Social Media and Gratification

Responsible social media use is a rather oxymoronic term considering the kind of posts and forwards that one sees today. From fake news to magic cures to fantastic facts, we are bombarded each day with a dizzying amount of false data which we promptly forward and inflate to a geometric progression!

What induces people to forward stuff? It obviously has to do with gratification and a bit of background into the neurology of it wouldn’t be out of later

The key is that humans are hardwired for gratification and researchers have identified the nucleus accumbens as the centre which mediates instant gratification where immediate rewards are sought.

Nucl accumbens

Nucleus accumbens

Delayed gratification needs the hippocampus (associated with memory) to work with the nucleus accumbens.

Delayed gratification requires a trade-off where gratification is deferred for a period of time with the expectation of a larger reward. This is crucial that the delay should result in a larger reward otherwise the subject will not find the delay acceptable. The size of the reward also matters and test subjects were found to slip back into ‘instant gratification’ mode when the rewards for delayed gratification weren’t large enough.

My point is that, we are hardwired for gratification and in a world increasingly driven by social media, the ‘like’ button or approving emoticons are the new stimuli for fulfilment.  A qualitative classification of ‘posts’ would be in order here. I would like to specify here that we are talking about posts by regular people here, celebrity posts follow an entirely different dynamic. Broadly, people put up two kinds of posts:

  1. Original posts
  2. Forwards

Original posts can again be sub-categorised into

  1. Creative posts- this needs the most creativity and I believe generally generates the highest number of likes. These include posts which show original artwork, music, writing, craftwork, cooking etc.
  2. Unique posts – these are posts which do not showcase creativity but are still unique to the individual posting it. An example would be an Instagram picture of a meal in a restaurant. It declares, “Hey, it’s me and I am eating this! How cool!” It isn’t going to generate as many likes as a creative posts but is still exclusive to the individual.

Forwards happen when you don’t have an original post to put up. A forward is the next best thing. There is a definite timeline for a forward which influences the likes that it gets. Here, truly the early bird catches the worm and the initial forwarders would be the ones to get the lion’s share of the likes.

Creative posts understandably are few. They need effort and time to be created and represent delayed gratification.  The rewards here are more but the effort needed to craft that post is much more too.

Forwards and Unique posts (to a lesser degree) represent instant gratification. All it takes for a forward is a click and it’s done. And if you are indeed the early worm, the rewards are ripe!Social Media Logotype Background

Original posts are ‘authentic’ posts (unless you have stolen somebody’s work and posted it – in which case it becomes sort of another forward) where the credentials are established. It’s your work, your photograph, your article, your recipe and it carries a certain responsibility and accountability with it.

Forwards have no such accountability. It is the digital equivalent of words carried by the wind. Words spoken by strangers. It can become authentic if verified and confirmed but then hardly anyone who forwards does that. So you have urban legends of poisonous spiders in your loo, cancer cures, created history, doctored photographs, death announcements etc.

The lack of accountability and the ease with which a forward can be done create a compulsive need to click on that button. Instant gratification all over again. Verifying a post for its authenticity before forwarding it doesn’t enhance significantly the reward that is expected. In other words, the incentive of a larger return doesn’t exist with this delay in gratification and hence the mode goes into that of instant gratification. Why bother with checking veracity, just click away!

One way of limiting this would be to dis-incentivise instant gratification. This is where accountability can matter. If a person can be held accountable for the authenticity of his posts even if it’s a forward, perhaps people would think twice before doing it.

Do like this post. It’s delayed gratification :))) !!

© Sebastian Mathew 2017

~ by inmyneed on July 14, 2017.

One Response to “Social Media and Gratification”

  1. Well written

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