Instant gratification on social media is harming in-person relationships

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As humans, social connection has always been our lifeline.

We’re wired to crave approval from the people around us. Throughout history, people sought the validation of their friends and family members who lived alongside them and helped them survive.

Social media has hijacked the system in our brains seeking social relationships and connection. Using social media gives us instant gratification for social connection—but this quick fix comes with its own costs.

While our brains become dopamine junkies looking for the next fix of text messages and likes on social media, our in-person relationships suffer.

We’re a generation accustomed to the instant gratification we get on social media, but real relationships aren’t like that. It takes time to trust people and get to know each other. Love is precious, but it’s also full of let-downs, conflicts, and silence.

Social media platforms weren’t designed with the wellbeing of their users in mind—they were designed to be addictive. Creators want you to spend as much time on their platforms as possible to generate ad revenue, and they psychologically manipulate their users to do so.

The level of manipulation on Instagram, for example, is outrageous.

If you send someone a direct message, not only does Instagram tell you whether they’ve seen your message, but also when that person was last active, so you know if they’re ignoring you. The dreaded ‘seen’ or ‘last active 3 hours ago’ tags create self-doubt and instill mistrust in our friends and loved ones.

Instagram stories are designed to be like slot machines. Each time you check if someone has seen your story, it’s psychologically equivalent to your brain pulling the lever on a slot machine—will you get the big hit of dopamine or not?

Afterwards, we realize people don’t hate us if they don’t respond to our messages immediately—they may be busy and have other responsibilities.

Yet, social media has generated a culture in which constant virtual availability is a must. This attitude sows doubt and anxiety in our relationships when the people around us don’t live up to that impossible standard.

Our relationships with the people in our lives exists for mutual support and connection, not for continuous rewards and gratification. Social media sets up unrealistic expectations for relationships, leading people to experience loneliness and discontent.

Digital platforms change our expectations of other people and ourselves while fueling the undercurrent of loneliness and anxiety.

It’s hard to undo these effects on our relationships, but it's essential we take the time to unplug and reconnect with the important people in our lives.

Embrace the tedious, awkward, and wonderfully imperfect in-person time with your friends. Connecting with the people you love won’t always be as glamourous as social media says it should be—but an authentic, long-term connection is worth it.

Julia is a fourth-year Psychology student and one of The Journal’s Features Editors.

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