In his book “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley depicts a world in which people ingest soma, a drug that induces happiness in its consumers. However, it is later understood that soma doesn’t actually induce happiness in its consumers as much as it distracts them from their negative feelings.
While “Brave New World” is a novel, and soma is not a real drug, Huxley’s dystopian society has never been more familiar. We just happen to call soma a more ironic (yet eerily similar sounding) name: social media.
While many of us have heard before that social media acts as a drug, the term “drug” is dangerously ambiguous. After all, coffee and tea are “drugs,” but we don’t seem to give them as much weight as, say, LSD or heroin. Rather than argue about whether to categorize social media as a drug, I aim to give social media some narcotic context in order to better conceptualize its effects.
I believe social media usage falls under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classification as a Schedule II drug, which is defined as: “with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” While Schedule III drugs have “low potential for physical and psychological dependence” and Schedule I drugs offer “no currently accepted medical use,” social media fits the classification of a Schedule II drug.
Much like opiates, alcohol, nicotine and amphetamines, social media influences our dopamine pathways. Dopamine motivates us to repeat certain actions, thus serving as an evolutionary reward system. Many of us are familiar with the Pavlovian effects that our notification bells have on us via the rushes of dopamine that they provide. An article titled “Excessive Social Media Use Comparable to Drug Addiction” says that “researchers estimate that 20 percent of people with social media accounts cannot go more than three hours without checking them.” The psychological dependence that social media induces does not carry a “low potential for … dependence,” and thus cannot be characterized as a Schedule III drug.
Additionally, the psychological dependence on social media is not as innocuous as the type of dependence that coffee inspires. According to Addiction Center’s social media addiction page, “Research has shown that there is an undeniable link between social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem.” The article notes the concordant rates of high social media usage and eating disorders, as well as the disregard of personal responsibilities in those who excessively use social media.
It is clear that psychological dependence on social media usage comes with a cost to our mental health. Yet there are undeniable benefits of social media as well, such as the rapid dissemination of knowledge across a vast network of people. By utilizing social media as a platform for the exposure of injustices, people can effect societal change in unprecedented ways, as was evident in the social media response after the unjust killing of George Floyd in May.
Yet while social media inspires progression on a societal scale, its individual users suffer. Diminished self-esteem coupled with incessant dopamine stimulation make social media a dangerously addictive pharmacological substance. While there is potential good in social media’s community, that community only exists online, while the negative emotional consequences of social media, such as isolation and self-absorbedness, stay long after a person logs off.
Because 90 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media, something which has the pharmacological profile of a Schedule II drug, it is shocking that we continue to normalize social media usage, especially among youth. If the psychological consequences of social media were encapsulated by a pharmacological substance rather than a platform of visual stimulation, a Reaganesque “Just Say No” campaign against social media would be expected.
Let us not be fooled, then, that just because the media to which we are addicted may be unfamiliar, the consequences of consumption are nonexistent.
As long as we adhere to the DEA’s drug scheduling (as flawed as it might be), we have to consider that multiple apps on our phones should be classified as Schedule II drugs as well. With this in mind, I hope people begin to be more cognizant of their addictive social media usage. Because I believe everyone has the right to engage in whatever actions they wish, even if they may have negative consequences, I do not advocate for the complete abolishment of social media but rather a heightened awareness of its drug-like effects. So next time you’re mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, ask yourself, “Would Nancy Reagan approve?”
Please like, share and comment on this article so I can partake in the dopamine fun!
Ta’ir (Ty) Rocker PZ ‘23 is from Riverdale, NY. During quarantine, he got into cultivating mushroom logs and brewing his own beer.