. We have a strict rule in our house that we must keep all phones downstairs so they don’t distract us at night. I don’t think that rule goes far enough.

What do you think? Are you happy being brain-hacked?

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