Social media; one of the behemoths of our modern world.
We’d be hard-pressed to find someone these days who’s never taken a selfie, tweeted, or watched a YouTube video
I remember the days when I dreamed of being a famous YouTuber (although, I still haven’t given up on breaking into BookTok, albeit without much luck).
Social media has created a currency from data more valuable than gold.
Internet and social media have brought us closer together, and with this togetherness comes the opportunity for new friendships and connections.
In a community where isolation can be rife, an online community of people just like us can be a lifesaver.
And yet, as lifesaving as social media can be, there’s a dark side many fail to consider. Excessive social media can have damning side effects with destructive potential for our lives.
Whether it’s the constant comparison with others or the cataclysmic dissolution of our attention spans, the very real effects of social media use are showing across society.
In 2021, 4.3 Billion people had a social media account – that’s over half the world’s population.
TikTok alone has 1.53 Billion users, fast approaching YouTube with 2.1 Billion users.
The average user spent two and a half hours per day on social media platforms.
There are few technological innovations that have had such a massive impact on the world. Twenty years ago, social media sites were a novel concept allowing people to chat with strangers online.
Now, we use social media for everything; finding jobs, making friends, and consuming news.
Everything is available from our smartphone.
It’s not all bad though…
Social media has brought countless benefits, creating opportunities to enhance wellbeing through an increase in mental health awareness, wellbeing, and resources to help us care for ourselves.
The world has embraced social media, and it has been monumental in helping bring communities together.
However, cyberbullying, constant access to disturbing information that can create hateful or harmful ways of thinking, and abundant opportunities for grooming remain constant dangers.
Furthermore, studies have shown our attention spans have lowered significantly, pointing to social media as a large reason – this is because we’re subconsciously using social media as a quick trigger of our dopamine hormones.
Every like, follow, and swipe gives us a kick of this happy little drug, reinforcing a need in our brain to seek this pleasure.
News for you – it’s an addiction!
When we have this quick, instant gratification sat in our pockets, it becomes that much harder for us to focus on work, school, or relationships. Even as I’m writing this article I’ve counted five instances where I’ve stopped to check my phone, scroll Twitter, and even enjoyed an argument on Reddit (reader, I destroyed him).
The effect our reliance on social media has had on our productivity cannot be understated. It’s estimated that as much as 9.5% of our productivity at work has been lost due to unnecessary social media use.
It also creates issues with social media blurring the boundaries between personal and the professional. This is even more present amongst the rising proportion of us that are working from home; without a gentle nudge from the boss to get off our phones and back to work, it’s become increasingly difficult to keep focused and stay away from apps.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we lower our attention spans by going on social media, and then we go on social media because of our lowered attention span.
It’s also having very real impacts to our physical and mental health, and how we form, manage and maintain relationships within society:
There is increasing evidence that social media addiction has led to increased cases of insomnia and sleep deprivation.
How many of us spend that period before bed checking our phones, sending final messages, and looking through social media? (rhetorical question, I already know the answers)
How many still, upon waking up, immediately reach for that little black box? (I can imagine a large amount of you nodding sheepishly)
There’s no shame in it. I do exactly the same thing – even though I try to read a bit of my book before bed, I just can’t help checking my phone one last time.
However, much of the time, the time we spend on social media eats into the time we should be sleeping, causing us to lose sleep in the process.
While social media has been great for connecting us with friends and families across great distances, our incessant need for human interaction has also made it so we neglect our vital functions for another morsel of content.
Reports of eye strain and backache have also increased with the rise of social media. We spend so long staring at these bright screens, sometimes for several hours per day, that it’s causing genuine damage to our eyes. This is especially pertinent when a lot of our work is done on computers, we are in fact substituting one screen for another, offering us no real relaxation.
Of a recent study on the affect social media is having on our workplace and wellbeing, many of the respondents admitted that, despite knowing that their social media use was causing these back problems and eye strain, they continued to excessively scroll regardless.
This shows how challenging an addiction it can be; we know it’s causing genuine pain for us, yet we still cannot look away.
There are also numerous mental health complications that come from excessive social media use.
In particular, many of us develop feelings of envy or jealousy as we scroll endlessly staring at images and posts of others’ seemingly perfect lives. We wonder, “Why isn’t my life like that?”, “What am I doing wrong?”.
When I see posts of gorgeous men with rock-hard abs jetting away to tropical paradises, while I’m sat in my one bedroom flat in Manchester eating the most recent in a sequence of packets of pom bears so long that I’m too ashamed to even give a number, I know that I feel a little inadequate. That said, you can’t go wrong with a pom bear am I right?
Aesthetics aside, there are also difficulties in forming meaningful relationships on social media. While I may not be the best person to talk about this issue, having met my now fiance on a certain gay dating app (rhymes with finder), I do know my friends continually experience issues finding genuine connections online.
Worse still, we pull our phones out and start scrolling when we’re hanging with friends and family. While this is firstly quite obviously rude, it is also robbing us of valuable interactions with the real human beings sat immediately amongst us. Failing to be present with the people we love can lead to miscommunication, break down trust, destroy expectations, and even be a catalyst to the end of loving relationships.
While it’s easy exploring the potential issues that can come with heavy social media usage, it doesn’t help us determine how to break the damned habit.
Social media is an extremely useful tool, so while going cold turkey may be beneficial for some, for most it’s simply not feasible. We rely on social media for too much to ever really be free from it. There are, however, a few tips and tricks we can use to manage our social media usage:
Seems a bit obvious, I know, but stay with me. If we can manage our social media use even a little; turn our phones off an hour before going to bed, avoid going on them an hour after waking up, we can regain some of the sleep that we were losing, and push ourselves to a healthier relationship with our phones.
That cheeky little buzz is half of the reason we keep checking our social media. If we can just turn off the unnecessary notifications for some of our apps, then they simply won’t bother us.
This may sound a little like our first point, but I’m coming at it from a different angle, besides, it’s my article you can’t tell me what to do. If we set specific times we check our social media, after a full hour’s work for example, we can successfully manage our usage and increase our productivity. This trains our brains to link extended periods of productivity with a dopamine boost.
This is where we switch off our tech for a period of time. This can start as brief as an hour and in no time you may find yourself happily avoiding your screens for days in a row. It also reduces those awful feelings of envy and jealousy we get, thereby increasing contentment in ourselves by keeping us from the source of these issues. Importantly, it also help us stay present in the moment, and enjoy the time we’re spending with the people around us.
I know you might not think it, but this can work great as a tie in with the digital detox. When we meditate, we allow ourselves to become more connected with the world around us, enhance our self acceptance, and increase our attention span. It calms the nervous system, stills the mind, and helps us focus on the present moment. Slowly, we rebuild our ability to remain focused on the task in hand, instead of reaching for our phones every few minutes.
While social media is a necessity in our modern life and many of us will be hard pressed to lessen it’s load on us, we do need to be aware of its extremely damaging effects and make small changes to improving our relationship with it.
With anything progress takes time, but by being aware of the risks to our health that social media poses, and technology more broadly, we’re able to analyse our habits with social media more objectively. This can lead to a natural desire to take time away from social media, and return to more nourishing activities like being outdoors.
If, however, you’re like me and cannot break that just-before-bedtime habit, then at least try to consume more engaging, educational content, like more of my articles which you’ll find across this website.
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