Zia Hassan

Funneling Emotions With Skip Spaces

We live in social media bubbles, as many have pointed out. Most of the people on my feeds seem to share the same political and social opinions. I wonder sometimes if that is actually due to social media itself, that our beliefs are shaped more than we ever realized by the low quality literature we read on Facebook and Twitter.

It would be easy to do that, as a gigantic technology media company. It’s not just about the content or the audience, or the targeting of demographics. It’s about training.

Social media feeds have trained us to think that our day is never over. There’s an endless feed of updates that doesn’t close shop at 5pm, that runs on holidays, that doesn’t stop for weekends.

But it has also trained us to funnel our emotions. When we see a piece of content, we are presented with a very narrow range of emotions: sad, angry, happy, amused, confused, and enthused (which is what I assume the heart emoji means).

We could of course ignore the content and do nothing, but as long as we do enough “reacting,” our brain is being trained to read a piece of content and react immediately, without much reflection. And even if we were to continue thinking it’s unlikely that we’d change our mind. We did, after all, make a choice when we clicked the emoji. And we’d hate to go back on our choices.

And! Even if we do nothing, there’s still a process happening in our brains to pick an emotion among those 5. Even if we never express it. That has to change our brain chemistry.

Instead of accessing the palette of emotion when we naturally react to news, we instead land on a “skip space,” like on a board game. Maybe we landed on the skip space of anxious but our Facebook emotion funnel turned it into sadness. Those aren’t the same and we shouldn’t get into the habit of turning the hundreds of other emotions into skip spaces.

Or, worse, when something does actually anger us, and we click on the anger reaction… in some way, that action alleviates the anger. The satisfaction of the act of expression may even be enough to forget about our anger entirely, which means that we end up turning real concerns and issues into skip spaces, too.

And in a world of skip spaces, the actual range of spaces on which we can land becomes quite narrow. We land on something more primitive because the funnel forced us there.

The solution is simple but challenging: when you land on a “skip”… stay put.