Social media offers hope of achieving higher online social status without having to succeed financially in a winner-take-most economy.
I’ve often addressed the decline of social mobility and the addictive nature of social media, and recently I’ve entertained the crazy notion that the two dynamics are related. Why Is Social Media So Toxic?
I have long held that the decline of social mobility–broad-based opportunities to get ahead financially and socially–is part of a larger dynamic I call social depression: the social decay resulting from economic stagnation and the decline of social mobility and financial security. America’s Social Depression Is Accelerating
Japan offers a real-world 29-year lab experiment in the negative social consequences of economic stagnation, a top I addressed back in 2010: The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: “Social Recession” and Japan’s “Lost Generations”
The conventional explanation of social media’s addictive hold is that it activates the human brain’s reward circuits much like an addictive drug: in effect, we become addicted to being “liked” and to checking our phones hundreds of times a day to see if we received any “likes”. Pathfinding our Destin... Check Amazon for Pricing.
This phenomenon is known as FOMO, fear of missing out: fear of missing out on some emotion-stimulating “news” or a “like” from someone in our network.
The innate addictive appeal of social media is pretty clear, but is that all that’s at work here?
Being social animals, humans naturally seek to identify their status in the pecking order and improve their position by whatever means are available as a way of increasing their reproductive success and their relative share of resources.
Traditional societies were bifurcated into a small elite and a much larger mass of commoners. As a general rule, social mobility was limited to those extraordinary commoners who were especially valuable to the ruling elite as soldiers, scribes, etc.
From its inception in the early 1800s, the American Dream was to acquire the “good life” via mass produced luxury goods. This has been the mainstay of the modern consumer economy, a consumption-based economy that becamedependent on credit in the 20th century.
The downside of mass-produced luxury items (status symbols) is that in a credit-based economy, just about everyone can afford to own them. Thus just about anyone can qualify for a mobile phone plan that offers a status-symbol iPhone as part of the multi-year contract.
As a result, the upper classes have been forced to greater extremes in cost and scarcity to differentiate themselves from the masses. For example, now that exotic travel is a affordable to anyone with credit, travel has little status value, unless it’s extremely costly or difficult to duplicate.
The same is true of the arts and other cultural status markers, along with the traditional markers such as yachts and homes.
As the underlying economy has stagnated, access to the upper class via earned income has decayed, and so commoners have been forced to find some other non-financial means to improve their social status.