Social media may seem like harmless fun and it undoubtedly has benefits otherwise it wouldn’t be used by billions of people around the globe.
However, is it really adding enough value in your life to justify the amount of time you are currently spending on it? I leave that for you to decide after reading this article.
Social media companies just want one thing - your attention. Why? Because that’s how they make their money. The more time you spend on it, the more ads they can serve you.
They intend to keep you on their platform for as long as possible, and they do whatever it takes to make the user experience more addictive so that you keep coming back for more.
Many of the major social media companies even hire individuals called attention engineers who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling to try to make their platforms as addictive as possible.
Former president of Facebook, Sean Parker once openly admitted that Facebook was designed to exploit human vulnerability. He said the thought process that went into building the site was all about “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”
Unless you are highly conscious and mindful about how you use social media, it is affecting you in plenty of ways in which you may have never considered. Here are 7 different ways in which your Social media usage may be impacting you.
It’s hijacking your time
A study conducted by Global Web Index found that digital consumers spent nearly 2.5 hours every day on social networks and messaging.
Social media is designed to be addictive so it comes as no surprise that it can consume a lot of our time.
You may often pull out your phone intending to check your messages only to find yourself still on it half an hour later wondering where all the time went.
Neuroscientists studying the effects of social media on the brain have found that receiving texts and likes, triggers the same kind of reaction that is caused by gambling and taking drugs.
These activities cause the release of dopamine into our brains, which is commonly referred to as a “feel-good” hormone. Getting a hit of dopamine is addictive, and this makes us keep coming backing for more.
With our phones by our side almost 24/7, getting these dopamine “hits” is easier than ever before. And as an article on webwatcher states : checking to see if you got a new text or an Instagram notification may not be harmful as doing cocaine or feeding money into a slot machine, but the addictive properties are the same.
It’s disconnecting you from yourself and cluttering up your mind
Most people start off their day by checking their social media feed and messages and clutter up their minds with irrelevant information even before they get out of bed. Over 95% of the stuff you see on social media has no impact on your life and are things that you have no influence over.
You don’t need to know what a hundred other people are doing with their lives and your brain has no use for such information.
Social media can make us addicted to constant stimulation and consuming an enormous amount of information that does not pertain or relate to our life in any way.
This can mess with your mental clarity and make it harder to be in the present since the content you view on social media can keep replaying in your mind as you go about your day.
The need for constant stimulation can also make you uncomfortable spending periods of time alone with your thoughts, which is essential to gain a deeper understanding of yourself.
Makes you lose perspective and value things that don’t matter
In the grand scheme of things how much likes, comments or views you get on your posts doesn’t really matter, but social media can make you lose perspective and place excessive value on these things.
Sure they can make us feel good and give us a fleeting sense of pleasure. But usually that’s about it. However, since positive feedback on social media feels good, it makes us crave and pursue more of it and may even make us addicted to external validation.
While it may provide us with instant gratification it rarely tends to be fulfilling and meaningful in the long run. Nobody dies on their deathbed regretting and wishing they had more “positive feedback” on their posts on social media.
Moreover, platforms like Instagram tends to promote a superficial lifestyle because it reduces everything to how someone/something looks like, which is a terribly one dimensional and skewed way of seeing people and the world around us.
It may be affecting your real-life relationships
You may know a friend or a family member with whom it’s sometimes difficult to make conversations because they are so preoccupied with their phones. In some instances, this person may even be you.
It’s ironic that it’s called “social media” since those who spend more time on the platform feel more isolated than connected. A study found that those who visited social media platforms at least 58 times per week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated compared to those who used social media fewer than 9 times per week.
Because of social media, you may find yourself spending less time interacting with the people right next to you since there is always some new notification to check, stories to see or someone to text.
You are training your brain to be distracted
The constant beeps and buzzing of your notification can affect your attention span, and can even change your brain's chemistry to make you feel anxious and stressed. Researchers also warn that constant notifications can distract you so much that productivity can drop by as much as 40 per cent without you knowing.
A growing body of research have also found evidence that spending large portion of your time in a state of fragmented attention where you are constantly breaking up your attention to get a quick glance on social media can reduce your capacity to concentrate.
It may be affecting your mental health
Most users know that what’s posted on social media is a curated version of people’s lives, but that doesn’t stop most of us from comparing ourselves with others from time to time.
Studies have repeatedly found that social media sites can negatively impact the emotional wellbeing of users. In fact, even Facebook has publicly acknowledged that social media can be bad for users’ mental health.
A recent study found Instagram to be having the biggest negative impact on users mental health among social networking platforms.
The study aimed to discover how respondents felt towards different social networks (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter) affected their health, both positively and negatively. It asked them about their feelings of anxiety, connection to a community, sense of identity, sleep, body image and more.
