Tag Archives: Psychology

Friendship, Facebook addiction and games people play

New research commissioned by Diet Coke suggests that social media are making a significant contribution to the emotional state of people in Britain.

No great insight there, maybe. We Are Flint’s latest report suggests that 78% of over 18s in the UK use Facebook; back in 2015, Instagram claimed 14 million UK users; then there are the huge UK user bases of other platforms such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc., not to mention all the newer (like Periscope and Facebook Live) or more niche platforms, large and small. Even businessy site LinkedIn claims 23m+ UK users.

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

All these digital highways and byways confront our mind’s eye with a signpost showing innumerable possible avenues leading to social intercourse. New ways to chat, to comment, to update, to get back in touch. And let’s face it, we’re all children at heart – we all seek acknowledgement, praise and encouragement. Positive feedback from our friends and acquaintances keeps us motivated. Facebook and other social media provide (lots of) us with new and ample opportunities to build our circle of friends, an important well spring of reassurance and encouragement.

Social media is also proving to be a necessary source of confidence for many, given that, according to the study, 23% admit that it takes just 10-25 likes to make us feel valued by our online friends, with 60% also stating that getting likes helps to boost their confidence.

Confidence and the emotional stability that flows from it are basic human needs. Self-esteem is a key driver of that confidence.

Esteem comes quite high up Abraham Maslow‘s famous Hierarchy of Needs theory, published in 1943 as A Theory of Human Motivation.

According to Maslow: “All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. By firmly based self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based upon real capacity, achievement and respect from others. These needs may be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom.

“I think everybody’s weird. We should all celebrate our individuality and not be embarrassed or ashamed of it.”
Johnny Depp

“Secondly, we have what we may call the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), recognition, attention, importance or appreciation. These needs have been relatively stressed by Alfred Adler and his followers, and have been relatively neglected by Freud and the psychoanalysts. More and more today however there is appearing widespread appreciation of their central importance”.

Now the Diet Coke study says that “… social media appears to be playing a significant role in the way that we form some friendships in the first place. Over half of Brits (54%) claim to have met up with someone they originally met on social media and 44% say they made a new best friend thanks to their online networks”.

But it also finds that, although Brits have an average of between 100 and 200 social media followers, on average they consider only 3-5 of them as ‘close’ friends offline.

So as the effects of all this ballooning of social interaction continue to be felt, it’s perhaps worth reflecting on whether our definition of friendship has changed. While sheer numbers soar, the balance between friendship and acquaintanceship is tipping markedly towards the latter.

In Games People Play, published in 1964, Eric Berne highlighted the importance of ‘stroking’. He was referring to the psychological theory that adults continue to seek the same kind of physical intimacy with others that they experienced with their mothers.

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden

Not that this craving for stimulus routinely leads to actual physical interactions – rather, the individual “… learns to do with more subtle, even symbolic, forms of handling, until the merest nod of recognition may serve the purpose to some extent, although his original craving for physical contact may remain unabated”. (Perhaps, though, one does see a physical manifestation of this basic need when seeing those who have suffered terrible loss, for instance, being comforted by hugs from sympathisers).

Nods of recognition, in their multifarious forms, are clearly of much more significance to us than is generally acknowledged. A Facebook ‘like’ or other emoji, or a Twitter or Periscopeheart‘, can each work as a stroking mechanism, reinforcing our feelings that we are ‘one of the gang’. Like individual children in a vast playground of kids, our comments, holiday snaps, selected memes or news links, our jokes – original or recommended – our music, our family portraits or selfies – all of these, our social media ‘progeny’, compete to be noticed on the ever-moving social media timeline.

(This desire to be seen to be one of the gang is a common personality trait. I confess that when I was a young boy, and the youngest member of a “gang” of four, I frequently felt like an outsider, never quite able to compete with the physical strength and prowess of my older “friends”. I sometimes found solace by losing myself in one of the William books, written by Richmal Crompton).

One problem is that the interest we accrue from the time we invest in social media is unpredictable and of variable value – like most investments, its value can go up or down. Just as likes can help satisfy the hunger for recognition, so the lack of them can make us feel ignored and thereby affect our self-esteem adversely. For all its benefits, social media can have negative consequences. Indeed there is a growing body of evidence that Facebook addiction can be linked to social loneliness, social anxiety or depressive episodes.

“And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”
Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington

For some, a perceived shortfall in acknowledgement – likes, comments, emojis, hearts, etc. – coupled with envy of the lifestyles of others reported in the Facebook newsfeed, can have consequences. “The problem is there are rarely terrible consequences, but rather it sucks the life out of an individual slowly, so clinicians miss it” (source: ‘Facebook Addiction Associated With Social Insecurity‘, Psychiatry Advisor, January 17, 2017).

