In Connection Delusion Part 1, we looked at the vicious cycle of social media’s effect in our lives. We saw how it influences our dopamine levels, causes FOMO, leads to instant gratification, social inadequacies and more. We went through a few action plans to help us increase our awareness of how excessive social media usage impacts our bodies.
Moving on to discussing the consequences in this article; it can be a heavy read as we analyze our thoughts and actions, while we investigate the consequences of social media addiction. Make it easier by monitoring your breathing and keep it well regulated!
The Brain: The Consistent Information Stimulation
The easy flow of information and interaction we seem to enjoy from social media was put under microscopic evaluation during our research for this article. We are aware of its boons, instant connection with loved ones without the agony of waiting for days, and the ability to view the world from a small screen is a clear plus.
However, along with this seemingly wonderful connection to the world, there is a surplus of information pouring in, like an endless tsunami. While we have the freedom to choose our version of information that supports our views and beliefs, research shows that social media is an excellent tool to manipulate people for or against a cause. Let us start with the easiest delusion, the human memory.
Consequence #1: The Memory Illusion
“No one touches the food! I’m taking a picture to create memories.”
“Woah! Look at that! Let me quickly snap and share this.”
“Such a beneficial reminder! Let me screenshot and save it for later.”
“I saw this awesome post by xyz, hold on I’ll send you the post.”
“Google Effect” also known as “digital amnesia” is a term coined by researchers in 2011. They concluded, that due to our increased dependence on recalling information from the internet or our devices, our brain reduces or changes the way it stores information.
The study showed that people who expect to have access to information later, readily forget information than those who did not. Furthermore, people show better remembrance of the information site than the actual information. For example, if a person wanted to revisit a particular statement or number, they remember who posted it instead of remembering the data itself.
Elena Molokotos writes, “Media modifies not only what we remember but how we remember.” She says, “One way to understand social media’s effect is through the ‘illusory-truth effect’, whereby people tend to rate familiar statements as more true than new statements. This is especially pertinent to the fake news phenomenon.
According to the illusory-truth effect, when information is presented repeatedly on social media platforms, it is more likely to be deemed true. Thus, we are more prone to being manipulated through language and repetition, increasing our risks for accepting false narratives and inaccurate accounts of history.”
A common example would be media’s consistent distortion of Islam causing millions around the globe to form false memories about the religion, impacting their behavior and choice when dealing with a Muslim, leading to community prejudice, disputes and violence.
Another factor that plays a role in weakening the memory is immorality. When a person indulges in sin, it prompts the mind into conscious or sub-conscious rumination, leading to anxiety and sorrow and a negative self-image, which keeps the brain occupied. This dulls their senses and distracts them from their purpose in life.
Yahya ibn Yahya said: “A man asked Maalik ibn Anas, O Abu Abd-Allah! Is there anything that will improve my memory? He said, 'If anything will improve it, it is giving up sins.'” [Al-Jaami, al-Khateeb]
- Be aware of the information you feed yourself. Check for its credibility before sharing it with others.
- Observe how your brain stores information, and how a post influences your emotions and feelings.
- When you take a break from social media, recall all that benefitted you. You can either write it down somewhere physically or explain it to someone without simply forwarding.
- Stretch your critical thinking. Look up methods to sift through the information you receive and separate it into true, false, or ambiguous. (It will take some practice and time to get used to, but it proves quite beneficial in the long run)
- Consume healthy foods that strengthen your memory, including omega 3. Reduce foods that are damaging to your memory, such as excess sugar and processed foods.
Consequence #2: Illusioned Productivity
Do you know someone who wakes up irritable and their mood worsens as the day goes? Our heavy involvement on social media, leads to disrupted sleep cycles. Late night social media usage has proven to have its effects on sleep and circadian rhythm, mood swings and a starter to poor overall health.
According to a study from Harvard Medical School, the blue light emitting from our screen disrupts the hormone – melatonin, which promotes sleep quality and activates neurons that increase alertness. Research shows that this creates an imbalance within the body causing potential weight gain and health issues leading to a vicious cycle of increased stress, mood disorders, rumination and lack of focus.