Only YouTube had a net-positive effect among the respondents. Every other social network came back with a net-negative effect. (In order from least negative to most, they were: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram).
The need for external validation increases
It’s natural to desire social acceptance and validation from those around us. After we all like to be liked(No pun intended).
But social media multiplies these feelings and takes it to another level. It keeps us wanting more and make us places excessive importance on what others think.
Even Leah Pearlman, the co-inventor of Facebook's Like button, said she had become hooked on to Facebook because she had begun basing her sense of self-worth on the number of "likes" she told CNN in an interview.
"When I need validation - I go to check Facebook," she said."I'm feeling lonely, 'Let me check my phone.' I'm feeling insecure, 'Let me check my phone.'"
"I noticed that I would post something that I used to post and the 'like' count would be way lower than it used to be."Suddenly, I thought I'm actually also kind of addicted to the feedback."
This increasing need for validation may even subconsciously affect your life outside of social media and make it harder to make choices that you want, instead of what other people expect or want of you.
So what is the solution?
It would be unfair to dismiss social media as being completely negative since there can be a lot of positives sides to it as well.
While quitting is not an option for many of us would like to take because of the conveniences it can offer us, there are ways to minimise the negative impacts it can have on us.
Moderate social media usage may not have much of a negative impact in the short term, however, having a habit of compulsive usage over a period can most certainly have an unfavourable impact.
Therefore it’s essential to keep the big picture in mind, use it mindfully and have a clear purpose for being on the platform since it can tend to be addictive and consume too much of our time needlessly.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to minimise the negative impacts of social media
Cease checking your phone as soon as you wake up (turn off your internet as you go to sleep)
Move your social media apps from your home screen so that you don’t feel tempted to peek every now and then
Turn off notifications from all social media apps (while it’s something I have done myself, I understand it may not be possible for everyone)
Track your time using an app to see how much time you spend on it
Replace it with a positive habit / find something meaningful to engage you
Get clear on your purpose for being on social media
Take a social media detox
Taking a social media break/detox is something I have done a couple of times over the past few years, and it’s something I highly recommend to gain a greater understanding of the impact it has on your life. You may start to realise how unconsciously and automatically you find yourself reaching for your phone as you do this.
Doing a social media detox simply means to stay away from social media for a set period of time. While most social media detoxes are 30 days, or can even be for one or two weeks.
Such detoxes are getting more and more common by the day due to an increasing number of people realising the negative impact social media can have on their lives.
My story with social media
Being hooked on to social media and how it can affect you is something I know well myself since it used to be the case with me for a few years when I used to spend a lot of my free time on it.
I first started using social media back almost 11 years ago through the now-defunct platform Orkut. It was exciting to connect with my friends away from school in a whole new way, and I was hooked.
A couple of years later I joined Facebook, and I would spend a good amount of free time mostly chatting with people and playing games on it. However, by the time I reached the 12th grade (4 years later) grade, it was no longer fun as it once was, and the initial excitement and thrill had faded.
I observed that scrolling down the news feed made me compare my life with others, and it didn’t make me feel good about myself. Yet by now, it had become a habit, and I wanted to stay “updated” about what has happening around me.
I eventually decided to take a social media break for a few months though I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I would be missing out on what’s happening around me.
However, after a couple of weeks my FOMO had surprisingly paved for feelings of freedom and relief which made me realise my fears were completely unfounded.
Now when I look back the decision I took then was huge because for the first time it made me sit up and notice that it wasn’t adding much value to my life.
This realisation made me drastically reduce the time I spend on social media when I returned, and it helped me to spend time on things which I never had the time for or didn’t even consider when I used to spend a lot of my free time on social media.
I learned to play the guitar, started meditating, reading a lot, began journaling, spending time alone with myself and started doing all sorts of different things once my default mode of consuming my free time no longer became going on social media.
The FOMO Illusion
When social media isn’t occupying much of your time and mental space, you may discover new aspects of yourself or even talents that are lying dormant. Therefore it’s good to ponder on how you’d spend your time if social media wasn’t an option.
Social media has come along and presented this grand illusion that we are missing out on life if we don’t know what everybody else is up to. But up until about 10-15 years ago none of us were aware of what hundreds of other people were doing with their time and we were living our lives fine without any FOMO.
I’d argue that we tend to miss out on more if we have the habit of spending too much time on social media. We stop noticing our surroundings because it may not be as mentally stimulating or pleasurable as receiving texts and likes. And we may also not make as much of an effort to hold conversations with those that are right next to us because, with social media, there is always a way to occupy your time.
Social media companies are making billions of dollars from the attention and data of users like yourself. The question I’d like to leave you to contemplate on is what are you getting in exchange for trading your time, energy and attention?
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