Stoicism was developed in simpler times. The Stoics did not have electricity, the internet or social media. The day-to-day challenges faced in ancient times, however, are rooted in the same fundamental principles as those faced in today’s society. Self-doubt, anxiousness, concern for what others think about us, the highs and lows of whatever the day has in store. But what impact has the faced-paced, opinionated, ego-centric cauldron of social media had on the ability of one to focus on Stoic pillars such as the things in our control and how to live in the now?
Here, we’re going to look at some of the features of social media that make being a practicing Stoic in the modern day a little challenging.
Does social media make us less stoic?
Social media is addictive
There are countless studies that demonstrate the addictiveness of social media. The release of hormones such as dopamine and serotonin makes social media as addictive as some recreational drugs.
Once we are addicted to something, we have a dependence on it. Dependence, whether physical or psychological, means that we have lost control of a part of our lives. We are no longer ourselves without whatever it is we’re addicted to. This makes being reliant upon oneself, and only oneself, to find contentment impossible.
Social media wants us to react (and it knows how to get us to)
The majority of social networks adopt an algorithm to ensure you’re shown the most relevant content at any given time. This is because social networks rely on users being engaged and spending long, active periods on their platforms.
One of the best ways for social networks, like Facebook, to judge relevance is to log your previous behaviour patterns and those of your closest peers. Facebook even gives its users the ability to ‘react’ to posts in a variety of ways to encourage as much engagement as possible. Facebook wants you to see content and ‘react’ to it by engaging with it in some way – almost everything about the key social networks is designed for this purpose.
As a practicing Stoic, we try hard not to react; instead to carefully choose our response, if there is one at all.
Social media is highly opinionated
One way to gain traction and exposure on social media is to express strong opinions about a topic. Strong opinions are met with ‘reactions’ and, therefore, engagements both positive and negative. It is unsurprising in light of what we’ve just discussed, that this kind of content will find its way in front of us.
Avoiding the formation of opinions is a key concept within Stoicism. However, the constant stream of opinions flooding our social feeds normalises strong, sometimes divisive opinion-making, and it can make it harder for us to know our own mind.
Social media make us self-important
Social networks have given individuals a greater sense of personal brand and their importance amongst society. Knowing that we can capture our every move and share our innermost thoughts with complete strangers can give us the sense that these are important to other people.
We are but humans. Apes that have evolved to communicate, trade, and develop infrastructure and technology. There are eight billion of us on a planet in a galaxy of 1000 billion planets. Social media prevents us seeing the bigger picture by giving us an inflated sense of our own influence on the world. It gives us more of an ego and ego is the enemy.
Social media makes us compare ourselves, often negatively
Paradoxically, whilst social media inflates our self-importance and sense of ego, it seems to make us feel less adequate and creates a sense of inferiority. It is natural for us to make comparisons with other people. Their physical attributes, their financial success, their lifestyle.
However, social media is an edited, filtered and photoshopped version of someone’s true existence. It is also the case that we are shown the highlights from hundreds of people in our network, plus those relevant pieces from outside our network. It means we’re comparing our everyday life to a tiny proportion of highly polished, carefully curated material. It could be easy to feel that we are the only ones not achieving anything in a given day or week.
This amounts to an increase in external influences and pressures that we have to fend off.
Social media makes us less mindful, tranquil and thoughtful
The fast pace of consumption on social media has many effects on the way we process information. Scrolling through feeds on social media means the brain engages with content on a highly superficial level, scanning hundreds of headlines and images per minute.
In the world of digital marketing, the goal is to create “thumb-stopping content” that compels users to actually stop and think more analytically about what they’re looking at. It’s another well-documented phenomenon that social media use shortens one’s attention span as we hunt for the instant gratification an amusing story or social engagement provides.
Scrolling social media is not a relaxing activity. Social media is busy and fleeting. Relaxation and contemplation are not encouraged by the design of the social networks.
There are many reasons that social media can make being stoic challenging, but this is the way of the modern world. Technology has shifted our expectations and some of the issues that plagued the ancient Stoics will no longer be of concern today. It’s important to appreciate that the internet and social media has given rise to many first world problems, however, they might still affect our contentment on a fundamental level.
Gaining control over social media and smart devices is an important start. Being able to take a step back and see the impact they have on our life and psyche is the next step. Understanding the issues for what they are is the first step to remaining stoic in the face of the fast, imposing and addictive world of social media.