What Marx is often misquoted as saying “religion is the opium of the masses” can be taken as a dig at religion. If you allow me to steer away from discussing religion in this article: Marx’s point was that people escaped to religion in hope for a better life and fairer treatment like they do to opium. Life is cruel? The afterlife is just, or the high will feel better than what you went through. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to how it is that today social media is the opium of the masses.
In 1843 Karl Marx wrote “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.
For context, the 19th century was the height of opium’s common use in everything from infant cures to recreational use. The majority of Europe, the less fortunate that is, were high out of existence; finding solace from the harshness of life, wars, bad economy, and an unfair wheel that kept turning and kicking them as it did – their pipe was their salvation. Around the same time religion was strong in most societies; many took refuge in religion from similar cruelty and tyranny as those who chose the opium pipe over the church.
Over time, our “opium” has evolved from the 1800’s to the modern day – Our use of religion to console came and went almost on a every-other generation cycle. Drugs, disco, movies, TV music, faith… if you think about it we’ve tried everything to escape reality for a bit and we’ll continue our attempts at escaping.
Today, social media is the opium of the masses. We’ve replaced the pipe with our phones. Our drug benders with hours of screen time. Our spiritual leaders with influencers. Our highs with flexing. Our heaven with likes. And our opium dreams with dreams of reaching what those influencers normalized to us as a standard of life, albeit unattainable.
In no way do I intend to take away from the Opium Crisis being experienced in many places of the world. The Opium Crisis claimed many lives and unfortunately the world is super cruel to those vulnerable and under the yoke of addiction. Similarly this isn’t an article about how we need to go back to religion rather than social media. This is merely a comparison to the concept coined by Carl Marx.
Before you say it, yes I hear myself sounding like my dad already. But I was just on one of those benders myself. Does this sound familiar? Hours of screen time, feeling like everything is inadequate so you reach to scroll through instagram again, your feed shows you the same thing you liked once but reposted by different accounts? Nothing new, just an endless echo chamber of your own thoughts, likes, and suggestions similar to posts you interacted with? Don’t get me started on Tiktok – I won’t sink that low.
To be completely honest this scares me. I was known for being that kid that plays with a stick in the yard, for having a vast imagination, a soif de vivre, for being able to do everything on my own… but now I anxiously return to my phone for another hit of the same disappointment.
I realize that this got worse during quarantine: our options are limited, we have nothing but social media to do. We are bored, we’re locked down, we’re fed up, and we can’t afford* a decent living anymore. I now clearly see how social media is the opium of the masses.
* Cannot afford for those who lost their income, freedom, sanity, mental health, and all the impacts the pandemic has on a person.
I fear that before you know it we’ll only exist in a virtual world. We’ll have our VR glasses on the whole time, constantly consuming the new age opium – only breaking out of our cyber existence to perform our most basic bodily functions. Grim I know, but this is the worst case scenario – I hope we never get to become this dependent on social media, our opium.
Social media companies are in obvious and complete disregard of their social impact. The system only rewards monetary gain by the big firms and does not encourage any social good, or any good for that fact. This is the problem; there are no ethics or morals involved and now the social media world has noticed that we are addicted to them for entertainment so they turned what was used to connect people into an echo chamber doom-scrolling spiral to keep you using.
I have fallen victim to social media for sure. I noticed my psyche deteriorate, my perception shift, my brain addicted. Not only as a personal user but this was also evident on my food account. To get anywhere as a page one has to sell their dignity and live on camera to get noticed – ever thought about how many annoying and meaningless posts you see between any good ones from an account you follow? They have to do that to stay relevant. The game is now pointless quantity over good quality – I cant believe good quality is disqualified at this point. To draw a bad simile; this is like begging for any hit of a drug to feed an addiction. Social media is the opium of the masses and it wants us to either use it or distribute it
Know that some posts deliberately have typos, controversy, sexually charged images, etc unrelated to the post to generate comments and traction on a post… How low can one get for attention? Don’t get me started on parents using their kids as props – for shame, ya 3eib!
What can one do?
The first thing one can do now is to remember that while we are stuck at home in a lockdown, social media companies are making their product more addictive. Read more about it! It sure helped me.You can watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix, or read on how Instagram’s algorithm works or how YouTube gathers information about you to suggest videos to you. Find out if you agree that social media is the opium of the masses
Know that our minds are capable of great innovations and creativity if we are not occupying it with dumbing addictive consuming behaviour – to that I say dedicate phone free times or zones in your day. I now have certain hours where I leave my phone in another room – Usually for an hour or two after leaving my bed (I still can’t resist checking my instagram first thing in the morning – and I am the one who wrote this article, let the irony sink in – this is also a cry for help)
Set up a midday and evening phone free time as well. You may also set phone free zones if you have a workshop, garage, an activity you like – even if you don’t use the phone, actively put it away, it’s the mentality. Finally if you’re talking with someone in your social bubble; don’t whip out your phone while you are interacting with them, this was considered rude pre-pandemic but with phones being normalized everywhere it is gaining social acceptance now. Lockdowns made us realize the value of social interactions, let’s not take it for granted again.
Learn a new hobby or improve an existing hobby. Play more on your instrument, learn to knit, maybe write stories or songs, learn to code. A hobby allows your brain to unwind while still engaging the creative parts and allowing you to exercise the mind in a fun and relaxing way – it’s something you like, but doesn’t pickle your brain.
Finally, distance yourself from social media and be cognizant of its addictive nature. Keeping this in mind will start to influence your choices slowly but surely. We as humans can easily see from the outside into any situation, it is much harder for us to notice when we are stuck in a bad situation. Maybe don’t post about everything, keep something for those who truly are in your life.
Here I sit writing this article contemplating quitting social media yet still wanting to be connected. Many of us depend on social media, and many of us are hurt by it – we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Just realise that no matter what, your own opinion is being reflected at you by their algorithms so if you think you are seeing what is out there then you are wrong – it’s them feeding you what you’ll like rather than reality.
Stay real my friends,
@jaba.abe if it is still up
Many of us depend on social media, and many of us are hurt by it – we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.Abraham on the internal dilemma on using social media