The perfect opiate for the masses
Most people, including me, are unhappy about the government shutdown. But unlike most people, I haven’t taken to social media to bellyache about it, or worse, make snarky remarks. Does anybody really think House Republicans willing to sabotage the government are going to cave under the pressure of tweets?
As I thought about this endless stream of meaningless complaining, I realized social media is the perfect opiate for the masses. It creates an illusion of influence that serves to placate the people by making them think they’re making a difference when in reality they are at best shouting at the wind. Contrary to all the bluster about social media empowerment, the platforms are a dream come true for those who want to keep the general population distracted from real issues and problems.
Let’s take a look at how social media keeps people confused, misled, and, like a real drug, doped up.
Social media is designed for sound bites and short attention spans. How many of you have spent hours browsing tweets and Facebook statuses instead of reading more substantial material? I know I have. Fortunately, I have enough free time to still read several books a month, but most people don’t. For the typical person, reading books, newspapers, or anything remotely long form has been replaced with the intentionally distracting short form content of social media. Instead of taking the time to become informed, it has trained us to have the same attention span as the dog from "Up."
It’s addictive qualities come from the fact that it is essentially a massive role playing game that pays off with regular shots of dopamine. Imagine for a minute you’re a drug dealer and you have the opportunity to design the perfect drug. Drugs such as heroin or Krokidil are no good because there’s a high probability they’ll kill your customer. Marijuana is okay, but for most people it’s not that addictive which is bad for business. The perfect drug is one that hooks people into constant use and does not have any obviously detrimental side effects such as illness or death. Welcome to social media, the perfect drug.
As a game, social media keeps us engaged in the activities of semi-imaginary role playing and distracts us from events and action in the real world. As long as we’re busy pretending to be cool or acting outraged online, we won’t be fully present or even really care about legitimate problems. Things can’t be that bad if you’re popular on Twitter, right? Here, have another hit of dopamine and forget your troubles.
Another way social media deludes us is by creating the impression that we’re connected and equal to our leaders. Go ahead, tweet at John Boehner, I’m sure he’s listening. Want to tell President Obama he has your support? Here he is. Of course, this is all an illusion.
What could be better than fooling people into thinking they have a voice, when in fact they have none? The old ways of communicating with our leaders, writing a letter or leaving a voicemail, were impersonal and very obviously a black hole of non-response. But tweeting at them is public, and everyone can see how you’re taking action. Perhaps they’ll occasionally tweet back just enough to falsely validate the power of social media. Not only is it much less work than replying with a form letter, but their public response is there for all the world to see. It’s the perfect smokescreen for fooling people into thinking they’re being heard.
In "Brave New World," the state, as a means of controlling the people, produces a hallucinogen called Soma and encourages everyone to use it as a self medicating comfort mechanism. Social media currently serves the same purpose in a much more devious manner. In giving us a chimerical outlet to speak our minds, get distracted playing a role in a game, and get our fix of dopamine, social media is the perfect opiate for keeping the masses deluded and powerless.
Aldous Huxley couldn’t have imagined a better drug. Strange that so much of it actually comes from SoMa.
[Illustration by Niv Bavarsky for Pandodaily]