It seems today that engaging in social media is a new kind of addiction that alienates people, and especially children, from … from being social. It would be a linguistic curiosity to note that something that is “social” by definition can hardly be desocialized, so either social media is not social or does not desocialize. But let’s go with the flow: It’s widely acknowledged that social media addiction is something of an epidemic, if not a pandemic, that poses a serious global threat, almost like global warming.
Although this notion is not only supported but even constantly reinforced by the majority of serious psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers-not to mention social workers, teachers, and all manner of child advocates-we have to deal with a few fallacies inscribed in the self-evidence I’ve described. The tool I will use is simple kitchen logic.
The notion that addiction is something negative, a threat to the individual and the community, must be fundamentally challenged. Addiction is constitutional in nature but also in human history. A gene is a product of the addiction of 4 nucleobases; a body is a result of the addiction of cells; a tribe results from the addiction of tribal members; and so on.
There are stronger addictions and weaker addictions. One of the strongest addictions is usually found between family members. Scientists are addicted to the research they are working on. Car dealers are addicted to their job. If someone is not addicted at all, they are either dead or alive, but they have reached Buddhist Nirvana. A body in perfect balance, without addiction, has reached the highest possible entropy. Life is a struggle against entropy. Life is a struggle for addiction.
The general concept we are challenging is: if addiction, at least controlled addiction. The implication here is that the only acceptable addiction is the one that can be restrained whenever the one who is addicted wants. This implication is a false implication, while controlled addiction is a contradictio in adjecto.
The essence of addiction is that it is based on a relationship between two different entities. Addiction can never be possessed by one entity alone. When an entity is in addiction, no such entity (agent) can be the master of that addiction. We can restrain (alienate) ourselves from an addiction, but we cannot control the addiction. When we restrain ourselves from an addiction, we are, in effect, breaking our connection with the body we were previously addicted to. When we restrain ourselves from all addictions, we die (see above).
We have more or fewer (stronger or weaker) addictions. The set of beneficial addictions that is evolutionarily most stable (ESS) follows the power law. Too many addictions: chaos. No addictions: frozen death.
There is a strong belief that addictions associated with any technology-driven virtual reality make us antisocial, inhuman, and alienated. This fallacy stems from an inability to take seriously the early work of Richard Dawkins, especially “The Extended Phenotype” (1982).
All human artefacts are our extended phenotypes. As such, they are as constitutive of us as our hands, eyes, or nails. As it surrounds us today, technology is a result of human evolution, just as a dam is to a beaver. Communication technology was developed for the sake of communication. Social media has co-evolved with technological interfaces to expand our tongues, our ears, and the communities we can relate to. Just as people were once addicted to going to the pub or Sunday Mass, they are now addicted to being in a social media environment. The social media environment is an extended phenotype that has the same value as the pub or church.
We can never know which existing extended phenotype will be evolutionarily stable, which will play an essential role for a long time. But we do know that the extended phenotypes that persist longer will prove more beneficial to us than those that do not. We can say with certainty that until social media disappear, we won’t be able to judge whether they are beneficial or harmful. But for now, they are constitutional.