Every day, more than 1 billion people log into Facebook. On average, 80 million photos are shared on Instagram. The influence of social media in our current world is inescapable. Being connected through social media has become a modern necessity. But is this constant access into the lives of our friends and loved ones really a step forward? Before we look at the possible negative effects of social media, let’s look at how we got here and why social media has become so popular.
The first noticeable social media site was created in 1997 under the name Six degrees. The site allowed users to create profiles and make friends with other users. Twenty years later and social media has blown up. Facebook is now by far the largest and most well know modern social media site, with 18% of the market share for social media on the internet.
Social Media has also enabled users to rally behind causes. For example, in 2016, we saw the rise of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” where people from all over the world including many celebrities poured ice cold water over their head to raise money for ALS. Over $100 Million dollars was raised for the cause. That money funded an international gene-mapping project called PorjectMinE which has made ground breaking discoveries regarding this disease. Undeniably, this is a fantastic example of how social media can be a cause for good that unites people against common causes.
Social Media also allows us to stay connected. Because of this, we are able to communicate with our family and friends within seconds. For a Nomadic traveler like myself, social media is an absolute necessity. When I travel, I can easily message friends to see if they are around when I’m landing in their city or country. If I’m feeling homesick, it only takes a second to message my family back home. I couldn’t imagine my life without it. But does that mean I am addicted? In my personal opinion, I don’t find myself obsessed with checking in on others’ updates or frequently posting statuses or selfies. However, the most addictive part of social media is the simplicity that it provides. This also possess the question, where do you draw the line?
While social media can offer many benefits to many causes, groups, and individuals, it is clear that it also has a long and worrying list of side effects. Our society has become addicted to over-sharing our lives, which has some severe implication on our mental health. When we decide what to post, it is rarely an honest and completely accurate representation of our full lives and how we feel. As a result, we begin to see the lives of others in a distorted manner. This can lead to a person being incredibly critical of their position in life because of our natural need to compare our lives with others. I am not saying that envy did not exist before Facebook or Instagram. But, it can seriously exacerbate a person’s negative reflection on his/her own life.
In a recent study, researches at UCLA found that when a teenager receives lots of likes on social media app, such as Instagram, their brains react in the same manner as winning money or seeing loved ones. If operant conditioning has taught us anything, it’s that behaviors are highly likely to be repeated when rewarded. Moreover, from a classic conditioning perspective, this behavior is then associated to with a “nice” sensation and is more likely to be repeated in order to achieve this feeling. This example can be closely related to Pavlov’s dogs. However, instead of a bell and food, it’s more likely to be a picture of food reinforced with “likes”. This creates a vicious cycle and can have some very dark consequences. Currently, among young people, we are seeing a rise in suicide rates and accidental deaths due to drug overdose. We are also seeing more and more young people drop out or take leaves of absence from school due to depression. It would be presumptuous to assume that this is a direct result of social media. However, it is important to consider it as a factor.
Now, before you go throwing your laptop out of the window and your phone down the toilet, there are methods to reduce your use of social media.
- Turn off notifications: If your phone is constantly buzzing, it might be a good idea to disable notifications for less important updates. This can easily be done on settings for most social media apps.
- Cut down on who you follow: It can be easy to collect friends or to build an extensive list of people you follow. Although, ruthlessly cutting back on the number of people you follow may help reduce your time staring at your news feed.
- Receive notifications via email: This can help you to centralize your usage of social media and may stop your phone from vibrating every few minutes
- Use Apps to help you off your phone: There are Apps available such as Cold Turkey that can help limit your use of social media by temporarily denying access to chosen sites.
- Go Nuclear: You always have the option of going off the grid, deleting your accounts and uninstalling your Apps.
Ultimately, our social media use may be the biggest threat that we face in our modern world. With that being said, it is important to be conscious of how much time you spend scrolling through Facebook. Remember, no matter what you see on there, nobody has it all. I can guarantee that one Instagram celebrity you follow may seem like they have the ideal life, but keep in mind that what you see is only one aspect of their life. On that note, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday”