Capgras Syndrome and Social Media

Doomscrolling. It’s a practice I actively shied away from even before this ignominious year of 2020 catastrophes: flipping past headlines, pausing to read those articles that hint at something that might impact my life. Glancing at comments under articles only to discern enough vitriol to signal that I should turn away, and not get sucked into witnessing yet another session of strangers screaming at each other in digital anonymity. The problem is that skimming these insults, these arguments that aren’t at all logical, but use name-calling and emotional negativity to prove the person at the keyboard is RIGHT because they BELIEVE MOST STRONGLY and therefore they MUST BE RIGHT! … it’s like seeing someone bloody and injured at the site of a car accident. Even if you look away as quickly as possible–after all, authorities are there, you’d only get in the way if you step in–that image becomes branded on you.

Yes, as a writer I do (and you should) practice reading as much as you can get your eyes on, even if it’s a little strange, even if sometimes the words seem disagreeable. Writers are observers, and our goal should be understanding. (Not necessarily agreeing, or even fully sympathizing.) But some things just aren’t worth reading. For me, that usually includes most things posted on social media.

I try to practice seeking out logical information about the most important events of the day. And if I’m interested in opinion, I look for it to be presented in such a way that avoids calling the other side names. It would be nice to think I’d left that behind with the bullying kids on the schoolbus who taunted the rest of us with dirty words and insults.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I like the Pocket feature that Firefox has. When I open a new tab, different articles are offered up for me to choose. It’s a way for me to still read relevant and interesting things, and avoid doomscrolling. It’s how I found this interesting article from Robert Sapolksy on Nautilus, explaining the disconnect that people experience while using Facebook. In short: people who believe that Facebook relationships are real experience a reverse-Capgras Syndrome. Instead of thinking their familiar loved ones have been replaced by imposters, they believe the shallow interactions on social media are actual friendships. It’s what leads people to believe swindlers have their best interests at heart, and folks who may never have fallen for scams IRL find themselves sucked in through the screen. It also leads to alienation from other human beings; Fahrenheit-451 style. Bradbury prophetically wrote about parlor-wall entertainment, with stories like today’s reality TV that are more engaging to the main character’s wife than the real-life events and relationships around her.

In short, social media is changing mental health en masse.

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