Research shows that restorative sleep occurs between 8pm to 2am. That is the time your body begins its self-healing process, clears off toxins, and other waste to prepare itself for another day. But because we stay up past 2am, our bodies pause that restoration, leading to health issues in the long run.
A poor health is detrimental to being productive, it is not surprising when the day is over, we still have tasks left to complete.
- Set your devices to night mode after dusk, decreasing the white light that blocks the production of sleep hormones.
- Regulate your sleep schedule the Sunnah way i.e. post Isha, even if it means canceling a few meetups. (Make this a regular habit so that an occasional slip will not affect the body.)
- Avoid screens an hour before bedtime; instead spend time on self-care, read (screen free) or spend time with family.
- Maintain good self-care boundaries to protect your health by sleeping at the best time, frequently.
Consequence # 3: Impact on Character
As we see social media’s impact on our sleep cycle, we can also observe its domino effect on ourselves and our day. Since we log into social media the moment we wake up, it spirals downward affecting our character.
Due to lack of quality sleep, our brains are clouded or foggy causing poor self-reflection, self-awareness, insight and introspection, feelings of inadequacy, information overload, and mood swings. These factors are bound to affect our behavior.
Instant gratification leads to impatience, which in turn increases aggression and frustration. We become mindless to the blessings bestowed on us by Allah. We may not even feel this shift in our behavior immediately.
Let us look at a few traits that deeply impact our character during these times:
1. Hardness of the heart:
What does the heart have to do with social media? Let us answer another question before this. What happens when a society suffers this disease of a hardened heart?
Historical events, like the downfall of Spain, show a key step taken by Christians to overthrow the powerful Muslim rule - they spread all kinds of corruption and immoral acts, weakening the morals of society, causing their conspiration go unnoticed or uncared, resulting in their eventual defeat. Modern colonists had a similar pattern. You think they probably turned a new leaf and stopped their mischief in our era? The answer is no.
Let us return to the first question: how are these two related? A hard-hearted person cannot receive or tolerate any guidance and advice. He sins, over-indulges in material pleasures, and disobeys Allah without batting an eye. This results in slavery of material desires and bondage to those who seek to dominate him, ultimately preparing for complete deterioration and demise of self.
That is the relation of social media with the heart. It is a tool to increase our desires combined with constant exposure to entertainment and enjoyment, not to forget the blatant fitnah it spreads.
We need to realize this fact: The mischief makers in power do not fear popular education, what they fear is spiritual and moral strength. Because moral and spiritual weakness of a nation open the doors for exploitative powers to enter.
Narrated An-Nu'man bin Bashir: I heard Allah's Messenger ﷺ saying,
أَلاَ وَإِنَّ فِي الْجَسَدِ مُضْغَةً إِذَا صَلَحَتْ صَلَحَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ، وَإِذَا فَسَدَتْ فَسَدَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ. أَلاَ وَهِيَ الْقَلْبُ
“….. Beware! There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart. [Bukhari]
When the heart is hardened, a person cannot benefit from knowledge nor can he benefit others. Without the softness of the heart, a person’s life is filled with distress and discomfort, living a miserable life.
Allah says in the Quran:
أَفَمَن شَرَحَ اللَّهُ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ مِّن رَّبِّهِ فَوَيْلٌ لِّلْقَاسِيَةِ قُلُوبُهُم مِّن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ أُولَٰئِكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِين
“……Then woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah. Those are in manifest error”. [Surah Az-Zumar: 22]
Tafseer As-Sa’di explains that those whose hearts have hardened against the remembrance of Allah, their hearts do not soften upon hearing Allah’s Book, they do not pay attention to its verses, and they do not find rest in the remembrance of Allah; instead their hearts turn away from their Lord and focus on something other than Him. These are the ones to whom the stern warning and severe punishment are directed.
What misdirection could be worse than the misguidance of one who turns away from his Lord, when all happiness is in turning to Him, instead he focuses on everything that could harm him.
