Silence. The only sound heard in a room filled with teenagers. Maybe the occasional chuckle or ding of a notification. Every once in a while someone lets out a laugh and says to the person next to them “you have to see this.”
The only light in a bedroom is the blue iphone screen shining in the darkness. The clock on the bedside table reads 1:30. Somehow the past 3 hours that should have been spent sleeping have scrolled by.
Driving 80 on the highway, one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on your phone. A Snapchat is just a picture right? A millisecond of distraction can’t do any harm can it?
Cell phones have become a vital part of our society. In the past 10 years due to the boom of social media cell phones have gone from a useful tool to something people can’t go a couple of hours or even a couple of minutes without and something that is within arms reach at all times.
“We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects are accompanied by actual physiological changes.”
Social media has become such a huge part of our lifestyles and culture that it has become what we turn to in every circumstance. Things like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have a way of transporting us out of our current headspace into a place where what happened at school or at work or in your relationship doesn’t matter for a moment. Any sadness, stress, or frustration can be ignored.
Because social media is such a different form of interaction, it oftentimes leads to a flow of sharing that wouldn’t happen face to face. Other than the typical reason of boredom, low self esteem and loneliness are huge factors in this. Psychologist Sandi Mann uses these as two of the biggest contributors to the oversharing that occurs on social media.
“What drives that is our desire to connect and be known. And maybe also we want to be significant. We want to leave something meaningful and create something meaningful.”
When it comes to what I’ve observed in relation to anxiety and social media there’s this sense that a lot of platforms contribute to this idea of comparing. A lot of comparing happens. Our tendency is to put the best out there, so in turn we see the best of other people’s lives. And what can happen, what I’ve experienced for myself and what I’ve seen happen with others, when we are only seeing the very best snapshots of everyone else’s lives and we are comparing our own life against that it gives us this sense of are we measuring up. Feeling like we’re not measuring up can then impact mental health and increase levels of anxiety.
I think we all want to be known. We all want to connect. There is something in who we are as humans and how we were created that wants to be known. I think possibly when we are struggling to do that in our day to day lives there is this sense that we can do that through social media. We end up putting a lot out there in an attempt to connect with people and to be known. I think sometimes there are times that that goes well for people and they do make meaningful connections and relationships through social media. I think the risk is we aren’t getting that feedback, that face to face feedback that builds empathy and increases compassion and connection. It can be a little bit of a false sense of connection at times. Not to say it always is, but I think what drives that is our desire to connect and be known. And maybe also we want to be significant. We want to leave something meaningful and create something meaningful. That can be through a picture we share or something we write or wanting to create something that matters to people. There are parts of social media that are inherently creative. I think maybe we share in attempt to make an impact or to leave some type of significant impact on the world.
What I’ve observed in working with college aged adults to young adults there is this lack of confidence in sharing face to face; that feels really uncomfortable. Some of those face to face skills seem to be underdeveloped so there’s a lot of sharing that happens through social media. We want to share. I don’t know societally what’s going on exactly there but I have observed that there is this disconnect between what I’m willing to share with someone face to face and what I’ll put on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I’ve even experienced that. I’ve had students in my office and I think we are talking about things and then they don’t bring something up and later it’s like “oh, they posted that on . . .” There is a disconnect there. I don’t know for sure if there is something in our society or culture that contributes to that.
Mental illness has increased in the years since technology has become such a huge part of culture. Health.com says,
“The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, used data from census interviews to estimate that 3.4% of the U.S. population, or more than 8 million Americans, suffer from serious psychological distress (SPD) — a term to describe feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and restlessness that are hazardous enough to impair physical well being. Previous census surveys have estimated SPD to affect 3% of people or less.”
“It can be a little bit of a false sense of connection at times.”
Social media has an outward sense of anonymity, but in reality, everything shared on social media is viewable by millions of people. In a society where so many young people are struggling with the desire to fit in and be seen, but also struggling with the feeling of being overlooked because they don’t fit the standard or aren’t good enough, social media can be the first place they turn. It is so simple to type something and press send and put your phone away without worrying about any possible repercussions. Mann says, “many lonely people simply yearn for affiliation. Their over-sharing is simply them reaching out to others in the hope that others will reach back to them with a ‘like’ or a comment.”
Professor Russell W. Belk, chair in marketing at York University in Toronto, who has done extensive research on the topic says,
“When we’re looking at the screen we’re not face-to-face with someone who can immediately respond to us, so it’s easier to let it all out — it’s almost like we’re invisible. The irony is that rather than just one person, there’s potentially thousands or hundreds of thousands of people receiving what we put out there.”
Young adults, millennials, and the youth of today are in a constant search of identity. Of the students I talked to at Tabor College the average daily screen time was about 5 hours totaling to 35+ hours per week.