Social media, a window to your soul
A lot about unintended consequences...
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No doubt, some people use social media for its originally intended purpose – to connect and share with those they care about. That should be about 150 people. The Dunbar number says there is a cognitive limit on human groups, and it is about 150 individuals. That’s because to maintain group cohesion and be able to meet our own requirements, to coordinate our behavior with others in the group, we can only stretch ourselves so far. Beyond 150 or so individuals, we start losing track and dropping balls. Plus, we lose the ability to make meaningful connections.
Now, check your social media accounts and see how many people you follow and how many “friends” or “followers” you have. Likely, the number is much larger than 150. On Facebook, I have about 1600 friends. I guarantee you that I know no more than 100 of them and actually care about half of them. But people send me requests, and I accept… Then, a stranger stops me at the grocery store and tells me they follow me and are a fan. Feels creepy… to me. Strangers knowing my beeswax terrifies me in a way. I am a very private person and like to do my thing without feeling eyeballs on me.
Yet, social media is here to stay, grow, and take over our lives. Unfortunately, some have already lost that battle. But did you know that different people are predisposed to use social media in a particular way? Did you know that your social media usage says a lot about you as a person? Probably more than you want?
How people with different personality traits use social media
From the perspective of the Big Five Personality Traits – extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism (emotionality), different personality types use social media differently. That’s to be expected, just like different personalities show up differently in the world.
Knowing someone’s personality type can predict how they use social media and what type of social media they gravitate towards, as per several studies like this one meta-study published in the Journal of Research in Personality.
Extraverts spend more time actively interacting on social media – posting updates, commenting, and reacting to other posts. They are more likely to post about social activities and their everyday lives, using social media to communicate with others.
People high on agreeableness post more photos but don’t necessarily spend more time interacting with others.
Those high on conscientiousness spent very little time on social media. When they do, they are more likely to post about their achievements and parenting, but not necessarily to socialize, featuring their responsible side.
Highly emotional people (high on neuroticism) tend to rely on social media a lot more. Just like extroverts, they spend a lot of time posting updates and content. However, they tend to seek validation and attention from others but not to communicate about specific topics and participate in discussions. They usually portray a more idealized version of themselves.
People with low self-esteem tend to post more updates about their romantic relationships than any other type.
People high on openness tend to use social media to learn and share their intellectual interests, to find information, and not so much to socialize.
Researchers claim that because of how people use social media, they can predict the users’ personality types based on their social media engagement.
(For the psychology curious and geeky out there, this just came out today: Face Your Shadow to Grow Beyond Your Personality Type, in Psychology Today. It’s not about social media, but it is about personality types, and a very good read. )
What your social media says about you
Social media says a lot about you, even beyond your personality type. You can control some of the information through your account settings, limiting access to your birthday, location, relationship status, and who can see what. But plenty remains out in the open, and it is enough for others to get a pretty accurate impression of who you are.
Your posts can reveal how secure or insecure you are. If your life is a mess, a rollercoaster ride, a serious pursuit, or if something important has happened lately. Some of these updates help friends and family keep up with you, and others may turn people away from you.
Does your wall read like a tabloid, like a newspaper, or the National Geographic? How hard are you trying to make yourself and your life look amazing using filters, flattering angles, photoshop, and composing your shots? Do you look and sound overly optimistic and unreal, or negative and whining? How vain are you?
What you value also stands out, whether it’s family, work, play, travel, food, a hobby, or a particular interest. Just like people can see if you love a good debate, an intellectual exploration, or if you like to bully others, likewise, your politics and ethics.
Most people can tell what motivates your posts. They can tell if you are exaggerating, making yourself feel better, fishing for compliments, advertising something about yourself, and so on. They can tell if you are glorifying your life or simply sharing, wanting to inspire, or bring a smile to someone’s face.
When people know you in real life, they can also see the discrepancies between your in-person and online presence, the facts of your life, and the images on the screen.
Do you have a sense of humor? Do you take yourself seriously? Do you like to be entertained? Your social media engagement tells the tale.
Usually, singles go out of their way to pose for shots, appearing sexy, happy, healthy, fit, and having a fun life. They literally put themselves out there. But despite the polished and curated images on their social media, in-person many fall short.
