Friday, June 26, 2015

Is Social Media Ruining Your Mood? Or Enhancing it?

Hey there! Have you ever been playing around on Facebook or Twitter, clicking randomly on things that interest you, and find yourself going down a deep rabbit hole?

You click on a couple of political articles, for example, about horrific things happening in the world, and suddenly all you see in your newsfeed is a steady stream of more horrific articles. Or you click on a funny cat video your friend just posted, and the next three or four posts feature funny animals.

"Wow," you think. "That New Age spiritual notion of what you focus on increasing in your life must be true! There's the evidence right there in my newsfeed!" Yeah, well not so fast.

A number of technology-oriented entities, Apple and Google in particular, have been innovating in trying to make your online experience more custom-tailored to you, especially when it comes to mood. The idea can be used in a variety of ways from making your online searching experience more effective to filling your Facebook newsfeed with the kind of content you seem to want to see. If you have better success in finding what you are looking for by using a particular browser or social media service you are much more likely to associate a positive experience with using it—good for you because you'll be happier and more satisfied, good for the company because you'll want to use their service again.

And this isn't just happening online. I was recently shopping for clothes at Forever 21 and noticed that the music was making me feel good in a situation -- clothes shopping -- I usually associate with misery. I'm not your typical shopaholic. I shop for clothing twice a year to replace things I feel like I need but might not otherwise buy. But the last two times I shopped there, both within a week of each other, were different. I lingered. I felt better while I shopped. And that experience was so unusual I stopped to actually pay attention to the music alone. Such uplifting messages! "You are so beautiful." "I like you just the way you are." "Cut loose! Footloose!" "What a feeling!" and on it went. All popular songs, nothing glaringly out of place except I was surprised to hear "What a Feeling" from Flashdance both visits. That's what tipped me off. I didn't know if the songs were being chosen on purpose (they are), but I truly thought they were. And my next thought was "This is genius!" I felt increasingly better about myself as I was shopping in a place I originally thought of as a store where nothing would fit. (I mean, I'm no longer even close to 21.)

So, on some levels, this can be a very good thing. But there are days when I think Facebook has it totally wrong. Recently, I clicked on that horrifying blog news report about the 800 and growing heat wave deaths in Pakistan that are very likely the result of global climate change. I even went as far as to share it, even though I fought with myself as to whether to add to the relentless barrage of bad news in the feed I was getting at that time. It got so bad afterwards that I had to shut my computer down and take a good long break. I don't go to Facebook to feel miserable and depressed. I go there to relax, connect with my Friends and snack a little on a variety of Internet content and treats. But this week my newsfeed became awash with all things dark and horrible. I needed to beat a retreat and get my downtime fix somewhere else.

Such as in books! Before Facebook, I used to read those paper things that actually require an attention span, and I did it for hours at a time. (Did you know that the average attention span of a human being is estimated to be 8 seconds?!!!) So I decided this would be the summer when I would return to reading books. Actually, I downloaded a few to my Kindle. I've become a modern girl.

And what did I wind up reading? "Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate New Ideas and Predict the Future" by Rohit Bhargava. And in that book I read about trends in 2015 that include using seasoned journalists to create positive useful content for brands and nonprofits, social media experiments, mood-sensing technology, and a variety of other things that sparked me to write this blog post right now. Fascinating things about how even the rate of your typing on a laptop or, especially, a mobile phone is tracked for clues about your prevailing mood as you search the internet or walk through your neighborhood.

Oh! By the way, did a coupon for Starbucks wind up in front of you as you were walking down the street with your cellphone in your face just as your local Starbucks came into view? That's the result of the GPS on your phone and, at this point in time, you probably wanted it to do that. Maybe you do want that latte right now. Maybe you were going to Starbucks and that coupon will come in handy. But if someone knows where you are and what you are searching for or what you might have just said or texted to a friend, including what mood you are in. . .

I think my mood is not being enhanced in a good way as a result of that realization at all.

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