Instant Gratification - A Modern Age Malady
LOG OFF Writers Group member, Zainab Kamran, touches on the addictive and often all-consuming nature of social media in her opinion piece regarding instant gratification; as much as we know about the destructive nature of social media, it seems we simply cannot stay away. Zainab reminds us that gratification is not synonymous with contentment, and that the mobility of information and ideas, instantaneously, no less, often entombs us within a consistent cycle of wanting for more.
Windows. They’re all around us.
Our habit of picturing personas through the brittleness of a glass; little windows have engulfed our mortality. We meet people, countless people, through the fragile windows of our cellphones.
The world seems pretty small, right? Although our undermined desire of familiarity may never seem to fulfill us, we nevertheless leave gaps in the exhausted spheres of our lives. Gaps for a handy hobby, gaps for another zealous experience, gaps for a good friend, and many other things that perturb our readied transition to a tomorrow.
To put it into simple words, people, as individuals, are machines ignited with anxiety. We take our present needs and wants into account, and we hopelessly yearn for more. This desire is only being accelerated by the dynamics of the internet and social media platforms.
It’s easy to admit that we, without any doubt, feel more connected to the world than we ever did. The emergence of social media as an instrument for socialization has connected all dots, no matter how far, across the globe. I’m a young girl sitting in Pakistan (who hasn’t seen beyond the rather perilous boundaries of her country) with acquaintances who belong to as far west as North America.
Other than a general sense of connectivity, social media has also improved our insight of the world--how we perceive people and how they actually turn out to be. Better facilitation has done that, and areas that had been left unexplored by common people were delved into, either through liking a meme or watching a resourceful video on, let’s say, YouTube. Our knowledge has vastly increased due to the instance of news and quick reporting.
Yet there are factors that seem to give us the flat opposite of what we want:
In the hit-and-miss regime of social media, a random post read online is bound to be marked as dubious by a cognizant reader.
We’re satiated and full, but we nevertheless call the pizza place for a midnight pizza treat. We know that it has a substantial amount of calories, but our taste buds just can’t resist the urge. Waiting just seems to be a gnarly nightmare, therefore, no matter how bad the quality, if the pizza’s delivered quickly, it’s definitely going to be good.
This is what social media is thriving on -- the immediacy of everything. News, likes, comments, shares, subscribers, followers, you name it. The intricacy of the aspect is that immediacy is the need; truths and lies are vaguely looked upon. Fake news insurgence has undoubtedly increased in parallel with the ever-increasing rate of social media usage.
Michigan State University reported, “This “infodemic,” as Dustin Carnahan calls it, puts misleading information front and center — adding fuel to politically contentious fires and escalating social issues to the level of crises.”
This desire, to experience absolute pleasure or satisfaction without any sort of delay or pause, is called instant gratification.
In recent years, it has shaped itself as less of a desire but more of an ailment in totality. Parents teach their children to be grateful. To be patient in the face of ordeals. The problem that we’re facing here is that the reward systems that usually get to judge and reciprocate our actions are progressively biting the dust. Many people, especially those who were born before the advent of social networking sites, feel baffled when they see teenagers --depressed, anxious and unsatisfied with their circumstances due to reasons unbeknownst to them. Our entire understanding of social mores has been digitized, and many are still working on ways to adjust to the alterations in the de-facto ‘age’ of connectivity. Some of our parental methods seem to align with the poxy tactics and slithery banters used by our forefathers to hush their squeaky toddlers.
Not only our parents, but we, the youth, are alarmingly oblivious of the “gratitude framework” that works on the entirety of the internet; in the case of many teenagers, who are usually found on some easy-going platforms like Instagram, our generation tends to conflate the little tokens of social media (likes, comments, retweets etc) with value.
We conflate them with the truth.
Parents, needless to say, rarely get to guide their children on their “social life”, which is, unfortunately, colossally subsistent on the aforementioned framework.
With the internet, twitter, and texting, instant gratification of our desire to seek is available at the click of a button. We can talk to anyone just by sending a text, and they’ll respond in a few seconds. All the information we could want is promptly available by a Google search.
