Before diving right into this topic I would like to clarify that I am just as guilty of abusing social media as anybody else, and likely far more addicted than many. I am simply aware of my obsession, and have come to realize the impacts that it is having on my lifestyle and my thoughts. This article is not supposed to forcefully tell you or anybody how to use social platforms, but simply to shine light upon a fresh perspective. Quitting social media is not what I am promoting. Simply understanding how excessive over-use affects your life will go a lot farther than quitting without any real purpose.
Alongside the growth of technology has come the increase of many forms of psychological distress. We are seemingly able to find the answers to almost anything, yet wrestle to solve the human mind and answer important psychological questions. Our thoughts are one of the most complex tools of our body, and understanding them is perhaps the key to human happiness. However, the constant pursuit of external validation has been ingrained into our culture, and many of us have completely succumbed to this phenomenon, leaving many under answered questions and thus unfulfilled people.
Evidence for these effects can be found all around us. Young people have higher rates of mental illness than ever before. Millennial teens are ridden with the highest frequency of diagnosed anxiety and clinical depression to date. [i]-[ii] How is this generation so different from those before? There is no doubt that one of the largest contributors to this issue is modern media, which is more influential and exploitative than it has ever been. That being said, the media has been aggressively sending subliminal messages for decades, long before the emergence of this phenomenon. This of course shows that the media is unlikely to be the new, and defining variable of the present situation. Indeed, an aspect of modern life that is unique to the current generation is the intense presence of social media in their daily lives. These social platforms have negatively effected many youth. Although social outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are very innovative methods of keeping people connected from around the world, they have also changed the way many of us process experiences and information. Previous generations had no choice but to be fully present with others and to fully experience their lives without clicking the share button. This fosters self-knowledge, and develops a tolerance for the many obscurities of life. However, the major presence of these websites has created a tendency among millenials to ignore much of the true enjoyment that unique and fulfilling events in life provide. Instead, we often immediately tell ourselves that this is something other people need to experience, instead of experiencing it fully ourselves. Even worse, we often think to ourselves “this post will get so many likes”. Instead of milking all the joy from things like travel, friends, and relationships, we often fall victim to our clouded perceptions of what is truly good. We constantly find ourselves consumed by the need to show what we are up to. That being said, social media often has a tendency to display people and the way they live very inaccurately, creating feelings of inadequacy for their viewers. This reality is just part of the bigger problem.
A constant desire to share how fulfilling our lives are can be explained by a need to boost our own ego. Ask yourself this question: why do we need others to see what we are doing? Is it because we care what they think of us? We are all guilty of this in one way or another, but the root of the problem is a need for external validation. Many people in our generation derive far too much of their self-worth from the perception others have of them. Maintaining an overwhelming need to be accepted completely opposes the development and sustenance of self-confidence. Many of us who are addicted to social media are completely stuck in this cycle. The greatest individuals in our society are those who focus on their own approval, and do not depend on validation from anybody. Many elements contribute to the aforementioned phenomenon, such as parental dependence, changes in family structure, the media, and social pressures. That being said, I believe social media is still a significant piece in the puzzle.
People who have little to no focus on social media image do exist, and they are everywhere. They are soaking up real experiences and focusing on their personal development. For myself, the greatest example of this generational change comes from my days as a 17 year old. From that age onward, I used to walk to the local playgrounds and spend every moment of spare time I had play football with my friends. I had no cell phone and facebook didn’t exist. I was there because it was the only thing I wanted to spend my time doing. Nowadays I can hardly spend a day on the playground without checking my phone. Games and many activities have become plagued with people who lack the passion for the sport, and only want the positive perceptions they receive from everybody who sees them doing it. The individuals at the pinnacle of any activity or career are the people who possess a true passion for what they do. The point here is, it you’re trying too hard for external validation, the true benefits of the chosen activity will fly right over your head. External validation is temporary and in the long run very unsatisfying. It develops a constant craving for more of the same, unlike real enjoyment and internal worth, which is much more difficult to achieve and certainly more fulfilling.
True authenticity has become a character quality that is hard to find. I do not believe that social media is solely detrimental and that’s that. In fact, it is great in many ways. Social platforms have enabled us to connect with far away friends, follow our favourite bands and stay up to date with breaking news. However, I do believe that by re-evaluating our use of these apps and websites, we can reduce the amount of negative impact they have on our lives. Cutting back on Instagram and Facebook time can go a long way towards focusing on the real circumstances in our lives. The less invested we are in these platforms, the more we can invest in ourselves.