Consume or be Consumed
Kirjoittanut: Ella Muja - tiimistä FLIP Solutions.
Written by: Ella Muja and Doneé Barendze
In today’s world everyone is influenced by consumption, whether it’s from the internet, the news, or friends. With the reliance on phones, which provide access to anything and everything, humans are exposed to all kinds of information and advertisements from various sources. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it became apparent that the information people consumed through the internet influenced their physical consumption behavior and spending habits, which has an effect on both society and the economy. Furthermore, this has affected humankind’s habits and relationships with others.
The Covid-19 pandemic that began in early 2020 has played a large role in the world population’s shifting consumption habits. When the lockdown commenced, most people were forced to stay at home, work remotely, and spend time on the internet instead of going outside due to the looming uncertainty of the pandemic. In turn this increased people’s media consumption and time spent on various online platforms such as social media and news outlets. A study published by Sortlist in 2022 found that there was a 78% increase in social media use in millennial and Gen-Z generations during the start of the pandemic, which goes to show how the large volume of active users created a new normal.
The use of social media platforms shifted from just communication and sharing information to entertainment, product reviews, and advertisement during the pandemic to the point where companies have begun investing more and more into apps like TikTok (Lyons 2021). When physical stores had to be closed, brands resorted to maintaining their sales through online stores, and eventually click and collect concepts, where an order can be placed online and just collected in the front of the store to save time and risk of covid exposure inside. Now looking back, click and collect has remained in use due to its interactive quality that attracts customers and that it simplifies daily routines (Drapers 2021). However, this wasn’t enough, and since most young people spent time online, brands had to get creative and prioritize social media marketing techniques. At this point, the amount of influencers on social media grew and social media marketing resources became a strong asset for companies. Slowly and slowly, more and more product reviews, brand deals, and partnerships began to saturate social media platforms.
Before the pandemic, influencers were not really seen as a profession and there was far less variety of content being posted in apps like TikTok. Funnily enough, TikTok was originally created for people to post short videos of themselves dancing, singing and lip syncing after merging and rebranding the app Musical.ly (Big 3 Media 2020). However, over time, people got more creative on the app after spending so much time on it, which also impacted user’s screen times. A study done by JAMA Pediatrics in November 2020 found that there was a 52% increase in screen time in American youth from the start of the pandemic, and that children aged 12-18 had an average screen time increase of 110 minutes per day. Although the study only reviewed youth, it’s an alarming result. There is a huge amount of content that can be squished into 246 minutes (4,1 hours), especially on social media platforms which spiked during the pandemic (Magden et al. 2022).
To get a better idea of screen time in adults after the pandemic, a survey was launched. The following questions were asked of participants:
- How old are you?
FIGURE 1: Results from survey question number one.
- What is your average screen time per day?
FIGURE 2: Results from survey question number two.
- Out of the options below, which 3 apps do you use most frequently on a weekly basis?
- Netflix or other entertainment platforms
FIGURE 3: Results from survey question number three.
4. Do you online shop?
FIGURE 4: Results from survey question number four.
5. If you answered yes to the question above, please specify which platforms you use
Answers: Zalando, Google, Asos, Nelly, ebay.de
6. How often do you reflect on your consumption behavior?
FIGURE 5: Results from survey question number six.
7. Which of the following categories does your algorithm present to you most frequently?
- Health and wellness
- Arts and culture
- Activism and politics
FIGURE 6: Results from survey question number seven.
After viewing the results of the survey, it can clearly be seen how active people are on their phones and certain platforms. For example, the average screen time is between three and five hours a day and some of the most common apps used are Instagram, YouTube and entertainment platforms. If a person is awake from 7.00-23.00, then they have 16 hours of time during the day to go about their life, and around a quarter of it is spent on their phone.
Another interesting observation is the differences in content the algorithm shows various people. The top two were Health & wellness and Fashion, which could influence a person’s consumer habits, as products advertised on social media platforms typically fall into those two categories.
Media consumption to physical consumption
As media consumption has risen and companies have invested more and more into digital marketing and brand deals, people’s consumption habits have also been influenced. Meaning, that it’s more common that people purchase something they saw being advertised online whether it be by an influencer, product review, pop-up ad, or commercial. A 2020 study done on social media’s impact on consumer behavior found that people often use social media for validation before purchasing a product, such as searching for the selected product and watching videos or reading comments about it (Chopra & Gupta 2020). This interesting aspect may seem like conscious consumption since more consideration may be done, however, in an article from UPM, it’s clarified that even if thought is put into the purchase, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is responsibly made or considered by the consumer (UPM 2021).
