What originally started as a way to connect with others around the world has become an obsession. Our lives now revolve around our social media accounts and we are constantly liking, tagging and scrolling. We take the same photo a hundred times from several different angles and compare the effects of umpteen filters before uploading. It seems the whole point- socialising, has been lost along the way.
Despite all appearances social media doesn’t make us happy, or even less lonely: an important thought at this time, when many first-year students are moving away from home for the first time. Social media may seem more important than ever in first few weeks of university, liking university-related pages, being tagged in photos, and of course frantically adding your new corridor and anyone you’ve met. But after those first couple of weeks, we all need to put our phones down, take a break and be comfortable with our own lives, being alone and unconnected.
Admit it – you’ve stalked someone on Facebook. Everyone has. Thanks to social media, we have been able to find out tiny minutiae of others’ lives, from basics like date of birth to 2009 holiday destinations. Snapchat and Instagram have made this even easier with the introduction of stories – just one tap enables you to see what every friend has been up to in last 24 hours. Logic suggests this may actually make us more social – the more we learn about others’ lives, the more conversation topics we have right?
In reality, seeing other people post about their seemingly fantastic lives can lead to loneliness and leave you feeling as if you are the only one living a simple, normal (and occasionally boring!) life. The fact is, the vast majority of images posted on social media are, consciously or not, meant to make others jealous. Very few people post about their argument with their housemate or money issues – it’s all about the great night or the lavish birthday gifts or stunning holidays. Social media has become the epitome of one-upmanship, and we need to bear that in mind when using the sites and using it to compare ourselves to others.
Furthermore, the connections made through Facebook are often fleeting and meaningless – how many of your Facebook ‘friends’ do you actually keep in contact with, and how many are acquaintances you met once five years ago? An Oxford University survey conducted earlier this year found that the average person on Facebook has 155 friends, but only four of those were close enough to be called on in a crisis. Taking that discrepancy into account, why do we care so much about likes and comments from people who are not actually significant in our lives? A like is a tap or click, taking a fraction of a second before the user keeps scrolling. It is nothing compared to the thought and time that goes into a phone call or long message, and yet so many of us equate a like with genuine appreciation. We find ourselves obsessing over how many likes our profile photo or latest Instagram post gets, comparing that number to others’ posts, and consequently feel depressed that apparently less people are interested in our lives; a digital thumbs-up has become the benchmark for how popular, and thus successful, we are.
The link between social media usage and how happy we are with our own lives has been investigated closely. In 2015, the Happiness Research Institute asked people to give up Facebook for just one week and found they became much happier as a result. The group was also more satisfied with their offline social lives after their social media-free week, as well as being less worried. Giving up social media for a while is thus very likely to have a positive influence on your mental health.
On holiday recently I noticed a family at the next table and all the children were sitting silently on their phones, some even with their headphones in, watching snaps and scrolling through news feeds to keep updated (and, no doubt, their friends were simultaneously being updated with picturesque Instagram posts!) The majority of us – me included – have been guilty of it too: you are out with a friend or family and quickly check your phone for any messages and notifications, pausing your conversation to reply to your digital friends before your real-life ones.
Humans are innately social creatures and when isolated, we can quickly become lonely and depressed. Given that the average person now spends over an hour every day on their phone, it is clear that our obsession with social media can cause us to unconsciously avoid real life contact, which is the most important mode of communication.
Social media undoubtedly has its advantages: the opportunities to connect and communicate with friends at practically any time and being able to stay updated with the latest events. However, when checking social media accounts becomes an obsession, it can affect our mental health, as we constantly measure ourselves against others. The number of likes on a photo, views on a story, even birthday messages, are a way to see who has the most ‘friends’, even if those relationships are surface-level. Taking a step back from our social media accounts every once in a while can only be beneficial. Maybe in our free time, we can even start taking photos of our experiences just for ourselves.
Photograph by Kjyrstenolson via Wikimedia Common and Creative Commons