So maybe we will begin to see a devaluation of the likes ‘currency’, as people start to re-assess the gamble they take with social media. Stepping away from the real into a virtual world of social intercourse can be fun and entertaining; but it also poses risks and the rewards are not always in line with our expectations.

Maybe that was reflected in another of the findings of the Diet Coke survey, commissioned to celebrate the brand’s Get The Gang Back Together campaign: “… despite the continued dominance of social media, what we all really yearn for is quality face to face time with our friends and when asked about their preferred means of communication with friends, 69% opted for catching up in person rather than via social media (11%), group chats (8%), text message (8%) or a phone call (3%)” (source: ‘The truth about social friendships: Brits count just 5% of their social media followers as ‘close’ friends‘, Coca-Cola, January 5th, 2017).



*Statistics are taken from a survey of 2,008 UK adults aged between 18-50, commissioned by Diet Coke and conducted by Morar in April 2017.

Leave a comment

Filed under Marketing, Psychology, Society

Apollo XI and the physics of God

Forty-five years ago this month, Neil Armstrong uttered perhaps the most unforgettable words ever spoken, as he stepped off the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module and became the first human being to set foot on the Moon.

As he said, it was “… one small step for a man”; though in fact, of course, many thousands, if not millions, of steps had already been taken in the long and winding road that led to Apollo XI‘s landing. So many technological achievements, arguably dating back to the invention of the wheel and beyond, had fuelled that jaw-dropping expedition.

On the one hand, as Armstrong put it, it was as though our species had taken a “giant leap” in its evolutionary journey; on the other hand, the landing can be characterised as simply the product of the cold, level headed application of scientific knowledge, technological advances and computer power.

As an atheist, I’ve always been fascinated by the part played by God in all of this. When John F. Kennedy made his “We choose to go to the moon” speech, he was careful to ask for God’s blessing for the “adventure”. And when the Apollo VIII astronauts entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 1968, they took turns in reading from the book of Genesis.

It seems to me that these statements of faith were probably a lot to do with pandering to assumed public sentiment in the US. (buzz_aldrin_EVA_selfieThough not entirely: it’s interesting that Buzz Aldrin‘s personal communion service on the surface of the Moon was held in secret – see Buzz Aldrin selfie, right, taken during his EVA). But having in mind the experiences of Galileo, Darwin and others throughout history who’d made giant leaps previously, the finance department at NASA knew that offending religious sensibilities via revolutionary discoveries would not necessarily stimulate increased budgets for future missions.

Nonetheless … with all the analytical and computational power at their disposal, I’m surprised that true believers at NASA and other scientific bodies have never sought to establish the physical nature of God. If they’re as convinced of his existence as the statements of the astronauts and certain space scientists suggest, it would surely be worthwhile undertaking some kind of work to buttress their belief with empirical evidence? To my mind, there is a very curious contradiction in the way they can spend so much of their lives rigorously searching after solutions to the most difficult problems in physics, harnessing cutting edge knowledge and equipment to chase down fine details which may produce further giant leaps, whilst at the same time blocking out of their mind any thoughts of questioning the nature of this supposed all-powerful, all-seeing super being.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an extensive body of scientific, metaphysical and/or philosophical literature exploring ideas around the physics of God. For instance, James Redford, in his 2012 book The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything, available via links here, seeks to use theories about the ultimate collapse of the universe into a final cosmological singularity – the “Omega Point” – as a proof for the existence of God.

Rather than try to explain the origins of the Big Bang, of which “The Omega Point is a different aspect”, Redford places his trust in a projection of generally-accepted quantum gravity theory into the most distant imaginable future, to describe God as a state of being which will come about following the development of infinite computational resources. (So for “God”, read “Science”; or “If you can’t beat them, join them”). We can all take comfort in knowing that scientists will one day be able to explain absolutely every aspect of the “multiverse”; but, with a nagging worry that, as the state of singularity approaches, scientists may have other things on their minds than increasing computer power (and also that scientific theories themselves evolve), I find very little of value here.

Darwin's_finchesThe truth of the matter is that, just like Darwin’s finches, religious beliefs tend to be modified to respond to changes in their habitat. With each new “giant leap” made by Man, some of the bonds that hold together the DNA of religious beliefs are broken and re-form to adapt to the changing climate of opinion and the social and scientific environment.

For absolutely explicable reasons, many people (some astronauts included) need to hold onto a religious belief as they take their all-too-short, wondrous, worrying ride on and around this planet, as it processes through the inexplicable heavens.

To that extent, the scientific basis for the existence of God is to be found not in physics, but in psychology.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion, Science, space and astronomy