Not All Teens Are Addicted To Social
We recently welcomed a transition year student (who would prefer to remain anonymous) to Good as Gold HQ for work experience. We were interested in chatting to her about her experience of the digital world and that of her peers. We were intrigued to find out that she wasn't on any form of social media - so asked her to write us a blog post explaining her position. This is what she said:
Social Media is Anti-Social
What if one day, all of a sudden, social media disappeared, never to resurface again? No more likes, or shares, or hashtags. What do you think would change?
I believe that our outlook on the world itself would transform. No longer would people be viewed in terms of how many likes they receive, or how many followers they can gain from the way they behave. We might actually appreciate natural beauty for what it is, instead of applying a filter and an #aesthetic tag.
I’m not against social media, mind you (not entirely, at least). I do have issues with the ways some of the platforms are utilised, and the fact that someone’s personal information can be revealed instantly with a single tap, but I don’t mind that people are using it; and have nothing against those that do.
I’ve just chosen not to get involved in it all because, for me, I find it really superficial.
For example, let's imagine it’s the middle of winter. After weeks of sleet and torrential rain, your desire for a ‘White Christmas’ seems completely unfounded. Then, one morning, you look out your window, and what do you see? Your back garden is completely covered in snow! So what do you do? You alert your family and you all go out and make snowmen. The difference being, this time you’re not worrying about how #blessed you are, or how many likes the wonky snow angel your younger sister made will receive. Instead, you’re just focused on spending this time with your family and actually being present. This sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time, and while a picture may preserve a snapshot of the memory, the experience will stick with you regardless - only in this instance it’s not soured because you can’t get the picture just right, or because the WiFi signal is weak when you’re outside.
Anyway, possible hypothermia-risk aside, can you imagine how liberating it would be to just do something without having to needlessly document it?
I guess I do understand it though. In this day and age, people do seem to enjoy these practices. The ‘validation-high’ individuals receive from just a few likes on a post is unbelievable, and extremely addictive. In a 2016 study, researchers used an MRI scanner to image the brains of teenagers when using a fake social media app resembling Instagram. The team found that certain areas of the brain became activated when the teenagers saw their photos being ‘liked’, with the brain’s reward centre becoming especially active. This has become so prevalent that there are now online advertisements for garnering likes and followers and in some instances, ordinary people are actually paying to advertise their personal accounts. Bizarre.
I’m a storyteller. I love relating anecdotes to friends and family through word-of-mouth to experience their reactions firsthand. I find that one of my biggest aversions to using social media is that I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. If I went on a holiday abroad and documented all of my experiences on Facebook, for instance, I would have nothing to tell anyone upon returning because they would have seen it already. I actually overheard someone say, 'I know you from Facebook', which I find quite intrusive!
Maybe that’s just me.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Rachael Louise De Jong, but she was a 21-year-old student from New Zealand who had waded out into the middle of the Waikato River to take selfies with her friends. Suddenly, a siren went off alerting the girls that the dam was about to open, and the four were left stranded on a rock as fast-flowing water rose all around them. They decided to try to jump to safety, and while some of the girls made it, Rachael was swept away by the oncoming rapids, and subsequently drowned.
The sad thing is, Rachael was just one of many social media-related fatalities. As mentioned in an article by VICE covering this very subject, ‘All around the world, selfie and photo deaths have increased, with the main causes including drowning, gunshot wounds, getting hit by trains, and, topping the list, falling from heights. In March [of 2017], two teenage boys fell to their deaths after taking photos on top of a cliff in the UK. And a few months after that, a man in India was killed by an oncoming train as he and a friend posed for a selfie on the tracks.’
In that same article, Kara Bunn, the manager of Hamilton parks and cemeteries - where many visitors and tourists alike got to admire and photograph the amazing waterfalls - states that, “It spreads like wildfire on social media because that fabulous photo of you standing on the falls tends to be the photo that someone else wants to then take of themselves, but it doesn't tell you the story of the danger of getting there. So, a lot of people may show up not knowing what they're getting into.”
I think sociology professor Anabel Quan-Haase describes the issue best with her statement, “Social media is an attention economy where there are hundreds of thousands of pictures, so young people are often willing to take risks to have a shot that will catch others' attention. From that standpoint, social media can create greater risk-taking and blur the boundary of when that risk is still healthy and when it has gone one step too far.”
Another issue I have with social media is how it has affected basic communication. While social networking is good at helping strangers to meet and enabling initial communication between them, numerous studies reveal that social media platforms actually negatively affect people’s social skills - most prominently decreasing the quality of interpersonal communication. Today, about 93% of communication is nonverbal, and - because text can not accurately convey emotions - requires additional means of helping people to understand each other, i.e. Emojis. This can create various discrepancies in real life, as it may become harder to differentiate between actual emotions in face-to-face encounters.
Even families have admitted to preferring texting in place of actual conversation, and all of this leads to difficulties in personal and professional relationships.
A certain ‘Black Mirror’ episode sprang to mind while I was writing this. If you’re familiar with the show, you probably know which one I’m referring to. For those of you that aren’t, the episode is titled ‘Nosedive’. In this particular episode, viewers are presented with the notion of a world in which everyone uses a technology (implanted in their eyes) that enables them to share their daily activities as well as have their 'interactions' rated on a one-to-five star scale. These ratings, in turn, average to a total rating for each person - with those that have been rated highest receiving discounts on houses or other material goods.
The subtext is blatant and poignant. Akin to much of Charlie Brooker’s works, the episode is a satire on how our species has become dependent on technology, and the negative effects this can have. People pretend to be what they think others will like, losing a true sense of self. This particular episode focuses on how we interact via the social medium, and have everything ‘rated’ through likes or shares. Our constant search for validation through these means is also represented.
It’s no secret that social media has been linked to higher levels of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and envy despite the fact that most of what is shared via the platforms is positive and even celebratory. In fact, according to interviews with adult men and women, 60% stated that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way, while 50% reported that social media had negative effects on their relationships. In another study, a further 51% of people surveyed said social media had made them feel more self-conscious about their appearance.
At first glance, all these statistics just appear as numbers and percentages, but it has to be taken into consideration that these numbers represent real people, who lead real lives and experience real emotions - maybe you are one of them?
The majority of people who use social media are teenagers and young adults, who are already impressionable and struggling to find a sense of self without a digital platform telling them who or what they need to be to quote, unquote, ‘fit in’. Then, when fitting in seems unachievable, then sometimes the worst can happen. In 2015, 36% of all teens reported feeling desperately sad or hopeless, and admitted to thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide. There it is again - an entire group of people whose individual personalities, problems, thoughts, and feelings that leave all of them desperate enough to consider ending their lives, condensed into a single statistic: 36%. And that was three years ago.
If you find that any of this sounds familiar, whether it is in regards to yourself or someone you know, please remember that help is always out there, sometimes in the places you’d least expect. For now, the national suicide hotline can be reached at 116 123.
There is not a single person in the world who’s worth nothing.
I’m not trying to deter you from using any of these platforms, research has shown that they can, and do, lead to wonderful things. I would just urge you to be careful and to try to do things because you want to do them - not because you think others will think more of you for doing so.
I’ve just chosen not to get involved.