The most destructive habit of our time. Or is it one of the greatest creations?

“We’re too busy thinking about what we don’t have, to actually be grateful for that which we do.”– Rob J. Tant.

What’s this about?

Okay, so the title may sound slightly extreme, but I am constantly asked about the topic of social media, so I wanted to share my thoughts with you. The following article is simply just my perspective, which some people may relate to and some may disagree with; regardless, I would be interested to hear your own views. I have condensed it as much as possible, although many of the principles mentioned here can be discussed in much more detail and I will do in future posts.

I feel that the main challenge we’ve had as a society (in relation to social media) is that the platforms, particularly the mainstream ones, grew so quickly in terms of usage that we did not have time to become aware of how it affects us mentally, or how it should be used. Even social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have started to acknowledge how some forms of social media can lead to mental health issues and unhappiness. So, where does this leave us?

The scary truth…

As part of the two biggest Smartphone manufacturers focus on digital health, both Apple and Google have released new apps that discourage the use of your phone; Apple with ‘Screen Time’ and Google with ‘Digital Wellbeing’. 

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Before you read any further, I would like you to pick up your own phone and navigate to the application (if you have one). What does your screen time show that you average? How much of this is on social media platforms? Are you surprised by the result? Are you concerned?

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There are a number of different studies that demonstrate the average person’s screen time is between three to five hours. That’s around a quarter of our awakened day! That’s somewhere between twenty-one and thirty-five hours per week. Or how about over five years in the average lifetime spent looking at a phone. How on earth has society come to this?

Are we addicted to social media?

When we overload ourselves with tech-time, we are very rarely mindful of our thoughts. The endless supply of information that social media provides us with is an overwhelming distraction to what is important in our lives. One view of happiness and contentment in humanity is that it depends on our expectations being met by our actual reality, in which case, the mass media and advertising industry have automatically neglected us of this right.

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The technology that underlies the functionality of social media is designed to make us addicted. Facebook and instagram with their never-ending news feeds and the ability to see that someone you know has received 100likes on their post, but you only got twenty on your last one. The one you’re chasing gets snapchat streak with someone else longer than yours. Your mates tweet gets retweeted three-hundred and thirty-one more times than yours did. Your YouTube video was viewed one thousand times, but someone else hit 10k. These tech giants are giving you the ability to compare yourself to the rest of the world at the touch of a few buttons!! This does not affect some of us, but it gives those with anxiety the catalyst the mind needs to create these hypothetical scenarios about why they’re not good enough.

Does this look familiar?

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It seems that we are too busy documenting our lives to actually enjoy the experience that we are having. We wake up in the morning and the first thing we do is pick up our phone. We meet up with friends and we struggle to leave our phones aside whilst we cultivate those meaningful relationships. We go to bed and lie on our phones scrolling through news feeds, or similar. It really affects our focus as individuals because we are constantly notified by our devices every time something happens, or someone likes our content. It’s no wonder then that we can’t go five minutes without picking up our phone, it has been embedded in our sub-conscious.

The digital generation

Melinda Gates; Global philanthropist, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and wife of Tech-Guru, Bill Gates, came out with a thought-provoking statement: “I spent my career in technology. I wasn’t prepared for its effect on my kids… Phones and apps aren’t good or bad by themselves, but for adolescents who don’t yet have the tools to navigate life’s complications and confusions, they can exuberate the difficulties of growing up.”

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Social media use and mental health

The Journal of Affective Disorders published a study in 2017 that found a positive correlation between the increased use of social media sites and anxiety orders in adults. This is not surprising really given that social media gives us instant visibility of everything that we don’t have, instant access to things to compare ourselves too. This can be problematic for those of us that have a tendency to worry about every little thing.

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A study in the US found that life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness have continued to decrease since 2012, which ironically is when the screen time and use of social media and smartphones spiralled out of our conscious control. Ultimately, there is a direct link between excessive social media usage and depression and anxiety.

The concept of comparison

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Academic studies have linked social media to feelings of low self-esteem, isolation and loneliness in individuals. Given that the human race possesses a natural tendency to compare themselves to others and it has been suggested happiness is confirmed by our ability to match these hypothetical comparisons to our objective reality, it is no wonder that these negative feelings and emotions can develop over time. Much of comparison is to higher status, superficial and materialistic items. We seem to think that our significance in this world is determined by what we have and not that which we are. Social media provides us instant access to means of comparison to everything else in the world and sometimes seeking self-validation through the content we share.

