Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram. These are just some of the various social media platforms that play an ever-increasing role in our day-to-day social lives, whether we like it or not. And for some, these platforms are absolutely core to self-identity. But is this technology advance always a good thing for the technology and marketing savvy youth of today?
Back in 2007, I was doing a graduate degree in college and one day I got an email from a friend abroad inviting me to be her friend on Facebook. I ignored the email thinking it was a spam marketing offer and not real. But over the next couple of months I received more and more invites from people that I knew. Not wanting to miss out on this exclusive club, I quickly joined Facebook. Before I knew it, I had a cool new means for contacting lots of friends that lived far away, not only that, I could send them messages and photos all without touching a phone, or using a camera, or spending a penny. It was all so easy, quick, and painless. It felt like I had access to talk to the world in an interactive way that I never seemed possible before. I was hooked.
These days, Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg in the social media world and laptops as a medium to use them are almost passé. Everything is based around the constantly evolving personal mini computer that is the smartphone. Music for example has reached new audiences thanks to Spotify. Now not everyone has to use itunes for their mp3 needs. CDs? That’s dinosaur stuff. Vinyl on the other hand is so old it’s hip again. That message was brought us thanks to – social media.
And then there’s the world of photos. With the likes of Snapchat and Instagram, photos are now just a canvas to edit, adapt and transform, thanks to the endlessly wacky and wonderful filters available. Text messages? Children and young adults have sole conversations in Whatsapp groups based on a specific photo that has been hilariously and tastefully (or not) altered. Women (and men) never need to leave home looking less than perfect thanks to the image phenomenon that is the selfie. Thank you Kim Kardashian. Everything online you could think of now has a mobile App, which means the whole communication universe is now in your pocket. It’s a great time to be young.
Yet according to the Telegraph, in 2017 more and more young people are being admitted to hospital in the U.K. suffering from anxiety.
NHS data shows the number of young patients being treated on hospital wards has risen by 42 per cent in just one year, with thousands of pre-teen children receiving such a diagnosis.
Is there a link to this and social media?
Recently health organization The Young Health Movement conducted a survey with 1,479 young people to assess the impact of popular social media platforms under 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing; including effects on anxiety, depression, insomnia, bullying, and body image among others. The results showed that image centered social media platforms snapchat and instagram had the most negative scores. Chief Executive Shirley Cramer told the guardian –
“It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,”
So if social media is potentially so damaging, why is it so addictive and why are so many young people continuing to use it?
Social media is intrinsically linked to pop culture – from the sports we like, the music we listen to, the tv show we watch, and the news we read about. It’s simply impossible to avoid. When information surrounding our heroes and passions are personalised to our self image digitally, we feel closer to them and that is a world we like to stay in, even if we feel inadequate and ordinary when we go back to our real life afterwards.
Social media through Facebook and Instagram centers around a community of friends. When our friends like something of ours, it provides an instant gratification that’s much quicker than ringing them up to receive a compliment. Because of this, only the good and wonderful is published and not only that, it’s made look even better by the friends that can like our postings. People out of insecurity feel the need to broadcast a glamorous version of their own life to keep the connection going and before long they are taking photos of themselves eating breakfast. Really? Is breakfast really that interesting? It is when it’s eaten in the trendy brunch café that just opened! Look, I sent you the link!
We simply talk to each other in person a lot less nowadays. If we want to get a date we don’t need to go near a bar, just post a small online profile with an immaculately filtered photo of us pretending to like bars and hey presto – we may have 15 invites to go out; and have a drink in a bar.
Yet social media is not all bad surely. There must be benefits; otherwise so many people wouldn’t be using it for so long. Prof Sir Simon Wessely of the Royal College of Psychiatrists told the Guardian –
“I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media – good and bad – to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.”
Perhaps he has a point, and we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Responsibility should lie in other areas, starting with parenting. If parents of teens aren’t actively monitoring their children’s smartphone use, than addiction to such platforms is bound to happen. Or they could go extreme and not permit their child to own a smartphone. Tough but effective.
The social media platforms themselves could introduce settings and security features that limit the number of images or texts that users can use and send in a given day.
Despite having a negative impact on sleep, Youtube for example scored positively in 9 of the 14 categories in the Young Health Movement survey.
The site provides video information on almost anything, which could help support people with depression and anxiety. There are countless youtube videos posted by contributors on any particular topic. Viewing youtube allows more control over what the user sees, they are not sent anything like an image or text they didn’t ask for. It’s a great and instant source of instant information. But let’s not talk about the pop up adverts on there.
All in all, like all potentially harmful things, moderation is key. Too much of everything is bad. It’s just up to us to educate ourselves on what enough really is.