Shreya, a teenager, is an avid social media user. She is a star in TikTok and has a huge following on Instagram. Every day, from the moment she wakes up to the time she goes to bed, she is on social media 24/7. Even when her parents call her to eat her lunch or dinner, or when she is doing her chores, she does not miss a single notification from Facebook or Instagram or such.
Even when she is with her friends or when she is walking, she has her face glued to her phone screen as she is updating her social media or interacting with her fans or making a new TikTok video. She is very concerned about her others’ opinions of her. She wants her social media presence to be flawless. For some reason, if her picture or a video is not able to garner enough likes, she turns all red. She feels ashamed and she is very hard on herself. She feels as if no one likes her. She doesn’t feel like eating or sleeping. She feels hopeless. She has siblings but they are busy with their own life on social media. She can’t find anyone to talk to about her “problems”. It’s a completely isolated world she is living in with the flicker of her smartphone all the time.
The above story although only represents an anecdote of a town girl obsessed with social media, it is a bitter truth about how social media has completely gripped our lives. The question then is if this grip has been for the good or the bad?
If we look at the research, there is no conclusive evidence to whether social media has devastating effects on health. There are controversies over its implication. Looking at the statistics, social media accounted for 3.484 billion worldwide in 2019. It was also found that only 38% of Twitter users were male, but 61% of males were using Snapchat as of January 2020. In contrast, females were more likely to use LinkedIn and Facebook.
Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, in that it has only become mainstream in the last decade or so. The potential links between their use and mental health have not been widely investigated. Most of the research on social networking and mental health has so far used conventional psychiatric questionnaires. Studies in patients who have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression are needed to consider potential causal factors for social media. There is a need to design and implement novel, advanced scales that would be adjusted to several social parameters to evaluate potential mental problems in light of the rapid development of information technology. In one of the recent studies by Harvard University, it was found that using social media as part of everyday routine and responding to content or comment that others share—is positively correlated with social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health.
However, emotional connection to social media—for example, excessively checking apps out of fear of missing out, being disappointed about, or feeling disconnected from friends when not logged into social media—is negatively associated with all three outcomes mentioned above. The findings suggest that as long as we are mindful users, and use social media in moderation, it may not in itself be a problem. Rather, it could be beneficial. The benefits were generally associated with younger age, better education, the harms were associated with older age, less education, and being a racial minority.
It is important to note that the way people are using social media may have more impact on their mental health than just the frequency and duration of their use. Delving on the positive sides, social media use facilitates social interaction especially with individuals for impaired social functioning, provides access to peer support networks and connects with care providers, and access evidence-based services. Contrary to this, risks pertain to privacy, confidentiality, and potential consequences of disclosing personal health information, cyberbullying, and online harassment
So what should be done? There is a saying “Money is a good servant but bad master”. Do we want ourselves to be controlled by something external to be validated? How important is real-life connection than reel life connection? How important is the silence after a long noisy week? Do we really not need to manage our mess? More importantly, what is the role of parents in all this, as their children are being confined with the 4in x 5in square, that is their smartphones. The core being mindful use of social media is a must. Give a break once a week. Be with family. Put that phone down and be present in the moment.
Make real-life connections. Enjoy nature, enjoy the people. There is so much to be thankful for. Engage in real-life conversation. Most importantly, in a world where a new norm is less is better, decrease the use of social media. Do not allow it to control your life in the morning or before midnight. Your smartphone is a powerful machine, several times more advanced than the supercomputers that put a man on the moon, so make use of that resources. Browse content that increases knowledge, but at the same time know when to mix it up with entertainment. Your mind needs to grow and not to be overrun by entertainment and unnecessary noise all time. Parents cannot always be there to micromanage and tell you what you can and cannot do. You need to therefore learn to limit your time in social media. You need to convey positive and inspiring content and not to feed yourself with negative information.
Before I end, I want to leave you with this quote by Ryan Holiday “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”