I can’t lie, “sliding into someone’s DMs” is incredibly validating. Same goes for taking the perfect selfie. As for snapchat? Forget about it. My stories rival Moby Dick.
We all love social media and our smartphones right?
They provide a portal into the lives of friends, family, and acquaintances that we’ve built our networks with. These sites and devices have offered us a level of continuous connection and entertainment that is unparalleled by any other time in history. We can instantly get in touch with and be apart of anyone’s life with messaging, or even real time video chatting.
Social has brought us many incredible opportunities and advances in the society that we live in, whether it’s political activism, bridging the physical gap of communicating with far away loved ones, or even being able to make your voice and opinion broadcasted.
But, there is a much bigger impact on each and every one of us as users of these technologies, that people rarely consider.
As we continue to integrate social media more and more into society, it is actively changing how we interact, how relationships are formed, our productivity, and even how our brains work.
I’m about to dig pretty deep into how these tools are really affecting us. Please keep your arms and legs inside of the ride at all times and hold onto your seats.
We’re All Addicts
Smartphone and social media usage has become a full blown epidemic.
Take a second to think about when the last time was that you went an entire day without your phone? For most, the answer is probably before you had a cell phone in the first place.
It is understandable to have your device handy if you work at a job that requires you to be on call, or if you’re expecting an important call or email, and certainly for safety purposes. But if we’re honest with ourselves, our phones are checked pretty frequently out of a different, less rational reason.
We just can’t help it.
In a very revealing article that Time wrote, Dr. David Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction states that “we’re crossing the line from using our cell phones to being used by them. Greenfield says these compulsive behaviors stem from the way our phones—and, more specifically, the Internet—fire up our brain’s’ reward pathways.” and that “ leads to a small burst of pleasure chemicals in our brains, which drive us to use our phones more and more.”
Think about that for another moment.
When your phone isn’t with you how does it feel? Does it cause you anxiety? Interrupt your current activity? Do you feel naked without it?
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced similar feelings to these when you’ve forgotten or lost your phone. And it’s easy to dismiss the importance placed on your phone as it being expensive, or that you were talking to a friend, or any other number of reasons, but it hits a little closer to home when conceptualized as something that we need.
That’s incredibly alarming when considered from that perspective. But as time goes on, that seems to be the most accurate way to describe phone usage.
As a society our phones have transformed from simply being a tool to help make our lives more connected, efficient, and enjoyable, to having a crushing hold on our attention, time, and even well being.
Your Brain On Screens
Picture this: you’re at the mall, about to spend half of your paycheck at H&M’s two day blow out sale. You take a break from scrolling through Facebook and look up. What do you see?
That’s right, about ten other people with eyes glued to their own devices.
And it’s not just mobile devices. The average person stares into a screen and consumes social for 1.78 hours a day.
All of that time adds up, and you won’t believe what it does to your brain.
Over the last decade, the average adult’s attention span has decreased from 12, down to just 8 seconds since 2000. This means that a common goldfish can focus on something longer than us.
I’ll let that sink in.
Due to the constant promise of connection, updates, and an ever changing accessible social climate, that lack of focus can be traced back to a stimulus overload. We have so much media coming through so many different outlets at any given time, we’ve also developed productivity issues.
Tasks that require focusing on the same thing for long periods of time are becoming increasingly difficult. Articles have replaced books, full conversations and words have been replaced by emojis, and no longer are people willing to carry out full, in depth conversations when they have an easy alternative at their fingertips.
Also, you’re not sleeping as well as well as you could. Here’s why.
Most people check or spend time on their phones before they go to bed at night.
This results in your brain being exposed to the same type of light as the sun, which tricks it into thinking you should still be awake.
Not to mention it just plain keeps you up. That “quick Facebook check” might turn into half an hour, a full hour, or even longer. And it will happen more quickly than you might have planned for.
If you end up putting your phone down well in advance before bedtime it can help you get more sleep overall.
How Social Media Affects Relationships
Many of us feel like social media has the power to facilitate new relationships, long distance interactions, and unite people with like minded causes. While that may be true, social media usage on a consistent basis has some pretty intriguing effects over time.
