Don’t be a Player, Make the Game

The perils of the pleasure wrought competition

Leah Mendez is a student of Psychology, with a minor in art, focus in oil painting. She lives and works in Miami, Fl. She uses as writing a medium to highlight as well as comprehend experiences pertaining to human existence.

Following a hiatus from social media, I downloaded several social platforms so that I would be able to participate along with my peers. I intended to draft an article outlining the benefits of moderation when it comes to the platforms, and I sought firsthand experience on the subject. I had seldom perceived social media on its own to be intrinsically bad. As it could be a space to share ideas, an outlet for creativity, source for connection and advocate for small businesses. However, while engulfed in its abyss it seemed all a ruse. A beautiful fallacy where people are a one-dimensional character in their own production. Where influencers are hardly influential, propaganda is synonymous with marketing, divisiveness is omnipresent, and filters are a prerequisite. Where your next move is contingent upon the participation of others. In short, a game we play.

Simon says… tap your head and touch your toes.

“Simon Says” was one of my favorite games as a kid, not to mention a useful tool. It teaches children to engage in a social environment by partaking in innocuous challenges. Although, these days Simon resembles the gnawing voice in the back of my mind reminding me to compete. In which social media is the game, I am the player, and Simon is the prideful force behind the egocentric culture. Social media constitutes a memetic structure in which people are incentivized by others to compete; thus, modeling the scientific model that is Game Theory, an interdependent system where multiple agents (players) rely on the actions of each other. Social media seems to be an aggregate of inadvertent participants consuming each other’s productions as they disseminate their own. The content being observed, that makes up one’s feed could not exist in a place that lacked the content of others to promote its exhibition. Photographs, videos, and writing existed before social media yet lacked the platform in which to breed a culture of competition.

If compared to a game what’s in it for the player? Often sharing on a social media platform is an ostensible representation of an individual seeking approval and/or recognition from others. A temporary fix that could lead to a compound problem. The reliance on an external agent (social media) and others participation within it to provide one with instant gratification. Science has provided us with the evidence that when we receive feedback such as likes, comment, and shares, the brain then releases dopamine that’s responsible for pleasure and motivation. Providing people with momentary satisfaction as it rewires their brains to seek it out again. Leading to the inevitable popularity and perpetuation of the environments social media creates.

Met with the confines of trying to write about moderation, I found it difficult as I had trouble incorporating the values I aimed to write about. I postulated that I could participate in social media and reap its benefits while maintaining ultimate sovereignty over the applications. However, it only took a week before my ideas on moderation began to stagnate and my desire to engage heightened. I had spent over half a year removed from the cultural phenomenon, yet it only took a matter of days before its glory became coveted. The desire to post had arisen as I scrolled aimlessly through my best photos with intention to share. Only to be met with an acute anxiety in the face of cognitive dissonance. I was at a crossroads, remembering why I had initially left the platforms yet yearning for the satisfaction of self-display. During the week I spent perusing social media the allure to post crept up briskly. When met with such desire I realized my intentions were ill-informed as I am at my most vulnerable while craving the adulation of others. The burden of social media is inherent in the link to one’s self-esteem.

Freud informed us of the pleasure principle. The principle’s motivation is to decrease mental tension while seeking out gratification and evading pain. However, the coercion behind the principle is not of sound reason. Met with reality, a preferable outcome is temporarily enduring the discomfort of delayed pleasure. Allowing people to be fond of applications that deteriorate the capacity of their cognition and alter their reward systems will lead to people being controlled by pleasure and reduced to egoism.

Social media being the quintessential candidate for game theory and Freud’s pleasure principle is a significant marker of its peril. Although moderation can help mediate the pitfalls of social media, I strongly urge individuals to exercise their autonomy by taking a break and logging off. Research has shown substantial benefits to mental health and well-being in those without social media. Even if only temporarily, I hold the supposition that by logging off social media, a nuanced perspective on one’s involvement in the medium will be formed. I have since found meaning in withdrawing from the game and creating a new one.