A contagion has been quietly set upon the world and has rendered our global community febrile, the damage akin to the hard liquor that ravaged the Native Americans and smallpox the Aztecs. But rather than one demographic being somewhat savvy to its effects or having built up herd immunity, all nations, creeds, sexes and genders united, have succumbed to it. Is it Covid-19? No. It’s social media.
Many people today are aware of the concept of “evolutionary mismatch”, a biological concept where once historically adaptive traits, such as our liking for sugar and fat, become maladaptive in the present, following a period of rapid environmental change. Nothing has been so rapid and so consequential as the change to our world brought by social media. Humans are social animals. We thrive by healthy, diverse contests which create competence hierarchies, whose winners become experts in their fields. Then we thrive even more when these experts cooperate to create something bigger than the sum of our puny parts, be that a hospital, a sewage system, clean water, antibiotics, a kindergarten, a school, a cure for smallpox.
We all know now that we crave sugar and fat because they were once scarce, highly nutritious resources and when our ancestors were lucky enough to stumble upon such resources they stuffed their happy faces. These people really were the lucky ones, surviving to pass on this adaptive propensity to their descendents, to the point where a liking for sugar and fat has reached global fixation, present in all cultures.
Today, sugar and fat are cheap and no longer scarce, but we still can’t stop stuffing our fat faces to the point where, according to the World Health Organisation, “65% of the world’s population live in countries where obesity kills more people than starvation, with at least 2.8 million adults dying each year as a result of the myriad complications that go along with being overweight.”
Being social animals, with our craving for social intercourse, we created societies. But our social interactions, until very recently, were constrained, until social media set us free in the social candy store, and feasting on it, we’ve become mired in a gouty malaise of overindulgence. It has inflamed culture to the point where we feel sudden and unbearable pain at any political intersection. Now, gout does not cause lasting damage to joints if you get treatment straight away. If not, it may cause sepsis and multiple organ failure. After sepsis, you can only treat the symptoms not the disease.
We might have been okay if not for Twitter. Twitter is crack cocaine to Facebook’s cannabis. The limited character limit plays perfectly to reaction rather than reflection and the hit is immediately gratifying. A passing thought that would once have been muttered into a cooking pot, spat into a gutter on the way to work, silently farted out in a lift, is now shared to all. The lesser demons of our nature has a platform. And the media, who are only human after all, use it as a handy “vox pox” to take the cultural temperature. The problem is, Twitter is not a representative population, it’s just the easiest one to access.
After sepsis sets in, you can only treat the symptoms not the disease.
As we seem to be standing on the brink of something very bad, all we might need to do is stop tweeting and start listening. Do I think it will happen? Not a chance! We are all, the best and worst of us, too drunk, lazy and crazy in love to pull back from the brink.