The Dark Side of Social Media
It’s early, it’s a Sunday, and Patrick Crouch has no idea what time it is. He glances over at his cell phone… it’s off, a state that it is rarely in. Unlike other mornings, he does not reach over and check his text messages. Instead, he slips out of bed with an unnerving feeling in the pit of his stomach. How will he ever make it through this dreadful day? On his way out of his room he notices his silver macbook is closed and neatly situated toward the back of his desk. It isn’t right, he thinks, to leave it untouched for so long. He shakes his head and leaves his room; his Apple products untouched. Later, Patrick discovers that 24 hours can be an exhausting duration without the comfort of his electronic counterparts. His hands are shaking as he finds less interesting objects to fiddle with. His ears itch for a musical beat, his eyes burn for LCD backlighting, and his mind is racing with what he imagines would be awesome status updates or tweets. But none of that is going to happen, not today.
Patrick, a sophomore in college, is just one of thousands who experience unexpected withdrawals when performing a media fast, a period of time when a user resists any type of media technology. He is living and breathing proof that the overuse and overexposure to such technology has the potential to cause negative effects on the user. This seemingly harmless way of social connection can and does affect us physically, mentally, and socially in more ways than we realize.
Social media, contrary to what some may believe, is not a fad. The mere growth of online social sites is exponential, proving that this is a shift in communication as we know it. This new and unchallenged way of life must be weighed, measured, and regulated individually by each and every user.
Facebook claims to receive more than 60 million updates daily, it would be redundant and obvious to explain why social media is so popular. Its gratifications are endless. It makes it easy to connect with long-lost friends, it is fast, easy, and it feeds into our need to feel loved and accepted. This is precisely why it is necessary to look beyond the positive and discuss not what social media gives us, but what it has the potential to take.
Facebook, which was launched in 2004, claims to now have more than 600 million users. There are 200 million users’ who access the site from their mobile devices and more than 1.5 million photos are updated daily. The average user has at least 130 friends, and more than 2.5 million websites have linked their site with facebook. Get the picture? Social media has become a way of life; it has been created, accepted, and indulged, but what is it doing to us?
Those who have done a media fast are well aware of the physical effects that arise due to media addiction. Most people do not realize how much social media pulls on us socially and mentally.
According to the “Public Isolation Projected,” conducted by a social media consulting company, social media physically separates us from the very thing we are seeking, contact. The study found that social media is an isolating innovation that only connects us on a superficial level, and in order to utilize social media one must be alone. According to the Office for National Statistics, “Over the last two decades the proportion of people living alone doubled,” this shows that the rise of social media is taking the place of physical closeness. We do not sit around and formulate text messages in groups, and we do not write facebook messages with a friend. People may surround us, but while we are involved in social media we are in fact, solo.
Social media also has been proven to disrupt and even decrease quality of sleep. A study done by Pew Research Center found that four out of five Americans sleep with a mobile device near enough to their head that they can answer text messages or phone calls after they’ve gone to bed. Pew Research went on to explain that using social media before bed, especially on the computer, can cause an overstimulation of the senses which makes it harder for the user to fall asleep.
According to Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, social media has been proven to promote five psychological disorders in excessive users: Schizophrenia, Insomnia, ADHD, Addiction, and Anxiety and Depression. This is not to say that every addicted user will develop these disorders. Rather, users who previously struggle with minor symptoms of these disorders may see an increase in symptoms due to social media. For example, if a person struggles with loneliness and depression, being highly involved in social media could cause a spike in feelings of depression due to the solitary environment when using the medium.
“(Social media) is like eating a Twinkie, you feel satisfied at first, but you keep coming back for more because you aren’t getting any nutrition,” Says Stephanie Bennett, author of “Communicating Love” and Associate Dean of the school of Communication and Media at Palm Beach Atlantic University “Real relationships provide that nutrition.”
Bennett says that the mobile-ness of social media “un-tethers us from each other.” We see it as a way to be free, but it also frees us from the responsibility of relationships, thus reinforcing the disconnection, she says. Bennett describes our addiction to social media as a way of “devaluing human presence” in which our need for relationships meet head on with our lack of time for interaction. She argues that the uncritical approach to social media has left us in this state of hindsight, realizing that social media was never meant to take the place of real face to face relationships.
Currently being debated is whether those prone to greater feelings of loneliness are attracted to social media, or if social media actually causes loneliness in overstimulated users. A study done by Carnegie Mellon University, “Internet Paradox,” concluded that loneliness is a common side effect of highly addicted social users whether the user came to the medium with previous feelings of loneliness or not. The reason? The study reaffirmed that, using social media detaches the user from in-person relationships; also, as a user experiences higher feelings of loneliness they turn to social media to fill the void. In return, they receive more isolation and the cycle continues.
Why does the user not catch that the very medium they are using to find relief is causing their pain? According to sociologist Emile Durkheim, people will continue to involve themselves in online communities because it gives them the illusion of being in a network. He says that the more time the user spends on social networks, the more he or she finds that this is their only means of connection, and that all outside networking has faded.
Social media also greatly affects relationships when users disregard in-the-moment, face to face interaction to feed digital addiction. According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, Vice President for student health and counseling service at the University of Chicago, the need to be in constant connection leads us to neglect those whom we are connected with in the present. Instead of focusing on the individual in front of us we are spreading our attention out to our digital relationships. Lickerman notes that this spreading out of our time and attention to meet demands of an ever- growing network is draining and leads to superficial, topical relationships when we are truly seeking deep meaningful friendships. We become lost from each other, disconnected from the deeper levels of comradery. We have used technology to find one another but through that we have lost what it means to have a true relationship. As Bennett says, “it is a lost-ness that GPS cannot help with.”
IF YA CANT BEAT EM’; JOIN EM’
The answer is not to revolt against social media. The technology even if we admit a slight addiction to, is great for planning, keeping in touch with old friends rediscovered, and sharing memories in the form of photos. As Bennett makes so clear, it is when we become overindulged in this illusion of connectivity that we find ourselves in trouble. According to Stephanie Bennett, the first step in taking control of social networking is to keep a running journal of media time. She says that realizing how much time you spend on facebook, twitter, email and other social sites is the first step to taking control.
“Set a social media timer, regulate how often you check your cell phone, or leave it behind if you can,” she says.
Being constantly glued to social media in a state of connection is un-healthy, says Dr. Alex Lickerman. Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” it continues in verse 5 “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain.” There is a time to chat online, a time to facebook a friend, and a time to tweet, but there is also a time to refrain from social media and engage in other activities.