I recently took a two-month break from social media. I deleted Instagram, Twitter, Facebook - anything I felt was wasting my time. The digital hiatus was for the purpose of productivity, but at the same time, it became more than that. It was an incredibly healthy experience for me personally, and I had a lot of time to think about why that was. The short of it is: social media is hurting us.
I think the main reason that it’s creating so much insecurity in people today is that it’s marketed to us like a competition. We’re all encouraged to put forward only the best parts of our lives - our vacations, our pets, our significant other. We’re then rewarded with how fulfilling our lives seem in the form of “likes” or “shares.” When we don’t receive as many likes as we want - or worse, as many as other people receive - we begin to feel unimportant or insignificant. This creates unrealistic expectations and is incredibly toxic.
We begin to subconsciously look at social media as a blueprint of how our lives should be playing out. When a rough patch hits, as they always will, we begin to feel our problems are exclusive to ourselves because we aren’t observing them in the shared experiences of others. We fill in the gaps of others’ timelines with our imaginations, meaning since every post of that person’s life is positive and great, the rest of their life must be like that too. What’s wrong with us, then? Why aren’t our lives like the one we imagine others having?
Humans place too much weight on the opinion of others to begin with. That’s only magnified when coupled with the impersonal nature of a screen. We find our worth in our followings. It becomes a cycle of validation.
Studies have been linking social media addiction to declining mental health for years now. It’s not a coincidence that many millennials are plagued with depression and anxiety while simultaneously being the most connected generation in history. I’d argue that it’s rarer to not have social media addiction than it is to have it. If you find yourself scrolling through an app, closing it and immediately reopening it out of habit, you likely have an addiction.
“Likes,” “shares” and “retweets” all give us a hit of dopamine that we begin to crave. It satiates us until we make that post that doesn’t perform as well as others, leading to those feelings of irrelevance.
I’m probably making this sound scarier than it actually is, but as someone with medically diagnosed clinical anxiety, I can tell you that social media makes it so much worse, and I hadn’t realized it until I stepped away. I only redownloaded Instagram because it’s required for my business, but otherwise I might never have come back.
I do not think humans are supposed to be so connected to the world. Constant streams of new information has progressed us as a society - but is likely hurting us as individuals. Maybe I sound old and cynical, or maybe I’m just not as hip as my fellow youths. From my own experience, however, I believe we would all be a lot better off with a little less screen time. Just something to consider.