We all love social media. If we’re feeling nosy, tired or bored it’s just so easy to access. No need to get dressed up or make excuses to leave, we can literally flit in and out of it whenever we feel like it! But while social media helps to connect us socially online, it can also disconnect us from the real world and those that we love, influence our mental health and manipulate our thoughts. How many of us can honestly say that we have never ignored those sitting right beside us because we are too busy with our heads in our phones? When we’re talking to someone and our phone pings who gets our attention? According to bbc.com three billion people (which is around 40% of the world’s population) use online social media and we’re spending on average two hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating on these platforms. That breaks down to around half a million tweets and Snapchat photos shared every minute. So it’s not surprising that it has such an impact on our lives. From providing a platform for support to causing Social Media Addiction, the power of social media really is vast.
Social Envy Life isn’t perfect, but sometimes after scrolling through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, you wouldn’t think so. Perfect smiley faces, idyllic holidays, exciting family days out and successful kids winning awards! We all do it to some extent, but when we’re bombarded with realms of positivity it can make us compare our lives to others that we see online. The result is often that we feel rubbish about our own lives. We can feel envious of the ‘perceived happiness’ others appear to be having. Social envy. In a joint research study conducted by the Department of Information Systems of the TU Darmstadt (Prof. Dr. Peter Buxmann) and the Institute of Information Systems of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Dr. Hanna Krasnova), Facebook members were surveyed regarding their feelings after using the platform. More than one-third of respondents reported predominantly negative feelings, such as frustration and the researchers identified that envying their “Facebook friends” is the major reason for this result.Another research study in Austria in 2014 also found that spending 20 minutes or more on social media lowered participant’s moods, compared to those who just browsed the internet. The study suggested that people felt that way because they saw it as a waste of time.
A platform for support But it’s not all bad. Other research has found, that for some people, social media can help boost their well-being. Marketing researchers Jonah Berger and Eva Buechel found that people who are emotionally unstable are more likely to post about their emotions, which can help them to receive support and bounce back after negative experiences. I suppose the only thing with that is, once you have posted a status, you are inclined to click online even more often to check for responses, which in turn can lower your mood because of feeling it’s a waste of time.
Social Media Addiction The idea of being able to manage almost every aspect of our lives from our calendars, emails and reminders, to our online orders, food shopping and weather, via our mobile phones can cause us to pick up the devise without first considering why we are accessing it. The act of unlocking our phone and clicking is habitual. Sometimes we do it and then decide what we want to access. They are highly addictive and without making a conscious effort to limit its usage we can lose hours of our lives. ‘Put your phone down. Your texts will be there later. The person in front of you won’t.’
Although there is need for further research, it is apparent that some people are now suffering from Social Media Addiction (SMA).There are several symptoms of social media addiction such as spending over five hours per day on social media sites and becoming distressed and going into withdrawal if a site is not available. Other symptoms include neglecting commitments or personal well-being in order to devote most of your time online.It was recently reported by Euro News that researchers at the University of North Carolina found that a lack of ‘likes’ on Facebook or re-tweets on Twitter caused anxiety in the social media addict. It was also found that when posts are ‘liked’ or re-tweeted dopamine is released in the brain, which would explain why some people feel compelled to check for ‘likes’ after posting a status, as they are chasing the ‘high’ achieved from the dopamine.
Manipulation After watching the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Experiment’ it made me think more seriously about how much time we spend on our mobile phones and how vulnerable we are to manipulation. The documentary claims that social media apps have the ability to recognise when we are not engaged and ‘having a break’ from a platform so they predict what will regain our attention to draw us back in, from the information they know about us. According to former operations managers and executives of Facebook that appeared in the documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’, the reason for this is because they want us online so they can target us with carefully selected advertising that they predict we will be interested in according to our search history. At first I was sceptical but I have to admit that after searching for a brown leather handbag, the next morning I was bombarded with advertising for handbags! Apparently it also picks up our voice and conversations that we have even when our phones are not in use! The documentary got me thinking about the power that social media has on us and the extent it can influence our lives. It illustrated a family where the mother confiscated all the mobile phones in the house and locked them in a jar to stop them from being used. The extent of addiction and frustration was portrayed when a teenage daughter smashed open the jar to access her phone when she heard a message alert. This got me thinking about how I could help my family to reduce our mobile phone usage and to regain some control.
I felt the jar idea was a bit extreme and considering how much we use our mobile phones to arrange our lives, I didn’t think we could realistically not look at them for long periods of time, in case we missed an important call or message. So ………. I decided to place all of our mobile phones together where we leave our leads to charge our phones, like it was a docking station. If our phones beeped to alert us of a call or message we could look at them, providing we looked at our messages at the ‘docking station’ and we didn’t take our phones away from the area to sit and surf on the net. It all sounded really good at first and surprisingly everyone was on board after hearing about or watching the documentary. But, in reality we found ourselves standing up, gathered by the ‘docking station’ to reply to messages, instead of sitting down comfortably. It soon became apparent that it was definitely not something we could maintain permanently. Needless to say it didn’t last long (less than a whole day). We did use our phones a lot less for the first day or so afterwards because the negatives we had heard were fresh in our minds, but after that we were back to our usual routine.I’m still trying to think of a practical (and not too extreme) way of regaining control of our mobile phone usage that reduces the negative impact it has on our lives without disabling us from the benefits. A social dilemma indeed!I could, of course, just delete my social media apps and encourage our family to do the same. But they do actually help a fair bit with our everyday lives. I have a number of different groups for a variety of clubs and groups. I have school groups on Facebook that remind me of different things for school, groups for clubs our children go to that post messages and information that I would otherwise miss out on. There’s also the social aspect- some people prefer to post a birthday invitation via Facebook or they set up a WhatsApp group. Cutting these off would also mean cutting off these quick, easy and sometimes last minute invites to social events. It’s also a really good way of keeping in touch with people we don’t see very often, especially at the moment when Covid restrictions have meant that some plans have had to be cancelled and we are indoors more than before. However, it is apparent that I too am sucked in to using my mobile phone, so much that I am reluctant to sacrifice the positive aspects in order to reduce our exposure to the negative aspects. So what is the solution? Although we do have the power to make changes to our lifestyle and in theory, we could stop using our mobile phones altogether if we choose, it seems the ultimate power lies with the influencers behind our screens. They have provided us with a commodity that we already feel we can not live without. I think our only escape is to be aware of what is going on, to limit our usage and to remind ourselves often that our phones are less important than our real lives. This way, we can regain some of the power our phones strip from us and minimise their negative impact.
‘Your cell phone has already replaced your camera, your calendar, your alarm clock… Don’t let it replace your family’