Yes, we get it — you’re attached to your phone. You’re probably reading this on your phone, and if you’re not, your phone is somewhere close by. That little device is a portal into a world of likes, swipes, shares, viral videos and pretty much every form of instant gratification and validation you can find, from same-day shipping to double taps, DMs and going viral.
Social media, in particular, can cycle you through a lot of emotions, and the more time you spend on it, the more invested you become. Just the lengths you have to go to in order to get the right angle in a photo, the stress of figuring out the perfect caption, the rush of anxiousness that ensues from the moment you tap “share”, and the stress of the wait between posting your photo and getting your first like, social media can be taxing on your emotions. People often get offended if a peer or acquaintance unfollows them, and when celebrities like or comment on seemingly simple photos, it makes the news. Of course, when using social media, there can be rushes of euphoria, glee, and excitement when a crush or someone famous follows you or likes your picture. You tend to feel heard and validated when people share or retweet your posts because don’t get me wrong, — those are really good feelings, and you want to feel good. But why does social media affect our happiness and well-being so much?
Many people say that social media doesn’t matter that much to them, but it does matter. So much, in fact, that the World Happiness Report stated that 2% of 327 million Americans are addicted to the internet.
“They [adolescents] regard their own heavy use of smartphones and other screens as a major problem to overcome, with 54% saying that they spend too much time on their devices (Jiang, 2018)”
There has reportedly been a rapid rise in diagnosed adolescent depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm which was “…apparently due in part to the astoundingly large amount of time that young people are spending on digital media: smartphones, video games, computers, and the like.” This association tells us that social media and its effects on human emotions are tangibly affecting us negatively, and can be intense and deeply internalized if feelings go unchecked.
Effects Of Social Media and Comparison
Social media—despite however it was intended to be used— has become a place where people show their highlight reels, i.e. the very best, most exciting, and most interesting things they do or that happen to them. Some even go a step further to invest time, money, and energy into curating an identity that skews their image in order for people to think they’re doing better than they actually are. Comparison can plant ugly seeds inside of us. It can make us think we want things that we otherwise would never be interested in, and trick us into believing that we are failures because others have done things that we haven’t.
It’s important to check yourself with questions like: Why did I want to go skydiving so badly after seeing my friends do it, even though I was terrified of heights? Why did I suddenly NEED to order new clothes after scrolling down my feed to see friends in new outfits? Additionally, there are people on social media who feign “productivity” and “success” by posting quotes or content meant to make others think of them as a “winner”. Comparing yourself to these people might make you feel less confident or productive, but we often forget that behind the lens, anything can be possible. There are many people toting “success” on social media with zero credibility.
Life After Likes
Instagram and Twitter have been considering removing likes from their apps, with Instagram even testing the model in Canada. Many people have responded positively to it, stating that the removal of likes takes away the need to measure your value by a number below a photograph on your screen. In an article by the Huffington Post about the impact of “like removal” on mental health, several users were interviewed to share their views on this development. One user, 20-year-old Cam stated, “This change gives people the liberty to curate their profiles the way they want them to look as opposed to the way they feel will get the most likes,” he said. “I think this could help a lot of users’ self-image.”
Many people on social media choose not to convey their true selves, and instead, display those aspects of their lives that they think people will approve of, rather than what they love and what makes them happy.
An article in Fortune Magazine on the same topic states that “They’ve [likes] also turned social media into a popularity contest, taking the focus away from higher-quality posts and conversations. “Likes” have been shown to light up the same reward circuitry in the brain as winning money or eating chocolate, according to a 2016 study from the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California at Los Angeles“. This notion that “like culture” has watered down the room for meaningful conversation is true across all platforms, as people now do silly and senseless things like various unsafe “Challenges” in order to go viral, or make the decision to share memes instead of creating social awareness on important causes because they know no one will like, share or retweet. Sensationalism has taken over, and so we find that people are constantly trying to do the next thing to recapture their audience’s attention.
Unplugging From Social Media
I’ve come across many articles that talk about the beauty of unplugging, and how it’s changed their lives, but the truth is, my generation is fortunate enough to have been born in a time where we know the before and after of social media. So, what about those born after us? Those who know nothing but Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Telegram, Kik, and Instagram DMs as their main form of communication and socializing? How will they unplug from all they’ve ever known?
I think the answer to this lies in how we see ourselves, and ultimately how we’re being socialized to believe that our value comes from those that are outside of ourselves rather than from within. We are so deeply entrenched in the idea that if we don’t have the same things or experiences as our peers, that we are somehow inferior when in truth, we didn’t even want it in the first place. The more of people’s highlights we consume, the higher we raise the standard for ourselves, but unrealistically so. Becoming more reliant on self-validation is the only way to overcome the emotional lows that come with social media.
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