Instant gratification gives us a false sense of fulfillment. We yearn for a phone vibration that signals a notification, as this is unpredictable; we do not know exactly when it’ll pop up, or who it will be from.
This curiosity builds a great spike in dopamine; we can not wait to open our phones to see what the notification turns out to be. However, this feeling of pleasure disappears as quickly as it comes. This phenomenon sucks us into a dopamine induced loop.
Dopamine makes you seek, and after getting rewarded for seeking, you seek for more. It gets harder and harder to not look at your phone, to stop texting, or to resist the urge to stare at the posts on social media sites. This scroll wheel was the zenith to Facebook’s success and later, Instagram’s.
In 2020, an estimated 3.6 billion people will use social media worldwide, a number projected to increase to almost 4.41 billion in 2025. Users aged between 15 and 19 spend an average of at least three hours a day on social media, and users aged between 20 and 29 spend about two hours a day.
In conclusion, there are a number of young people who are using social media and unintentionally trapping themselves within exploitative dopamine loops. This loop is killing our youth’s desires, motivation, and goal-oriented behavior. This is the reason for the inequality -- the division between goal-oriented and instant-gratification-oriented teenagers.
Look at the people around you. Look at yourself. There’s an acerbic truth to admit that amid these days, only a few of us have aspirations. There’s this little number (decreasing with the passage of time) that actually wants to achieve something. This is partly because of the widened presence of instant gratification.
Legatum Institute reported, “Social well-being and personal empowerment is a fundamental part of economic prosperity — not a result of economic prosperity.”
Social media obstructs social wellbeing in many ways, as individuals become slaves to technology. That then has relevance in the inequality we’re seeing today.
Now the question arises: what is the solution?
Take a step back.
You heard that right. Just put that screen down for a minute. It hasn’t really made a difference, and it won’t. Not until we start to question the purpose of these technicalities that have eroded the humanity inside of us. Do I really need to facetune my body for the sake of likes? Has this mere facade of ‘connectivity’ really humanized my relationships with the people around me? Is it even appropriate to be more hungry for relations outside my domain than the ones inside my domain?
If a ton of other questions are bombarding your mind right now, then congratulations. You’ve taken the first step. Our state of mind shall corrupt with the cycle of new trends and popularities, and hence, we, as cognitive beings, need to have a realization.
This is just the primitive stage of finding yourself for who you truly are, and for who you truly want to become. Bring resistance into your life. Put that phone away, if not for a day, then for a few hours, at least. A little chat at the dinner table might be intriguing. Even if it’s a failed endeavor, your mind, nevertheless, may switch to the stories of other people -- our people.
There is a stupendous difference between the stories of people around you and the stories of people inside some slim metal cuboid.
In addition to the notion of resistance, start taking things for what they really are. Acknowledge their utility. Remind yourself that our existence is as brittle and mortal as the things we see around us. So appreciate them. Amplify the intrinsic rhythm of your life.
Let me just bring things on a lighter note and talk about my on and off habit of jotting down the things that I’m grateful for. It’s called “Gratitude Journaling” and it is similar to writing a journal but instead of detailing the dainty mourns of everyday life, you just have to write down at least 5-10 things that you’re grateful for. In my case, my mum’s presence always tops the list! There are other things too, like piquant cheese noodles and soups of literally every kind! I really encourage each reader of mine to at least give this little exercise a try. It may reform some of our instant-gratification-related inclinations!
If you’re interested in learning more, look for resources like Kurzgesagt, a German animation studio that discusses gratitude journaling as a remedy for dissatisfaction on their YouTube channel : Kurzegesgat - In a Nutshell. On their website, you’ll find additional resources that can help you get started.
Brooks, Caroline. “The Truth Behind Fake News and Politics on Social Media”. MSU Today, June 2, 2020. Accessed September 1, 2020.
Robertson, Reece. “Why You’re Addicted to Social Media -- Dopamine, Technology, and Inequality”. Medium, December 19, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2020.