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Is social media hijacking your brain?

Ayaan, The Lowry Academy, UK

As we all know, it seems like Gen Z just can’t pay attention for more than 10 seconds. In fact, according to wyzowl.com, the average human attention span in November 2023 was 8.25 seconds. This is less than a goldfish with an average attention span of 9 seconds! It’s one of the few categories we actually fail at, but I’m here to answer this: is it actually our fault?

Let’s start all the way back to 2020. This was the start of lockdown where everybody was forced to stare at the glaring blue lights of doom and confide in every distraction possible in your bedroom. It was impossible to avoid picking up your phone over your right shoulder and endlessly scroll through the new and upcoming social media app: TikTok.

TikTok is an app where you receive short bursts of short-form content as your finger glides up and down; giving you a constant stimulus to the brain. Now every social media site is plagued with TikTok-like videos and is impossible to avoid. This rapid succession of short videos disintegrates our ability to hold an attention span. Our brain struggles to hold on a single concept without needing a hit on this dopamine rush. Ever try to watch a movie but you end up on your phone? Ever want to watch a YouTube video but just skipping it all the way to the end? That’s your brain craving for that extra dopamine that is so easy to grab and open the most colourful app on your phone.

The seamless and borderless viewing experience almost puts our minds into “autopilot”, and we don’t even notice until we get so tired that we drop our phones onto our face at night. It cultivates a habit of mindlessly scrolling in pursuit of fleeting satisfaction, lasting only a second or two.

Yet are we to blame for the malicious ways the apps are designed? Critics may decry the “brain-rot” of TikTok however the older generations conveniently overlook the equally insidious tactics employed by mainstream news outlets, such as BBC or The New York Times, whose apps are engineered to mimic the very same addictive patterns. It seems to be ingrained in our day-to-day lives even if you avoid all modes of social media.

While it appears that newer generations are inevitably facing a decline, it’s important to remember there’s always room for optimism. With influential figures like MrBeast – who is YouTube’s top creators – are leading towards slower paced and longer videos, revealing the increase of viewer retention. This would be the oppose to the phenomenon that some dubbed the “Beastification” effect on YouTube that some have pushed the agenda on. So maybe, it isn’t affecting us as much as we think.

From my standpoint, I don’t think this will affect us as long as we continue living an existence outside our phones. With two hours per week of reading and setting screen limits on your most used apps, we can create healthy habits which can negate the downsides of using all these platforms.

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