I am pretty confident that I stumbled upon a valuable business idea. Its time hasn’t come yet, so there’s an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. It is backed up by science, which I will explain in three minutes. And best of all, it will be a positive influence on the world. Checks all the good boxes, doesn’t it? Now let me share that idea with you, because I am too lazy and stupid to monetize it for my own profit.
If you look back at your recent social media history, you might be surprised like me at the amount of negativity that we have allowed ourselves to be exposed to.
In some cases it was greatly justified – like calling out a TV channel for unfairly criticizing the Indian cricket team. Sometimes it was a matter of which side of an issue we chose to take, such as politics and elections. On several occasions it seemed like we were picking through an issue simply to take offense (‘PK’, ‘India’s Daughter’, the AIB roast aftermath), sometimes scraping the bottom of the barrel when we ran out of things to hate (Anushka Sharma’s lip job, or a single phrase in Deepika Padukone’s narration about women and their right to choose).
It is understandably in our nature to get carried away by minor flaws, while missing out on the beautiful, larger things they are a part of. For some inexplicable reason it is much easier for us to contribute to a commentary that tries to discredit someone or something, rather than support it. This trait hardly provides any value, unless we were part of a comedy roast panel or a political group with a self-serving agenda (in which case, bring on the power of hate!) However for regular people like you and me, the satisfaction that comes from expressing our discontent does very little to lighten our mood or brighten our day.
And that brings us to the worrisome trend I stumbled upon. A bulk of the negativity on social media isn’t merely caused by external factors outside our influence – like bad politicians or bad news. It seems to be aggravated by people in our own online circles. On any given day, at least one or two of our friends and friends’ friends are nudging us to pay attention to these negative posts, comments and shared links to articles. Accumulated over weeks, months and years, that adds up to a considerably large pile of hate.
Science shows that we have a fascinating tendency to subconsciously mirror our peers’ mental states. Apparently humans, animals and birds too tend to follow each others’ emotional cues and even breathing patterns by simply hanging around each other. Arguably it works best within members of the same species, of course. In plain words, see happy outside to be happy within.
This generates a very valid concern with all the negative commentary we are involuntarily feeding on for months and years. It might very well be working its way into our own emotional states, and our offline interactions with family, friends and co-workers. If you recall, this wasn’t what you signed up for back when you created your Facebook account.
By the time this phenomenon blows up into a red flag raising macro-trend (and ends up on your newsfeed as yet another negative story), the harm might very well be done at least in immeasurably small yet influential proportions. Now might be a really good time to start building a new social medium that filters out all the hateful talk, negative views and disheartening stories. Wouldn’t you love to wake up every day and see celebrations, happy announcements and positive thoughts on your timeline? Even if its benefits on your long-term mental health may be intangible, at the very least it might act as an encouraging pick-me-up, minus the caffeine breath.
Now get to work, you coding genius, before Facebook introduces it as a premium add-on for its millions of users caught in constantly depressing spirals.
Update: The missus rained on my parade with a harsh reality check, claiming that many people see only the glossy, happy snippets of others’ lives on Facebook, and hence get depressed because they don’t have that same bubbly life. Perhaps what we really need is a filter to cut out the negative comments from the missus.