Meaningful Connections, Social Media and Algorithms

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If you are like me, you thrive on making personal connections — deep meaningful exchanges of experience and vulnerability. There is a lot of fun in connecting to people who have similar interests or learning new things from people with a different perspective than you.

It has been quite magical growing up in a time where technology is accelerating. You go from dial-up, those keyboard-tv-cassette video games and chord phones to broadband, high end personal laptops and smartphones. Now the personal connections you can make are not physically limited to your school, workplace or neighborhood.

The physical access of our social networks is decreasing and technology is becoming a part of our biology. We end up on that endless scroll in the search for deep meaningful connections. About a decade ago, when I joined Facebook, it was this interesting new window of getting to know people, socializing and creating all kinds of new relationships. It felt like a digital neighborhood that you can go to.

Slowly, social networks became more advanced, using algorithms to tip the scale and manage human interactions in the way that became commercially profitable. So you started seeing more content that related to your interests. The more likes you got, the more followers saw your content. At first this felt like great innovation — a way to keep you connected to the things that matter to you in an ever growing sea of content.

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Now I wonder if it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Everyone is walled into their own worlds and people experience less and less new opinions, new perspectives, reflective content. Many of us are lost in the tunnel of the algorithm chosen for you by Artificial Intelligence. AI has learned that if you like a specific video you will like another of a similar kind it picks out. This goes against our human nature to grow and change. This is because we expand our perspective by seeing new things instead of similar content.

To ensure they are competitive, apps are increasingly using addictive tools. These keep us scrolling and getting dopamine hits each time we hear that ‘ping’. Documentaries like The Social Dilemma show us clearly the problematic aspects of social media. It even shows that social media can impact us as societies and lead to greater conflict. We block and unfollow at the slightest discomfort, leading us to have echo chambers of our own opinions and reinforcing our good and bad beliefs. I too am guilty of this since it is so comforting to stay where you are believing you are righteous.

Yet the goal of connecting is growing out of your old stance to an improved or expanded perspective. Even in disagreement, exercising the ability to understand the other person’s point of view is a skill that we are using less and less. Deep and insightful content is lost as the cute selfie or food photoshoot gain more popularity.

More frighteningly, this is magnified in politics where hate gets more popularity. Expressions of hate get more views leading to extremism and the perpetuation of senseless crimes. On personal levels, trolls thrive on such media where personal and public tear downs are live entertainment. 

Social media also has the ability to truly impact how you perceive the world and yourself. This is true even more so for those with mental health issues, especially having anxiety or depression.

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

We need more engaging discussions that tolerate different viewpoints and explore new ideas. Additionally, we need to be equipped with tools on how to combat the negative effects social media has on our mindset. Thus, I believe making a continued and conscious effort to create communities and make meaningful connections is unbelievably important.

Written by: Helina Abye

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