2. A Means to Disbelief:
Have you seen memes like “We need Halal bars where zamzam is served, Hajj being the Coachella for Muslims, jokes on marrying 4 wives and mocking men for it, God “accidentally” slipping in more procrastination/laziness/failure potion while “creating” us etc., spreading on the internet?
Imagine mocking the King of kings without even realizing! It is ignorance and arrogance towards Al Malik - The Owner of Everything, when we joke around with religion without taking our actions into account.
Allah says in the Quran:
وَلَئِن سَأَلْتَهُمْ لَيَقُولُنَّ إِنَّمَا كُنَّا نَخُوضُ وَنَلْعَبُ قُلْ أَبِاللَّهِ وَآيَاتِهِ وَرَسُولِهِ كُنتُمْ تَسْتَهْزِئُونَ
لَا تَعْتَذِرُوا قَدْ كَفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ إِن نَّعْفُ عَن طَائِفَةٍ مِّنكُمْ نُعَذِّبْ طَائِفَةً بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا مُجْرِمِينَ
“And if you ask them, they will surely say, "We were only conversing and playing." Say, "Is it Allah and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking? Make no excuse; you have disbelieved after your belief...” [Surah at-Tawbah, 65-66]
3. Mind Decay:
Social media is the updated gossip magazine, where the juiciest tidbits are delicately enjoyed. Whether it is about celebrities or people we know, engaging in it can have deep psychological impact.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.” What’s gossip got to do with our minds? It leads to loneliness, insecurity about us and others. This harms the essential aspect of a human being to have safety and security. More so, it is also a sign of emotional immaturity.
Who is an emotionally immature person? Some common signs are that the person has difficulty diving into deep conversations, unable to fathom that the world does not revolve solely around them. They have commitment issues, are unaccountable, overly defensive, and often lonely. Life turns bitter and resentful for them, without acceptance.
It is also a means of disobedience to Allah. He warns the believers about its consequences in the Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِّن نِّسَاءٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ بِئْسَ الِاسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُون
“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent - then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” [Surah al-Hujarat, 11]
Observe the use of language on social media with this verse, do we not gossip about each other? Haven’t we normalized the use of obscene and offensive language? It was insecurity that resulted into normalizing gossip and vulgar language. A mere attempt to fit into society, now justified as a means of “self-expression”. This damages our connection with Allah, as we live on auto pilot without grasp of our actions, reducing our status in society as ignorant ill-mannered people and losing all purpose of life.
- Tell your friends about the seriousness of backbiting and foul words and turn it into a challenge, for example - first one to reach 5 strikes by gossiping pays the bill
- Unfollow pages that joke about religion, gossip, or promote immorality. Work on removing everything in your life that is hardening your heart. Since Taqwa and Iman are in the heart, a healthy heart is vital for them to flourish, not a sick and diseased one.
- Three questions to ask yourself before you talk about someone:
1. What thoughts or feelings am I hoping to have validated by gossiping about this person?
2. What is the purpose of sharing this information?
3. Do the qualities of the person I am gossiping about remind me of myself?
Ask the Turner of Hearts to soften your heart. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to make this dua often.
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَالْهَرَمِ وَعَذَابِ الْقَبْرِ اللَّهُمَّ آتِ نَفْسِي تَقْوَاهَا وَزَكِّهَا أَنْتَ خَيْرُ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا أَنْتَ وَلِيُّهَا وَمَوْلاَهَا اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ نَفْسٍ لاَ تَشْبَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لاَ يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ عِلْمٍ لاَ يَنْفَعُ وَدَعْوَةٍ لاَ تُسْتَجَابُ
“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from incapacity, laziness, miserliness, cowardice, old age, the torment of the grave. O Allah make my soul obedient and purify it, for You are the best One to purify it, You are its Guardian and Lord. O Allah, I seek refuge in You from a soul that is not satisfied, a heart that is not humble, knowledge that is of no benefit and a supplication that is not answered.” [An-Nasai]
Another easy trick to soften your heart is to remember Allah consistently. Make sure you spread out your adhkar throughout the day in various forms: morning and evening dua, count three new blessings every day, involving Allah in your conversations. Remind ourselves that death comes without warning, our preoccupation prevents our preparation for the day we die.