By now we’re all pretty familiar with this term. Some would argue that it’s merely an effect of our generation being a little more PC than in previous years, but there is actually solid reasoning behind that term and its origins. With the growth of the internet, there has been a behavioral shift that develops in certain individuals called the online disinhibition effect. In general the condition is caused by a few main factors:
- Lack of accountability – When you’re sending emails back and forth, commenting on another’s status, or involved in an online chat, you have the option to withhold your identity. Even though some of these networks do require the user to make a profile beforehand, there is still no effective way to verify the provided information. Without this accountability of attributing our behavior to us specifically, we feel more likely to “get away with” negative behavior.
Moving forward, you should challenge yourself to try and remember that there is a person behind the screen. Also that you yourself are a human as well. With feelings, emotions, and responsibilities to your fellow person. Interact in a way that you would be proud of if your grandmother was reading.
- Reduced consequences – Similar to the overall lack of accountability in terms of our identities, when we insult or others online, there isn’t any regulation or negative consequences that happen as a result. Yes, in society there are very few direct regulations in terms of speech, but society does a great job of indirectly policing negativity. Try going into a classroom or a Safeway and start yelling at and cursing out an old lady. You will probably be taken out and stoned in the parking lot because no one would stand by and watch that happen.
So when it comes to online interactions. Police yourselves. Remember that being “right” Isn’t always what’s best. Strive to understand things from an alternate perspective. Work towards a resolution and healthy discourse instead of aggressive or disrespectful speech. The world will be a better place for it.
- Time doesn’t matter – Most of the time there isn’t much thought given to the fact that face- to-face conversations happen in a specific pattern, and in real time. Without these factors we are able to think very carefully about what we want to say, write something down, and react in ways that are against our natural reactions.
People in our society are spending less and less time in face to face interactions. A study by Nielsen, showed that the average United States citizen spends an average of 11 hours a day being exposed to electronic media. This has led to a rise in time spent alone.
People are, in essence, replacing live social interaction with “interactions” on these sites. For some, it’s an efficiency tool. Why put pants on just to go talk to Cheryl? But for others, it’s a way to keep up with the lives of others and fulfill friendship requirements. This is good for times when in person interactions aren’t possible, but not as a primary form of communication.
As of 2013, 25% of all people report their primary form of communication is some digital communication tool. Chatting online instead of in person has changed a few fundamental ways that we talk to each other:
- Small talk is dead. Due to the fact that many of our interactions have been broken down into informal, quick, and broken digital messages, the ability to have a casual conversation has been lessened.
- Facial cues are irrelevant. One staple of communication has always been non verbal expression. It’s actually more indicative than our words in most circumstances. But text messages, emails, and instant messaging have removed the non-verbal cues from our interactions. Leaving us to mainly guess.
- Informality. With the advent of shortened communication-like text messaging, use of formal or proper language has diminished in most areas of daily communication. For example, on the job it has become common to send an “lol”, “brb”, or “b there in 4”.
- Less talking. This also is a by product of instant communication format. Now that we are able to effectively communicate without talking in person or in full sentences (sometimes without even speaking at all), we have made a large turn away from in person or voice conversation.
So, while we may think of social media as being the perfect pathway to friendship and interaction, it can actually be more appropriate to categorize it as as being antisocial media in some cases.
Confidence and Self Esteem
Everyone knows that everything on social media is real right? All of our lives are exactly the seemingly endless highlights of pure bliss and excitement that we portray day in and day out on our social media accounts.
Except for one tiny exception.
None of that is true.
In fact, what we see on social media sites are just carefully curated top moments written, created, and shared by people looking for validation. It’s almost never a true reflection of what people’s lives are actually like. Take your favorite Instagram model for example.
So are we all just a bunch of liars when it comes to online interaction?
The answer is yes. Here’s why:
- Nobody likes a negative Nancy or a pouty Paul. When we use social media, there is a trend to support and enjoy positive content over more negative or sad content. So we all have a natural incentive to post happy things, or highlights. Others see these photos, tweets, or snaps, and assume that everyone around them is living in a dream world that they don’t have access to. But what they don’t see are all of the extremely boring moments that almost all of us experience for most of our in real life days.
- Social media offers an insane level of direct feedback in real time. Or in terms you’re more familiar with, “likes”, “comments”, and other forms of “engagement”. These methods of feedback create a natural reaction of hyper self awareness that just didn’t happen before these technologies existed. Nobody in their right mind was walking around and giving other people verbal feedback about every aspect of their lives in face-to-face society. So with the increased awareness comes increased insecurity.
