Social Media Disconnection
Today we have access to information and connectivity at our fingertips more than ever before. All it takes is a couple of clicks and we can be having a conversation with someone across the world. Social media has connected the world like never seen before, but at what cost?
Most of us have been victims of spending hours on social media mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and a lot of the time it is at the dinner table with family or when we are out with friends. In recent years, there has been substantial research done on the potential damaging effects that social media has on us. Let’s take a look at those different effects, as well as some strategies on how we can enhance our experiences on social media.
The Need for Connection
Recent studies point to the high rates of media and technology access and usage among American adults. According to the Pew Research Center, 86% of those aged 18 to 29 are social media users. It was also found in a survey that 45% of teens say they are online almost constantly (Pew Research Center, 2018). Social media gives us more access to information to current events and can be a great platform to express ideas while having meaningful discussions, but is that what it is really being used for by everyone? When doing research on social media use, there were multiple reports that mentioned the Social Comparison Theory, which was proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger. The idea is that people have an innate motivation to evaluate themselves through comparison with others. Upward social comparison (to those deemed superior or more attractive, for example) can motivate people to improve themselves (Cherry, 2019). The problem with this is the portrayal of unrealistic norms on social media. Everything is not always what it seems. The happiest looking people on social media might be living the saddest lives. There are also phone applications where people can alter their appearance and make their body image seem unattainable. When a teenager looks at that, it can make them feel insecure and less confident about themselves. However, it is important to note that many of the behaviours exhibited by teens are expressions of developmental needs that existed long before the Internet. For example, teens need to be connected to others and to be liked and validated, are hallmarks of the adolescent development period (Santrock, 2015; Steinberg & Morris, 2001).
Impacts on Mental Health
There is no doubt that social media offers many benefits. The issue is that as a society we are letting social media take over our lives, and there have been consequences on our mental health. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in adolescent depression, and observers worry that social media has had an impact on that. There are concerns about whether social media platforms are causing teens and young adults to feel “less than” their peers, whether they feel lonely and left out by seeing other friends together online, or whether they are being attacked with negative comments (Rideout & Fox, 2018).
Another concern with social media is our ability to remain focused on the task at hand. A study of 263 middle school, high school, and university students found that students studied for six minutes before switching to another technological distraction such as texting or social media. Furthermore, “Multitasking may decrease productivity because users take time to reorient after a transition to a different activity and become cognitively fatigued from the effort, which slows their rate of work” (Common Sense Media, 2018). Therefore, students are not able to work efficiently when they use their phones during their studies. Social media can be a great supplement for educational purposes, but students must be self aware of their use so that it is not consuming them while they are doing school work.
The prospect that social media is weakening our social skills has also been a concern among psychologists and sociologists. Social connection plays a huge role in our lives and is positively related to our happiness, physical health, and longevity (Common Sense Media, 2018). Interactions with other people help us to develop our social skills, which we need to grow in our lives. In any career you decide to pursue, you have to be able to communicate effectively and understand facial and body cues from other people. It is also important in our relationships with our family members and partners. It is very common for people to discuss serious relationship and family issues over text. This affects the way we communicate with each other and can have negative consequences on these relationships.
Many researchers have also noted that narcissism has been on an increase while empathetic traits have been on a decline (Common Sense Media, 2018). Although there are arguments that can be made as to what the root cause of this is: More time spent on social media will take away opportunities for face to face conversation, and this affects how we can deepen our empathy through conversing with others and learning from their body and facial cues.
Researchers have concluded that there still needs to be more research conducted to start determining causal vs. correlational relationships of social media. We as a society have to become more aware of the potential negative impacts so that we can be smarter about how we spend our time online. Some strategies to make the most out of our time on social media include: gaining awareness of your own media habits, determining times and places to disconnect, nurturing face-to-face conversations, and ensuring you are spending quality time online.
Written by Jason Nowak
Anderson, M., & Anderson, M. (2018, November 30). A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying. Retrieved from https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/09/27/a-majority-of-teens-have-experienced-some-form-of-cyberbullying/
Anderson, M., Jiang, J., Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018, November 30). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Retrieved from https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
Felt, L. J. & Robb, M. B. (2016). Technology addiction: Concern, controversy, and finding balance. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.
Rideout, V., and Robb, M. B. (2018). Social media, social life: Teens reveal their experiences. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.