Consequence #4: Influenced Social Learning
Albert Bandura developed the theory of social learning that proves how human behavior is easily influenced through social media.
Although this theory is commonly applied in educational setting and development, we will look at the role of celebrities and influencers in promoting social learning. The theory states - to learn successfully, an individual must go through 4 stages:
1. Attention: We learn when we give our full attention to something. Here is the catch - only interesting information gets our full attention, distraction hinders learning.
2. Retention: Our ability to store information, being able to recall the information and act on it is vital to learning.
3. Repetition: When we complete the first two steps, the third one is repetition. The more we retain and act on the learned information, the more it solidifies.
4. Motivation: For successful learning, we need to remain motivated towards our repetition. Reinforcement (reward) and punishment are two ways that increase motivation which are either observed or experienced.
For example, if we highly admire a certain celebrity or influencer, we may want to model their behavior either fully or partially. If they enjoy a certain brand, we are more likely to buy from that brand. We end up liking the brand, and our trust in the influencer increases. The more we trust and follow the person, the less we question their choices.
When we buy that brand we can either be verbally appreciated or materialistically satisfied, feeling somewhat ‘included’, (your brain releases dopamine i.e. mental reward) but when we do not buy that brand, we either feel left out, or not included in the group (FOMO, social inadequacy, instant gratification i.e. mental punishment).
This results in choices that can have a negative impact on your stability be it mental or financial, and perhaps even your relationships.
Researchers use this theory to investigate and understand ways that role models can be used to encourage desirable behaviors that facilitate social change.
When social media consumers are repeatedly exposed to certain ideologies and narratives by either popularized quotes or idolized influencers, it becomes a child’s play to conform a society towards any idea- dangerous for a society with reduced critical thinking skills. People begin forming groups in societies, looking down on individuals for having a different opinion than the mainstream narrative, creating disunity a.k.a easy dominance. Both genders are easy targets of this form of manipulation. However, more women fall for it in comparison to men, mainly due to the difference in thinking patterns of each gender.
In the end, we ask ourselves, “Is social media just a networking tool designed to ease our communication? Are we consuming social media or is it consuming us? Were we experiencing a connection delusion all this time?”
Based on the facts and consequences discussed above, it is hard to deny the final question.
With awareness comes work, when an injury is discovered, we put in all our might to heal from it. Similarly, to heal from our connection delusion, we need to recognize our issues, be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.
It is common to find difficulty in implementing a solution when problems keep arising. However, what sets us apart is the work we put in to rewire our mind, our thoughts, and habits. After all Allah never turns away a heart that sincerely wants to change!
Why is it important that we help ourselves heal and be aware of these delusions? Because the Ummah carries the weight of enjoining good and forbidding evil. The more people who pull out from carrying the weight, the heavier it will be on those holding it. Resulting in their collapse and the demise of our religion. Everyone is held accountable for their role.
We now face a fork in our path: Do we, as believers in Allah, resume our responsibility of carrying the weight? Or do we leave it on ‘others’?
A choice that dictates our life for eternity is obviously harder than our choice for a university, career, or spouse, but it is better to choose wisely than regret living an oblivious life later.
If you found this article beneficial and want to change your social media habits, you can start right now by taking a moment to revise your intentions when using social media and setting an action plan to follow from the points given. Next, you can keep an eye out for our 20 Days of Digital Detox Challenge coming up soon InshaAllah, to help you gain control of your social media use.
What are your thoughts on the article? Is there anything you would like to add or share your experience? We would love to know what you think! Take your time and let us know in the comments.
10 Roots Academy Podcast: Crafting a vision, setting priorities and nurturing discipline- by Sheikh Sajid Umar
Note: This series of articles involves and is written in consultation with clinical psychologists and other industry professionals.
Missed Part 1? Read: Rooting It Out: Understanding Addiction and Its Origins
Missed Part 2? Read: Gaming: Game Over? Or Level Up?
Missed Part 3? Read: Music: Lost In A Song
Missed Part 4? Read: Social Media: The Connection Delusion | Part 1
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