In the past decade social media has largely taken control over as our main source of communication with the public sphere. Prior to the invention of social media, people interacted with people in their community through town halls and other public meeting places such as churches. After the invention of social media, much of our public discourse is done online on websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These websites have rapidly become the main source of news and communication for a large portion of the population. This creates a problem where we have become enmeshed in technological devices, which has consequences in terms of our ability to direct our attention on things outside of our devices.
A common example of this phenomenon is the teenager who is standing in front of something that is truly amazing or awe-inducing, yet they are looking at it through their tiny screen while they record or take a picture for Instagram. This image infuriates people born in generation X or earlier and understandably so. This is how a lot of people under the age of 30 are taught by their peers to experience things. As we have discussed in class, people have inversed the relationship with social media that was supposedly intended. Rather than expressing who you are on your social media, people use social media to define who they are. This is in-part due to the acceptance that people seek out from their peers on social media. Social media can be described as a product of the disciplinary society discussed by Foucault that is represented by the panopticon. Everyone is on display for judgement and acceptance by society and therefore, the societal values are internalized by and shape the individual and their behaviors.
This constant surveillance is partly where the addiction to social media grips individuals. Being on social media constantly allows people to keep up with what society deems acceptable and what is not. This produces an anxiety when someone is not looking at their device because they may miss something that results in them doing something that rears negative judgement from their peers, thus creating the impulse to look at your device every few minutes. Even as I am writing this blog I am noticing that I am constantly fighting the urge to look at my phone and every time I give in to that impulse it interrupts my ability to continue focusing on what I want to do. This reduction in attention span is exemplified in many different aspects of life. For example, the short amount of characters available on twitter is only 140 because people aren’t going to read a whole paragraph of someone’s tweet when they can just scroll past it and read something more interesting that is written in only a couple sentences. TikTok is one of the most popular apps currently because it constantly tailors the videos you see based on the videos you actually paid attention to and hides videos you probably won’t watch, allowing you to continuously see things that interest you and ignore everything else. People have a desire to know what other people are doing, see interesting things, and keep up with current events and social media provides this at all times. Every college student I know struggles with staying focused on homework assignments while their phone is sitting next to them. Of course there are exceptions to this, but I believe the constant access to viewing what everyone else is doing on social media has negative impacts on people’s ability to focus their attention on other things.
FOUCAULT, MICHEL. “Panopticism.” In DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH: the Birth of the Prison. Editions Gallimard, 1975.