People spending more time on social media platforms and being influenced by their algorithm in turn equates to increased spending and that has an effect on the economy as well. As seen in the survey, fashion is a popular trend in the media and when exposed to it intensely, it can easily convince consumers to make a purchase. The McKinsey Foundation 2023 State of Fashion report found that from 2020-21 there was a 21% increase in revenues in the fashion industry, which can easily be linked to increased screen time and social media usage. In countries like the U.S. which have easy access to online shopping websites such as Amazon, spending is even easier. The ‘Buy Now’ function allows users to buy something in one click, since it uses their saved contact and payment information to make the purchase. This, along with guaranteed same day or next day delivery makes it even easier as it requires very limited effort and thought from the consumer’s side whether or not to make the order.
A habit is defined as an action that is carried out repeatedly, often subconsciously over a certain time period. Thereby leading to daily habits, weekly habits, monthly habits, etc. Habits are a very in depth and interesting study field and research has shown that habits often categorize under a phenomena known as a “habit loop.” A habit loop consists of four different phases: cue, craving, reward, response. It acts as a feedback loop, in other words, a continuous loop that acts every millisecond of every day. It is continually observing and processing its surroundings and then forecasts the next occurance, through which it tries out various responses and learns from the outcomes. To briefly summarize, a habit loop works like this: It starts out with an innocent cue that acts like a trigger for craving something, this craving leads to a response that leads to a reward, fulfilling the craving and eventually becoming linked to the cue. This habit loop results in a “neurological feedback loop” that results in subconscious, automatic actions/behaviors which manifests themselves in a person’s current reality. This loop is divided into 2 stages: the problem stage and the solution stage. The problem stage includes the cue and craving, whereas the solution stage includes response and reward. Human behavior is compelled by the urge to find solutions. It is either focused on noticing something attractive and then gaining it, or it is focused on easing an ongoing suffering. Both result in solving some kind of problem. Both the biggest magic and the biggest challenges lie in the fact that habits happen so subtly and subconsciously that if we do not actively pay attention to what kind of habits we implement, they can rule our lives in the worst possible ways. This is where media (over)consumption plays a huge role in our modern day society. We are constantly overstimulated with countless cues that trigger endless cravings, it becomes so much that our response reward systems cannot keep up and therefore we interrupt the habit loop in the problem stage, satisfying only the cue and craving and not necessarily leading to any response or reward. Have you ever felt an unexplainable urge to pick up your phone and check your notifications with no apparent reason? Or have you ever tried timing yourself, saying you will only spend 10 more minutes on a social media platform but it never ends in being just 10 more minutes and before you notice you have scrolled for hours through different social media platforms because the one leads you to the other so easily? This can be explained by something known as “habit stacking.” Habit Stacking is a theory that believes no behavior happens purely by itself. It argues that each action acts as a cue that causes the next action, that all behavior is interconnected and linked to one another. If you are on the wrong side of habit stacking, your bad habits start building onto each other, digging a deeper and deeper hole for the individual, but if you are on the right side of this theory, that’s where the magic happens. Unfortunately social media is a perfect example of how dangerous habit stacking can be for an individual. For example: It starts out as a notification on your phone which acts as the cue, triggering the craving to unlock your phone and open the Instagram application, this leads to the response which is the physical action of opening the app, and the eventual reward of analyzing the initial notification. This is one habit loop, but usually this results in an extended time spent on Instagram, because as one habit stacks onto another, you might as well check out a few stories which you missed out on, leading to stalking an influencer and next thing you know, you are three hours deep into reels because the habit stacking made it so easy to end up in this place. Just like habits are usually related to a specific time and location, with habit stacking, habits are usually related to other habits and naturally pair up with each other, causing habit stacking. The first step in developing better social media habits is being conscious about one’s own habits. Once awareness has been created, tools like habit stacking can be implemented consciously rather than subconsciously and this can result in much better habits and eventual behaviors. It is important, especially for the younger generations, to become more conscious of their own social media behavioral patterns and define the consumption behaviors they wish to have. This phenomena was developed by BJ Fogg. It was part of his Tiny Habits program. It can be explained using the formula: “After (current habit), I will (new habit). For example: Exercise, after (I take off my shoes at home), I will (put my gym clothes on immediately). (Clear 2018)
FIGURE 7: Habit stacking is the process of habits building onto each other. Stacked habits are more likely to be consistently repeating.
It is important to be aware of habit stacking because it often happens subconsciously that our habits build upon one another, and this can clearly be seen through social media addictive behaviors.
