April 26, 2016

There’s a tricky relationship between technology, social media and serotonin. As a quick reminder, serotonin is that magical neurotransmitter, a chemical, that impacts our mood. The more serotonin the more likeliness for kindness.

Scientifically, serotonin is spreadable. This video explains the ‘Science of Kindness’ and serotonin concept well. If you do something nice (an act of kindness) for me not only do both you and I get a hit of serotonin but so does anyone who witnessed the act. So, technically, serotonin can go viral via technology or social media in the virtual world, right? It’s scalable. Kind of. I’m in the process of studying this via a clinical research study. Until then, I’m experimenting on the interwebs.

When it comes to social media, serotonin can spread very quickly. For example, when a disaster of any sort happens, people come together immediately online and help by donating, offering assistance, support and relief. This pace for recovery and communication wasn’t as feasible prior to social networks. We can literally accelerate the act of kindness and help. Even without a disaster, if you simply witness something positive online like a nice gesture or someone helping another person, it’s possible that you’re the beneficiary of a quick hit of serotonin.

However, technology and social media can do the opposite in an equally powerful way. We have all witnessed hatred and anger online. The tone and lack of kindness that seems to be encouraged when people hide behind their screens — especially during this political season and debate around social issues. Often times people behave in ways online that they’d never do in the real world because they feel their phone or keyboard is a security blanket. Just as we can scale/spread the act of kindness via social media, we can also accelerate negativity and hatred. Both can, and do, go viral on a daily basis.

There are now generations of people who are learning to communicate more via technology than they do in person, face to face. Millions of people are reaching adulthood with a major deficiency in interpersonal skills. There’s a deficit of face to face soft skills because many people simply aren’t required to communicate this way and therefore they don’t learn and practice the art of in-person conversations and interactions. In the future, will newly crowned adults even need to develop the skills needed to have crucial conversations or will this be done via technology?

Additionally, due to technology, older generations are not needing to use their face to face communication skills as much and therefore they’re out of practice.

Texting, emailing, instant messaging and social media have replaced the original, basic way of communicating. Yet, that’s the most effective and impactful way to exchange serotonin — human to human in the real physical world. As we all know, when communication is done via technology there are important missing ingredients such as tone, emotion, inflection and the original exchange of serotonin. That’s kind of a big deal. Yes, we still might be able to send and receive a little serotonin via digital communication but it doesn’t have the same impact as an in-person exchange.

One of the reasons I originally fell in love with technology and social communication was because of the positive impacts it can have so quickly. Connecting, helping and sharing.

Yet over the past few years, I’ve personally felt that my iPhone and laptop have not only taken over my life but often times they also make the world seem darker. Whether that’s being exposed to negativity in my facebook feed or inundated and overwhelmed by my inbox. Or simply just the frequency of constant inbound and outbound messages from multiple outlets all day, everyday. It has left me feeling like the tail is wagging the dog. I’ve become fatigued with the noise and pace and it’s made me think hard about what benefits and joy it brings. (That is a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say.)

Part one of my experiment: I set aside 30 mins and set out to manually spread some serotonin. Here’s what I did:

I simply started focusing more on how I could help. What happened? Fromgiving advice to someone who is about to have a job interview …

… To helping a restless baby sleep in Australia, the type of information exchange did run the gamut.

This made me feel more helpful, valuable, happier and lighter. It also made others feel pretty darn good as well from what I can tell. The exciting part is that everyone who witnessed these acts were also exposed to a potential hit of serotonin. So basically, if everyone started doing this we could make kindness and feel good chemicals go viral? Pretty much. That’s powerful.

So what was the result of the job interview? I received this direct message from Bodi a few weeks after our exchange:

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 1.47.08 PM

Give it a try. It works especially well if you’re in a not-so-great mood or if you’re experiencing the infamous afternoon lull. What do you think would happen if you told your facebook friends you had a few extra minutes and asked how you could help them? Is it safe enough to try? Let me know how it goes. The experiment continues …

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