As a society, we now live in an age which is utterly dominated by digital technology and it encompasses every aspect of our modern lives. The most influential technology of all is arguably social media, especially for adolescents and young people growing up who have little or no memory of a time before the internet. It is easy to become engulfed in the constant stream of posts, likes, comments and sharing and lose sight of reality when socialising online, and it is this mentality which has completely revolutionised the way in which we interact with one another. Nonetheless, it is a rapidly growing trend, seemingly becoming an integral part of people’s lives and the lifeblood of our society. Studies estimate that 62% of the UK population are social media users, so this is not a topic to take light-heartedly. One thing we can all agree on is the importance of discussion and to define the benefits which social media can give us, but also its pitfalls. So, what’s it all about?
By comparison, social media is a relatively new feature in our lives and like any new technology, there will be teething problems – we are still in the testing phase, if you will. I believe that having this dynamic, ever-changing presence thrust upon us has really challenged people to adapt the way we live to accommodate social media. As a result, some serious problems have been incurred. Many people feel that frequent use of social media has negatively impacted their self esteem and confidence, the root of this being unrealistic comparisons being drawn to the “picture-perfect” posts on platforms such as Instagram. This can lead to people feeling insecure about their body image and/or their lifestyle in general, which is obviously a dreadful side effect. One study even found that those who spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns. There is also the close toxic-cycle relationship between social media and mental health issues. Results from another study on young adults found that the more time spent on social media, resulted in teens being more likely to suffer from sleeping problems and experience symptoms of depression. There are a whole host of other issues including; pressure and anxiety to be “liked”, cyberbullying from whom no one is protected, having too many “fake” online friends and ultimately a reduction in face-to-face interactions. These are all highly serious and complex issues and I don’t believe there is one quick-fix to all of them, a lot of time, research, learning and experience is required. Is there anything more we can do though?
“The way in which we must adapt in a social media environment is by tackling it on a case by case basis.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, thankfully. But before we delve into the potential solutions however, what are the benefits which social media can bring us? Its main purpose does serve some good as it allows us to instantly connect with people who we love, admire and care about, and can so give us extreme pleasure and provide a sense of connectedness. It can be used to follow current by-the minute news stories, follow our favourite sports teams, bands and musicians which is beneficial culturally and economically. It also poses great opportunity for professionals, for example, one interesting statistic from a UK study stated that 34.6% of professionals said social media helped their careers by allowing them to take inspiration from others work. Away from the cold, hard facts there are the heart-warming stories which do the rounds on Facebook and Twitter feeds of old friends being reunited or overjoyed owners finding their lost pets, these kinds of things simply make us happy. So, there are some positives, but it is wholly unclear if they are worth the price we pay in return.
In my opinion, the answer to these head-ache-inducing questions is “everything in moderation”, which is actually a good mantra for life in general. The way in which we must adapt in a social media environment is by tackling it on a case by case basis. Personally, if I feel congested or overwhelmed online I like to take a break; put the phone down and go for a run or a walk. Why not focus on taking up an old hobby; learn to play your favourite song on a guitar or a piano; finish off that painting or drawing you started; run that extra mile. It is obviously important to enjoy the benefits of social media and if it is used correctly it can be a really powerful tool in your life, but it can be stressful sometimes. Always remember to try concentrate on how you are feeling mentally and physically, stay healthy and most importantly always prioritise yourself.