TechMunch: TBH, everyone needs a hug

2015 saw the word ‘Smombie’ win Youth Word of the Year. A ‘Smombie’ – a smartphone zombie – or someone mindlessly walking and looking at their mobile – is now the norm for today’s hyper-connected millennials.

But I have a confession. I left my phone at home the other day and it’s the first time I have actually looked at anyone on my daily commute – in four years. So I was genuinely shocked to see that every single person was glued to their phone. We appear to have become a nation of Smombies. Both tech and social media have become an integral part of our society – shaping not only our language but our behaviour.

Research has shown that social media impacts the brain in the same way that a hug does. That rush of happiness and contentment is thanks to endorphins, a neurochemical known as the “reward molecule” that’s released after certain actions or behaviours, such as exercising, or setting and achieving a goal. While physical activity is most commonly linked to an endorphin release, this new form of modern-day, sedentary behaviour is now getting the same credit.

According to a study by San Francisco-based media-buying firm RadiumOne, social media usage is an endorphin gold mine. Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ a comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation. You don’t even have to go through the physical exertion of clicking “like” to feel the rush. The study also found that if you have the earliest predictor of a reward—a sign of a social media alert, like your phone buzzing—you get a rush of endorphins.

So it’s easy to assume that using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter create the same buzz, brings people together, forges friendships and breeds connectivity. But the reality is that social media and technology can make people, the young in particular, feel lonely and isolated. Teenagers (and adults alike) have always compared themselves to peers. But now the opportunities to compare ourselves are endless and for that matter global. It doesn’t stop there. The emotional aspects of bullying continue to be devastating, however the internet, and social media, has changed the way young people experience bullying. In short, while it’s ‘social’ by name, it’s unfortunately not always that social.

Young people can now be bullied anywhere, anytime – even when they’re at home. With the potential to reach a vast audience in a matter of seconds, at any time of day or night, while offering a degree of anonymity – bulling can now be 24/7.  So Facebook’s move to buy an anonymous teen compliments app, TBH, appears to be a move in the right direction.

TBH allows young adults to send anonymous compliments to each other with users shown a positive question, like who “makes you laugh the hardest”, along with a selection of four of their Facebook friends. The person they select as the answer is told that they were given the compliment, but not by who.

So if we truly are a nation of Smombies let’s harness social media and start giving each other more virtual hugs!

Zara Lintin, Technology