The Social Media Conundrum – and how to deal with it
Social media offers us a world of possibilities: a series of networks that allows us to chat to people on the other side of the world and build future professional or social opportunities.
But like, with all good things in life, too much of it can be harmful. A recent report estimates that 210 million people worldwide suffer from an addiction to websites such as Facebook and Instagram.
It’s a complex topic, and something that we’re still learning about.
But why is it so common?
A huge reason is the environment that we’re brought up in.
In Western society, there is pressure on everyone to keep up appearances. It gives us the opportunity to present a sugar-coated version of our lives to the world and make us feel good about ourselves. Deep down, we all know that’s the reason we do it: there’s even a hilarious #humblebrag dedicated to extreme versions of smug self-congratulations.
Also, we just love to know what other people are getting up to. Whereas in the past there might have been two neighbours gossiping about the strange guy at the end of the street, now the digital version has us looking through their pictures, reading their comments, and forming our own opinion of them from those. Gossiping has never gone out of fashion, and probably never will.
This is all well and good, but how does this cause problems?
Going cold turkey
A dependency on Social Media should be treated the same as an addiction to any other vice. Studies, such as the book Addicted by Design, show that websites, like Twitter, use similar techniques to gambling companies to hook people into their loop.
Pop-up notifications, like when a friend likes your post, are believed to give you a similar dopamine hit to a small win on online slots, for example. Such hits create psychological dependencies, where we subconsciously go searching for the next one by scrolling down or playing again.
Obviously, if we don’t get that next high, then we experience a negative, or maybe empty, feeling which can be likened to the comedown a drug user experiences – only less intense.
Such emotions feed into psychological problems, including anxiety and depression, which can severely affect the quality of a person’s life.
A lack of self-esteem
As mentioned, social media is a great opportunity for us to showcase a dream version of our lives to the world.
For proof of this just look at sites such as Instagram, which are based on this rose-tinted view of life. ‘Look at me lounging on this white, sandy beach – aren’t I a success?’
This is validated by ‘likes’, views, and comments. But what happens if we don’t get those? A sense of deflation probably, something that might even knock self-esteem.
It’s simply a reflection of the real world. Girls are bombarded with ad campaigns instructing them to be like Kate Moss: get that thigh gap or you won’t get likes. Boys are told that they shouldn’t cry; that they need to ‘man up’ and smash their way through whichever obstacle gets in their way.
But there are consequences to this: people often can’t meet these expectations. It simply isn’t possible for us all to have supermodel looks or millions of dollars in the bank.
But with social media creating an illusion of everyone else living this perfect life, it’s very easy to develop feelings of low self-worth when we feel like we aren’t meeting those high standards.
A short attention span
We’re the most informed group of humans in history: it also means we don’t need to concentrate on anything for too long.
Answers lie behind the tap of a phone screen, information is delivered in short videos. On Twitter, posts are limited to 280 characters; on Tik-Tok, users have a maximum of a minute to convey their message. Entertainment is on tap, and, if we don’t like it, we can simply jump to something else in an instant.
So, it’s natural that our attention span suffers. Why should we spend time thinking about stuff when it’s presented to us on a bite-sized plate? Trouble is, a lack of attention can lead to communication problems, which also feed into feelings of isolation and anxiety.
So, how can we deal with this?
Well, first things first, think about how much time you spend scrolling down your feeds. Time your usage every day for a week and take notes. If you feel like it’s too much, or it’s above the recommended healthy amount, then take direct action.
The good news is we can all do it, with a little effort:
That said, breaking a habit is a lot easier said than done. It requires time and perseverance but, in the case of social media, the effort might be worth it.
A study conducted by top economists found significant positive effects of logging off Facebook for a month, including an increase in well-being and a more productive social life.
The key is realising that social media is a choice, not a necessity. Only by doing this can the social media conundrum be cracked – and our lives improved as a result.
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March 3, 2020 at 12:05PM