- Everyone knows about every cool or fun thing that has ever existed now. There might have been a time when a person in Antarctica didn’t know how fun it was to go scuba diving with giant sea turtles in the Galapagos islands. But in today’s society, with the advent of the internet and search engines, people are bombarded with a seemingly endless supply of awesome things that they could be doing instead of living their own lives.
As a society, and as part of our nature as humans, we seek external validation from those around us. Social is a tool that helps extend that. So presenting an altered version of yourself isn’t necessarily that unnatural, but it can be harmful to your emotional well being.
Instead, we should make a push. A push to show the world and our loved ones who we really are (a.k.a the person they truly care about anyway).
We all need to start being more impressed with the amazing moments of everyday life, the beauty of our unedited world, and the magic of simplicity. It’s time to start the #LifeUnfiltered movement online and liberate ourselves from our own insane expectations.
Checking Your Phone
Probably the most disheartening and ironic impact of social is that despite it’s claim to fame of being a tool for connection, it actually takes time away from in person interaction.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert, extrovert, ambivert, netflixovert, or otherwise, you still need to spend time with others. It’s basic human nature.
We are increasingly using digital mediums and applications to pass the time. Or even more accurately, they are becoming our primary go to activity. Even when we’re with others.
We’ve all seen it right? Someone sitting down at dinner, or a teenager on the couch with family, hunched over, and typing or swiping intently on their phone.
Are they looking up techniques for personal development? Or perhaps searching for a recipe for tomorrow’s dinner? Maybe even looking up how much money they have in their bank account?
Not a chance.
More realistically, that person is probably thumbing through their Facebook or Instagram feed, without a clear purpose. And it’s not just for a few moments. that person might be there for a half hour or so, making sure they never miss a moment of anyone else’s digital life.
This is a particularly troubling phenomenon in today’s society. People willing make plans to spend time together, but once they arrive, the allure of checking a status, or photo documenting every 5 seconds of the activity, gets in the way of the activity actually being enjoyed or experienced.
According to Time, “Those between the ages of 18 and 24 look at their phones most often, with an average of 74 checks per day. Americans in the 25-34 age bracket look at their devices 50 times per day, and those between 35 and 44 do so 35 times each day”
And that “81% of Americans spend time looking at their phones while dining out in restaurants.”
So this isn’t an isolated few, or some passing occurrence, it’s an issue that affects all of us.
Now, whenever there is a lull in conversation, a commercial, or a wait for a bus ride, our go to is to seek out entertainment or stimulation from those mini computers in our pockets. The issue is that this lack of stimulation is starting to creep into social and group interaction, and isn’t just relegated to solo moments of boredom.
Moving forward we should make it a priority to step out of our comfort zones and rely less heavily on our devices. If you’re in public and waiting for a friend, try starting up a conversation with a stranger. Or if you’re in a setting where you wouldn’t normally put that much effort into the interaction, like in line at the grocery store, challenge yourself to be more engaging and friendly.
At the end of the day, we are all still a bunch of people walking around communicating with one another very often. We have many institutions in place that require face to face interactions, and we need to understand the importance of these relationships, and not let our skills around those areas diminish.
Reversing The Damage
Being conscious of just how much media we consume and how it affects our lives can be a hard thing to achieve. If you’re wanting to get back to your more organic self, here is some advice that will help break that smartphone/social media hold on your life:
- Schedule a total amount of time to be on your phone each day. Setting a limit for yourself will help eliminate any unnecessary phone usage to fill gaps in time.
- Delete any unnecessary apps from your phone so you aren’t tempted. Unless the app is essential to your day to day activities, it’s probably just wasting your time.
- Practice being “bored” and not having something to stimulate you. By this I mean to learn how to be comfortable with silence, lack of media stimulus, or even being alone. Don’t use your phone as a crutch in every situation.
- Don’t pay so much attention to social media. It’s not real. Social media is a staged and inaccurate representation of each of us. Whether someone says something negative about you, or you find yourself getting jealous of someone else’s life, just keep in mind that it’s not real.
- “No cell phone” policy. Pick one or two days a week, and leave your phone at home. Or just keep it turned off for the entire day. Or when out with friends or family, make it a rule that everyone keeps their phone off. It will start out being very stressful, but you’ll be liberated by the end.