How social media caused our dopamine addiction and why it is bad for building a sustainable economy:
Dopamine can be understood in short as a chemical that allows information to pass through synapses. Dopamine is the main character hormone when it comes to feelings of pleasure. It is the main component of the reward system, as mentioned in the habit loop above. Anything from eating chocolate to having sex increases dopamine levels in the body, but dopamine is responsible for more than pleasurable experiences. It is also responsible for actions such as: learning, recollecting memories and motor control. When dopamine doesn’t function as it naturally should, it can result in fatal diseases like Parkinson’s and schizophrenia. So the question is: Why is dopamine important when it comes to media consumption and how are the two related to each other? Social media is the biggest cause for synthetic dopamine spikes in our generation. (Huberman)
The correlation between increased mental health issues and increased use of social media is no coincidence. COVID19 has played a huge role in the drastic increase of social media usage of the last two years as well. Apps like Tiktok were thriving during quarantine times and made use of people’s time quite extensively. Not only does social media enhance a screen-based dopamine addiction, it also decreases the amount that we use our brains to think for itself. This means that our brains, just like our other muscles, deteriorate bit by bit over time when we do not use it actively. It mainly affects our sense of creativity. When we are rewarded by social media entertainment, we require less independent thinking and creating from our brain. When our brain muscle deteriorates, it leads to lower overall levels of happiness. Forbes has formed a study on how time spent on Facebook, directly correlates with in-the-moment happiness. The main reason circulates around the idea that devices lack the sense of human connectedness, therefore leading to increased feelings of isolation. Once a feeling of isolation exists, most social media users run back to the exact thing that left them with this feeling: endlessly scrolling on their feeds. Social media can somehow be thought of as a drug dealer. Dealing out doses of synthetic dopamine which leads to high dopamine spikes and low dopamine hits. Once the dopamine hits a low, the user runs straight back to the dealer to get a dopamine fix and also a sense of fake social interaction, without any purposeful experience actually happening. Cognitive Scientist, Doctor Caroline Leaf stated: “Your brain changes moment by moment, according to what you expose it to. When social media becomes what you overwhelmingly expose it to, you allow your brain to start changing networks and making neurotransmitters fire incorrectly. They won’t fire in harmony and your brainwaves won’t be coherent. This all causes abnormal pathways in the brain.” This coming from a famous cognitive scientist in the 21st century should act as enough of a warning for both the current and upcoming generations who will be highly and directly affected by social media on a daily basis. (McBride)
We can now clearly see how COVID19 has drastically increased the time we spend on social media platforms, how our habits affect social media behavior and how social media affects our dopamine levels. With this information transparently displayed to us, we hold the power to decide how we can go forward from hereon. It might be time to take a good look in the mirror at ourselves and decide what kind of consumers we want to be. Do we want to consume consciously and responsibly, or be consumed by social media without even second guessing it? In our generation and the upcoming ones, it will constantly be a battle between consuming or being consumed. We have a choice.
Big 3 Media. 2020. A Brief History Of TikTok And Its Rise To Popularity: What is TikTok, and why has it become so popular? Read 17.02.2023. https://www.big3.sg/blog/a-brief-history-of-tiktok-and-its-rise-to-popularity
Clear, J. 2018. Atomic Habits. Read on 10 February 2023.
Chopra, C. & Gupta, S. 2020. Impact Of Social Media On Consumer Behaviour. International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts 8 (6), 2-19.
Drapers Bespoke. 2021. Why is click and collect so important post Covid? Read 17.02.2023. https://www.drapersonline.com/guide-to-growth/why-is-click-and-collect-so-important-post-covid
Kiger, JP. 2021. How Dopamine Works. Read on 20 February 2023. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/dopamine.htm
Lyons, H. 2021. ‘An entertainment escape’: Pandemic causes spike in social media usage. The Brussels Times. Read 17.02.2023. https://www.brusselstimes.com/175504/an-entertainment-escape-pandemic-causes-spike-in-social-media-usage
Madigan, S., Eirich, R., Pador, P., et al. 2022. Assessment of Changes in Child and Adolescent Screen Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics 176 (12).
MCbride, P. 2021. Here’s how social media affects your dopamine levels. Read on 17 February 2023. https://floreshealth.com/health-news/heres-how-social-media-affects-your-dopamine-levels/
Newport, C. 2016. Quit social media. Watched on 20 February 2023.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E7hkPZ-HTk
Sortlist. 2022. Social Tools: Our Last Resort to Keep a Semblance of Social Life and Leisure? Yes According to 78% Of Millennials and 33% of Boomers. Read 12.02.2023. https://www.sortlist.com/datahub/reports/how-different-generations-use-social-media/
The McKinsey Foundation. 2022. The State of Fashion 2023: Holding onto growth as global clouds gather. Read 20.02.2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/state-of-fashion
It’s great to see essays that question the consumption among people. Let it be real tangible goods consumptions or services like social media that serve us as communicators, entertainment platforms, sales platform and what not. Link between pandemic and social media use is interesting, I’m going to look more how these two influence our resilience and coping mechanisms. At least in the academic community, pandemic showed lack of resilience among young people. Many struggled with everyday activities, covid19 was to blame, but was it the real cause?
I would be interested to read in the essay how dopamine addiction is bad for building a sustainable economy. Last part covers well the process and how dopamine spikes and lows are created, but I didn’t understand the link with sustainable economy.
What is your own opinion, should we abandon social media all in all or would moderate use of be ok?