Mental Colonisation and Cultural Imperialism-Threat of Technology and Social Media (PART 2)

Technology and social media carry the potential for significant negative impacts and irreversibility at the individual and social level.

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Published in Astro Awani, and Asia News Today, image by Astro Awani.

Part 1 discussed how Generation Z (those born within the year 1997 to 2012, age 10 to 25 in 2022) or also known as “Zoomers” and the preceding generation known as Generation Alpha (“Alphas”) which currently includes all children born in or after 2010 have new “parents” in the form of technology and social media. 

Impacts on these generations included the loss of talents and ambition and the perversion of meaning and values.  

In this article, we further elaborate on how contemporary social media content contributes to a variety of individual and social level reengineering, making it a potent tool in mental colonisation and cultural imperialism. 

Reinforcement of Shallowness by Male-Female Selection

Few things can motivate a person or influence their mind than the primal desire to procreate and pass on the genes. In the era of social media, this goes beyond biological characteristics and into the selection of a partner (or partners) with higher social status. 

In biology, there is something known as “female choice”, as coined by the father of evolution theory Charles Darwin, which greatly determines whose genes get to be passed on to the next generation.

Unlike “survival of the fittest”, whereby sexual partner selection is done through male competition, partner selection through female choice may not appear to be tied to biological advantages.

A widely known example of this is the peacock’s train, which Darwin posited that the trait had evolved through female preference in males with more intricate trains (peacock’s tail-feather). This criterion may not appear to have direct biological advantages or value for survival in the wild.

There are countless portrayals in social media of females and males that appear to have chosen their partners based on how famous they are, which can be determined from the number of followers that person has or other measures of engagement, instead of the level of fame due to one’s real contribution to knowledge and the society. 

The skewed portrayal of fame and success, magnified and reinforced through male/female selection, shapes the worldview and motivation of social media users and content creators. Specifically, social media has magnified partner selection as another form of success, therefore, another key dimension of social comparison and pressure.

Seeing a famous TikTok user getting the attention of another attractive female is a powerful motivator and influencer to other males as far as “what works” as it appeals to the hardwired instinct to pass on the genes. 

In short, meaning perversions and the promotion of shallow values are biologically reinforced by appealing to the most basic primal needs. A dangerously powerful combination.

Rise of Rejectionism and Rebellion

Those who could not, or choose not to compete in the social media image of a materialistic and/or sexual rat race may opt for rejectionism, or rebellion against the entire system. They may reject the prevailing economic practices, governments and authorities, cultural norms and promote anti-work ideologies and so on.

This is in part due to news and information that flows through social media that prefer negative content. Social media algorithms, reinforced by the user’s choice tend to favour bad news (dramatisations, conflicts, tragedies, crises, disasters etc.) which paint a worse-than-it-is current situation and a bleaker future. 

Mainstreaming Meaninglessness and Immediate Gratification

Those who don’t fall into the materialist/rejectionist polarities may fall into other meaningless categories. For some, they deal with the constant peer or social pressures through external validation (through measures of “engagements” such as views, likes, shares, comments etc.), while others simply consume these contents for self-amusement and not even for validation.  

It is fine if these engagements are worthy endorsements, such as those given to creators or influencers of good, useful and inspiring content. 

But instead of being mere bonuses of bigger objectives, these engagements become the end goal. 

These meaningless pursuits for “clout” provide immediate gratifications from gaining attention which one may feel temporary satisfaction that needs to be fulfilled again.

Before social media prevalence, it is relatively harder to achieve fame or recognition. From the brain chemistry perspective, people had to work harder for such a dopamine boost. This is no longer the case with technology and social media where anyone can have access to millions of users globally at their fingertips.

As mentioned in EMIR Research’s previous article titled “Growing weaker kids with early exposure to gadgets?” dated September 22, 2022, dopamine is a pleasure chemical which is released in the brain when we eat sweet things, look at someone that we really like, or experience the destructive high from cocaine. 

Therefore, gadget-induced dopamine ‘rush’ could be mimicking these reward pathways.

According to journalist and writer Lauren Vinopal, the problem arises when over-stimulation of the dopamine pathway exhausts the reward system of the underdeveloped brain of a child. Think of Zoomer children and adolescents, and more worryingly Alphas that use gadgets to access social media content when they are toddlers. 

Consequently, the brain hungers for more dopamine and becomes less capable of producing dopamine with lower levels of stimulation—making it harder to enjoy more ‘natural’ experiences.

This reinforces the bad habit of needing more immediate gratification and an immediate urge for more (faster and more intense) mental stimulation—similar to how drugs induce addiction.

This “addiction” to content-induced dopamine boost is likely the reason for the “mindless scrolling” by social media consumers and as a source of motivation for content creators. Both of these may not be easily recognised by society as addiction as it is often associated with substance abuse, but the habitual impact of the psychological re-wiring can be just as real.

We go to great lengths to protect the younger population from the threat of drugs, so, shouldn’t we also look seriously into how we can protect them from the negative elements of technology and social media given the real and significant risk it carries?

Death of Definitions and the Crisis of Identity

As pointed out by American-Canadian digital media and broadcasting company Vice Media Group LLC in its Gen Z Parents Global Report: “Zoomers are known for rejecting societal norms and constraints and for turning rigid binaries into inclusive spectrums. They don’t align with binary definitions of sexuality or gender, proving their identity is anything but static”

The report further says:

“This generation only expects their identities to become even more complex in the future as they face new experiences and express themselves through the choices they make. Demographics like age, gender, and race that describe what they are don’t show the entire picture of their complex views of identity.”

The same could be expected from Alphas. 

There must be a precursor to the observed phenomenon as such characteristics cannot simply emerge from thin air. 

As mentioned earlier, Zoomers are the most connected generation and currently the most immersed in social media. The susceptible and immature minds of Zoomers and Alphas are ill-equipped to filter, make critical assessments and evaluations of contents fed to them via technologies that transcend geographically-segregated norms, cultures, concepts and ideas in politics, governing principles, economic practices, social and spiritual concepts.

As a result, they are exposed to foreign and variable notions of all things. 

Because every culture and belief systems have a predefined concept of human rights, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable, ethical and unethical, moral and immoral etc., the convergence of cultures through social media, or more accurately, the domination of certain cultures make defining anything to be a complex matter, especially for young minds from less dominant cultures. 

Their complex early experience in digital globalisation and cultural imperialism will shape a society that is definition-fluid. 

The constitution, laws, rules and regulations, the basis of agreements and contracts, identifications, distinguishing between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood, determination of right and wrong and other fundamental principles rely on definitions. 

A society with fluid definitions of things is at best a form of superficial freedom that is harbouring the seeds of chaos.

We underestimate social media and technology because of their ubiquitous nature and prevalence. Yet, as discussed, it has the power for shaping worldviews and cultures. 

As shown in Figure 1 (taken from EMIR Research article titled “Ruthless colonization Mat Kilau could not even imagine” by Dr Rais Hussin dated July 25, 2022), the combination of technology and social media content spreads it among the top three colonising tools.

via EMIR Research

Although this form of mental colonisation and cultural imperialism takes time, it holds the highest potential for impact and irreversibility.

Parents, educators, politicians, regulators, non-governmental organisations, community leaders and groups and even industry players must come together to put in countermeasures against the potentially detrimental social reengineering effects, particularly on the youths—the very foundation and hope of a nation.

Ameen Kamal is the Head of Science & Technology at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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