Some people earn the “foodies” label, showing off plate after plate they either made or enjoyed at various restaurants. Still, it could have the unintended consequences of others getting tired and disinterested in their posts and thinking of them as dull if that’s all they have going on. Food never looks as good as it tastes. And if all you do is eat all the time, people will probably start questioning your fit and sexy pictures. Just saying…
Others spam the world with political content from dubious sources and argue about it. As a result, they earn the “conspiracy theorist” label and attract more of the same while others abandon them. As the platform learns your preferences, it helps you find your tribe and stay there! Then the world online looks just the way you believe it to be, reinforcing your cognitive biases – clearly a dangerous thing.
I’ve turned off or totally “unfriended” many people on Facebook. If someone doesn’t portray authenticity, I turn them off, defriend them, or unfollow them. It’s happened to a few folks I know in real life who show up on social media as a fairytale version of themselves.
I am the person who turns to social media to learn something, or to follow a story, sometimes for entertainment but also to keep in touch with people I care about in real life. We can message, swap ideas, share and have ongoing conversations “backstage” privately.
The feedback trap of social media
One of the unintended consequences of social media is the brainwashing influence followers exert on those they follow. This particularly affects people with large audiences, but no one stands immune to this effect. People like to experience “positive reinforcement” for their posts – likes, comments, praises, congratulations, admiration, etc. It’s a dopamine hit every time! Once high on this drug, they continue to produce content that gets them more of the same. The net result is a narrowing of attention on a subject and a manner of expression that begets a life of its own.
To maintain and grow their most responsive audience, creators begin to shape what they offer to fit that segment better and better. In return, they get more and more appreciation, accolades, and popularity but lose the diversity. As a result, they fall into a hole and have to keep digging deeper and deeper just to stay “popular.”
There’s a term for this – an audience capture. It means growing in popularity by continuously producing a similar type of content, staying consistent to an online personality, and having to up the ante to maintain status. Part of this process remains unconscious to a point where the audience begins to shape the person into what they want him/her to be. In most cases, the person becomes an exaggerated, extreme version of themselves that bleeds into their everyday life and affects their entire existence. The more they identify with that online persona, the worse it gets.
A notable example is the now famous Canadian psychologist Jordon Peterson. I respected and followed his work for years, even before he became famous. I’ve learned a ton from him. As he transitioned from a psychology professor in Canada to a world-renowned speaker and a part of the Intellectual Dark Web, a proponent of common-sense rules for a good life, he found himself embraced readily by the Right and attacked by the woke Left. Even though he himself is a thoughtful, liberal thinker and a deep contemplator appreciating nuances and detail, he found himself reactive and offensive like many on the right. He drank his popularity on the right and turned into the same shock-value techniques he earlier despised.
If you don’t know who Jordan Peterson is, perhaps this means nothing to you. But if you know someone who became (or tried to become) famous online, you can probably see the shift in their personality, manner of expression, and focus.
We all need multiple perspectives to keep ourselves in check and shape our views and opinions. But under the feedback loop of audience capture, we end up surrounded by more and more of one kind of eyeballs. We create a silo and lock ourselves willingly in it.
An interesting side note: those who use social media most are also most easily influenced in real life. It kind of makes sense that the more one lives in cyberspace, the less grasp of reality they have.
Tom Holland, the star of Spider-man: No way home, had this to say to his 67.7 million followers, as this stories reports.
“I’m taking a break from social media for my mental health because I find Instagram and Twitter to be overstimulating, to be overwhelming. I get caught up, and I spiral when I read things about me online, and ultimately it’s very detrimental to my mental state, so I decided to take a step back and delete the app.”
How social media affects relationships
I’ll discuss this topic next week. I have lots to say. Make sure you subscribe and pay attention to your email box for next week’s Life Intelligence.
Meanwhile, here’s what digital addiction looks like. This is one person’s real story from A&E in a 10-minute video.
And here’s a 5 min video talking about technology and biology mismatch and a trip down memory lane before we had so many devices…
This is actually more of a PSA. For those of you buying alkaline water because you think it’s better for you, read this:
If you are too lazy to read it, the short is – don’t buy alkaline water. It makes you more prone to bacterial infections because it messes with the natural acidity in your digestive and urinary tracts. Things are the way they are in your body for a reason.
A total of 3 claims/myths about alkaline water… It’s good to know!
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