Is Social Media Slowly Shaping Our Minds?
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Is Social Media Slowly Shaping Our Minds?

By Sarah Chen

Social media is, without a doubt, one of the pillars of modern day society. It is also eerily similar to an idea that is 2400 years old: 

Plato’s Cave. 

Plato’s Cave is an allegory presented by the Greek philosopher Plato. In his allegory, a select number of people have been imprisoned in a cave from childhood, but not from birth. The prisoners are forced to face the cave wall and are chained so they cannot look around the cave, nor at each other. Directly behind the prisoners is a brick wall and a fire, where people walk carrying objects and puppets of living things. The prisoners are unable to see anyone or anything behind them, seeing only the shadows cast by the puppets. The voices of the people echo off the walls, causing the prisoners to believe these voices come from the shadows. The few prisoners that have escaped are the ones in charge of making the shadows.

Suppose one prisoner is freed. The prisoner looks around and spots the fire. He is blinded by the bright light and is unable to see the objects casting the shadow on the wall. It hurts his eyes, and he opts to return to the shadows. But somebody drags the prisoner out of the cave, refusing to stop until they reach the light of the sun. They tell the prisoner that everything out there is real. The prisoner is angry. Slowly, however, the prisoner adjusts himself to the bright, natural light, and sees the people and the objects themselves. Eventually, he looks up at the stars and the moon, and later on, even at the sun. Only after he sees the sun is he able to have reason.

We can draw parallels from Plato’s Cave to modern day social media. Like imprisonment in the cave, social media is not implemented from birth: certain social norms slowly ease you into it. In some places you are expected to have a phone, and when meeting a new person, it becomes a convention to ask for their Instagram or their Snapchat. Every time you view a post or story, your brain is triggered to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical, resulting in a neurological “high” and eventual addiction. Pop-ups and notifications ensure that users are as distracted as they can be and shrink the parts of the brain responsible to maintain concentration, like the prefrontal cortex.  

When we view too much social media, we are hyper-focused on the false shadows on the cave wall. Not all teenagers have a perfect face and a perfect life. Not all 18 year olds are earning $100k a year from dropshipping. Social media is only what those who have escaped the cave want you to see. When it is taken away from us, we become angry from the lack of dopamine, and we are forced out into the real world. Perhaps, though, once you escape the cave, you realize that the world is not what you believe it is.