In case you’ve ever wondered why people spend such enormous amounts of time online – especially on social media and social networks – I have the answer.
It’s not that it’s addictive like online gaming, gambling, pornography, reality TV, Big Macs and Starbucks. Of course it is, but that’s not the reason.
It’s not that we’re narcissistic, egotistic, self-centric, and possibly sociopathic or psychopathic (I’m actually not quite sure what the difference is) bottomless pits of need and insecurity that will sell our souls for a little attention, a Twitter follower, a Facebook friend or a LinkedIn in connection. We increasingly are, but that’s not the reason either.
It’s not that it’s so much easier to lie on a couch in your PJs playing make believe that you’re a social media entrepreneur than it is to get a real job and have real responsibilities and bills and all that to deal with. And your folks are too coddling to throw your sorry entitled boomerang butt out on the street. Sad but true … and still not the reason.
It’s not that we’re programmed like lab rats in a Skinner Box – that our brain’s limbic system doses us with feel-good neurotransmitters like Dopamine every time we click because it thinks we’re responding to an ancient survival instinct of safety in numbers. That’s also true, but it’s not why we do it.
It’s not that Silicon Valley executives have hatched a monumental conspiracy to get users to do all their work for them – generating and consuming enormous amounts of free content and applications – while they sit back and rake in the big bucks. Indeed they have – that’s exactly what Web 2.0 is – but no, I’m sorry to say that’s not it either.
It’s not that we seek comfort and escape from the stress and complexities of our super-fast-paced, hypercompetitive, technologically advanced, information and communication-overloaded world where there’s always too much to do and never enough time to do it. That’s also not it, but I have good news: you’re getting warmer.
You’re not going to believe this, but the real reason we spend so much time on social media is actually the opposite of the last paragraph. We do it because modern life has become too easy. So we’ve created the world I just described to keep our minds occupied because we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. Not only are all the other reasons valid, they’re all related, as well. But at the core, we waste away our lives online because life has become too easy. And humans are simply not cut out for that. That’s not how our species evolved. It’s not in our DNA. It’s not how we roll.
Humans became the dominant species on Earth through millions of years of evolution and adaptation. We developed complex brains with enormous frontal lobes to outsmart other species, combat the elements, hunt for our food, and fight for our mates so we could survive and proliferate. And when that was no longer required we fought each other for our freedom and liberty and worked our tails off to raise our families in at least some degree of safety, health and comfort.
Fast forward to today.
We have no real battles left to fight. We have conquered the elements and the planet. We live reasonably long lives. And we have no real threats to our survival. All the survival imperatives – food, shelter, safety and sex – are not only plentiful but available at the click of a button or the tap of a screen.
And every day a government that wants to take care of us and grow its own power and size in the process is making it less and less critical for us to work hard and take risks to ensure we and our families are provided for.
Contrary to popular belief and what you might think, no matter who you are and what you do, if you live in this country you have more leisure time today than at any time in American history. And that probably goes for just about any other civilized culture, as well.
We have these enormous brains, powerful instincts, and amazing bodies and not much to do with all that firepower anymore. So we now spend an average of five hours a day engaged in the virtual world – tweeting, posting, updating, liking, linking and commenting – to keep ourselves busy, make some noise, create a little drama, and lull ourselves into believing we’re being useful in some way.
Simply put, we’re all bored.