The Social Media Effect

We exist in a technology-driven age, rarely stopping to assess if this is a positive or negative thing in the fast-paced world we’re living in. To discuss the implications of social media is to discuss our awareness as a society and our spiritual values. Writer Johann Hari’s studies and Eckhart Tolle’s teachings showcase how both the media and our own hyper-engaged mindsets have deviated from what’s natural – to meditate (and we do not say this in an ‘oh put your phone down now, you teenager’ hierarchical position).

We want to be able to listen to ourselves and to have individual philosophies instead of simply following the next trend. The ‘Social Media Effect’ may be a constant source to the world around us, as we have unlimited access to social media, but do we need it? And are we losing a part of ourselves as a result?

Whilst media and celebrity culture has always hooked us and allowed us to learn by having the world at our fingertips, we can equally see that this can diminish our attention and creativity. British-Swiss journalist Johann Hari’s book, ‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention’, argues that it is not our fault but that we should educate ourselves on the systematic effects of this constant, ticking source of engagement.

He claims that it is the more prominent companies that have found our, so to speak, weak spots and conditioned us to become addicted to technology, rather than it is our fault that we are unable to, for example, sit still and read a book.

What happens when we stop considering who we are, separate from the social media we consume?

In the same way, we carry childhood nostalgia when we weren’t yet exposed to the online world, and we can still take control and philosophise in such a high-speed world. Hari states that we live in an ‘attentional pathogenic culture’ – that a deep sense of focus is complex for us, and we need to work to find it.

Statistically, in America, most office workers cannot focus on one singular task for an hour without being interrupted or needing to constantly ’switch’. This movement and the nature of corporate work genuinely have the potential to shell and destroy us. We are likely these workers, and it’s not simply that we cannot focus on work but cannot, most importantly, focus on the value of inner peace, meaningful conversations, and family.

‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention’ by Johann Hari (2022)

Johann Hari’s ‘Stolen Focus’ has been discussed on multiple podcasts, with Hari explaining the newfound studies with ABC Australia’s presenter Phillip Adams and with Oprah Winfrey herself on her podcast ‘Super Soul’. Eckhart Tolle, another philosopher focusing on focus, approaches our age of social media with less attention to statistics or argument but more towards spirituality. Tolle’s revolutionary novel The Power of Now (1997) ‘presents itself as a discussion about how people interact with themselves and others’.

Social Media

Reflecting on and accepting the woes and waves of life has Tolle declaring that “the present moment is all (we) have.” Taking this into consideration alongside the studies of Hari’s ‘Stolen Focus’ maybe has us noticing ourselves for the first time in a long time. To be enriched by the world around us via social media can be beautiful when we, for instance, consider how much access to education there is on the internet. Though, this overstimulation and what Hari calls constant ‘switching’ may be diminishing our health and attention spans and even contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s. 

The media companies themselves craft the addiction to technology that has us constantly over-engaging – apps like TikTok providing second-to-single-minute ‘boosts’ of content for their audiences to flick through, withering our attention spans. And the term ‘slow-living’ has, funnily enough, become an internet trend. City life constantly has us moving and performing when we as humans may long for stillness, to be in nature, or to enjoy the moment without distractions simply. We worry and type as we’re constantly inundated by technology. Yet we don’t often assess if this is good for us. 

Social Media - Johann Hari

Going back to ancient practices to regain control of our awareness may sound like a hippie-dippie approach, but it may be the way. The roots of Buddhism and Japanese philosophies encourage the gentle nature of being individually unaffected by what’s happening around us. For instance, Buddha’s enlightenment upon sitting under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya in India was followed by letting go of the need to know the answers to life’s biggest questions.

How can we escape from the existence and suffering that we are exposed to daily and splashed across the news on social media? Buddhism focuses on the notion that we should be mindful and aware of our thoughts + actions. Combining Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, Japanese philosophy argues that awareness of our reality and simply being is the key instead of debating it. These understandings can only happen when we look inwards and pay attention.

This may be being taken away from us – peace and equanimity. However, it too can be said that this social age allows us to find a new reality and learn on a deeper level than ever before. For example, being able to take online courses to further our future careers. However, the health effects of social media should still be considered. We must balance the natural world and the internet age to move forward as a healthy, positive, nurturing society. Although newer generations have been conditioned to be obsessed with technology, including social media, it is never too late to stop and remember what is essential in life.