It demands our Time!

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The irony in the concept that a lot of people possess in wishing they had more time in life but waste the time we’re given. Our culture change has shifted so much that we live in a cyber world, controlled by interruptions and our addiction to distractions. We have been brainwashed into believing that technology will save us time, but in reality, we sped up our lives, making our attention more easily accessible to others and creating more anxiety in our days.

Are we fucked? Should we all just delete social media?

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Yuval Noah Harari expressed in his phenomenal book, Sapiens,“Humanity’s search for an easier life released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted.”

Have we become addicted and dependent upon social media and similar smart phone applications? Or is it simply part of a massive cultural change that we quickly adapted to?

Whilst there are definitely a lot of negative connotations associated with the use of social media, it would be naïve of us to not recognise the value that it has brought to our society in a number of ways. 

Feel connected around the world

The reality is social media has changed the world some of us once knew and these changes have contributed to the evolution of humanity.

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Social media platforms and applications allow us to instantly connect with people all around the world, creating and developing relationships – a concept that was not really possible before its invention.

Share your experience

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Whether you’ve travelled to the most spectacular countries, eaten at the most amazing restaurants, accomplished a lifetime achievement, or cultivated a loving family – social media allows you to share your experience with your friends, family and even the rest of the world if that is what you wish. Again, this is a concept that would not be possible without social media.

Inspire Global movements

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Sometimes things happen in this world that require us to come together to fight a cause or to empower us as a human race to demonstrate our moral integrity. The most recent and probably the most profound example of this is the #metoo movement. How would we have achieved this such widespread global movement without social media platforms?

Build support & funds for Greater good

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Social media allows charities and foundations to connect with the mass market in order to encourage funding and contributions that will allow them to help and support some of the less fortunate in the world. Humans are compassionate by nature, but again, charities would have great difficulty in contributing to the level they do without being able to reach out via. Social media.

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Create impact with campaigns

In 2006, Blake Mycoskie co-founded the company, ‘Toms’, creating a business model that had never been seen before; ‘one-for-one’. When a customer purchases one pair of shoes, Toms would give a free pair of shoes to someone in a developing country in need. Almost ten years later, Blake created a social media campaign, that would have unprecedented impact on the developing world yet again. Encouraging users to take a picture of their Toms shoes and upload it and the company would give away a free pair of shoes, to those without. Over 600,000 people posted a picture of their shoes on instagram that day. That is 600,00 people that would still be without shoes if it wasn’t for social media.

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United in solidarity.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where we are still sometimes faced with a crisis or tragedy – events that really affect the entire planet, be it directly or indirectly. It is in times like this that we must show our love, our respect and our support for each other. Before social media, we were limited in the scale of which we could achieve this. But its creation has again allowed that connection all around the world.

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I would just like to clarify that this does not make these events any more okay or acceptable, nor does it reduce the pain that is caused, but what social media does is allow us to be united together as one, in solidarity. Not as one city, or one nation; but as one world and as one race. A global community, propelled into infinite feelings of interconnectedness – a force of love and compassion that has never before been possible.

Social media and the ‘meaning of life’.

No, I am not suggesting for a second that social media is the meaning of life, but what is the message it presents us with?

I discovered a powerful quote whilst ironically, I was browsing on social media: “in a world of algorithms, hashtags and followers, we must understand the true importance of human connection.”

Do you hold the belief that happiness occurs within and that we already have everything that we need and give meaning to our own lives?

Or do you believe that our experience is only given meaning and value once it is shared with the world?

Social media created our ability to share our lives with the entire world. Is this the beginning of the destruction of humanity? Or is this the next step on our path of natural selection and evolution?

The reality is, no one is being forced to use these platforms, it is a choice we make as individuals. The likelihood that Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, etc. caused the mental health issues some of us are faced with is fairly low; there are probably underlying personality issues that have compounded and the likes of social media may have certainly contributed. 

My best friend expressed her outlook on life and it is a perfect way to close out this post: “it is essential for us as humans, to have the desire to grow and want more, but we must be grateful for what we have first, otherwise we embark on an endless pursuit of happiness that we will never find.”

Regardless of our individual perspective, let’s allow ourselves the tranquillity of spending time Offline and disconnect from the world around us.

(Source: Google Images)

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