Let’s say you’re watching an entire cancel culture argument unfold on Facebook or Instagram as comment after comment filters in. You’re sitting there with a bowl of popcorn when suddenly, you get a notification from Twitter about Elon Musk. You forget about the argument and are now honed in on Musk. But it doesn’t stop there, now you’re getting notifications about how the tech industry lost $7.4 billion this year. Your phone grabs your attention. Thanks to social media, our attention spans are unrealistically low, down to eight seconds in the digital world. Readers, that’s less than a goldfish. A tiny little orange fish has a longer attention span than humans. Good luck trying to finish anything ever again.
With our fast-paced technology, this overestimation leaked over to the real world. The National Alliance on Mental Health Illness mentioned how “the brain is trained at a young age to multitask to such a high degree [through the use of technology] that it is often incapable of focusing on one task or thought at a time.” With the development of Reels and Tiktok, these platforms have not helped our exhausted brain go from one stimulant to the next like a drug. Now, we can barely focus on one task in the real world. We are constantly seeking that next high from an outside stimulant. To combat this, we all need to meditate just a little bit more.
Because of social media, we’ve stopped using our brains. It’s turned us into drooling zombies. We’d rather believe anything we see online as opposed to our intuition or common sense. According to Listverse, “in a 2019 study, only 44% of participants were able to accurately assess whether headlines on social media were true or false. People were also more likely to believe items that aligned with their political beliefs. This showcases the human tendency toward confirmation bias.” It’s the domino effect of social media. You send yourself down a rabbit hole and constantly seek confirmation about a belief you have or something you saw. Of course, you’ll find information supporting your beliefs somewhere on the world wide web.
We’ll tell you something that’s probably hard to hear, a lot of the material on social media is not only fake news but it’s shared by fake people. Apparently, “researchers estimate that as many as 15% of users on some platforms, including Twitter, are bots charged with everything from manipulating markets and influencing elections to spread phishing scams and padding follower and comment counts.” Yes, you’re believing something that someone who doesn’t even exist said. We bet you feel pretty dumb, because we do, too. It’s the Wild Wild West, and not everything you read or hear is true. Most of it isn’t.
Popularity and social cliques don’t only happen in immature classrooms in middle and high school, they’ve now leaked into real life. People want to be liked so badly on social media, that they not only forget about reality, but they’ve turned into puppies begging and crying for attention on the Internet all for a like, share, and follow. They’re seeking external validation in places we previously didn’t need validation, like our opinion. When we previously could go an entire day without talking to another person, now we feel rejected and abandoned if our friend doesn’t answer our text message in a mere matter of seconds.
Because we may spend most of our time on our phones, our in-person interactions are failing. How often do you sit around with a group of friends and you’re all on your phones? Instead of having meaningful, fulfilling conversations, you’re all seeking validation from social media while you’re in front of another human being. Even though social media is bringing us closer together from around the world, it’s making us more detached as humans. There’s also little or no emotion on social media, not like you’d get with a human being. We’re becoming robots.
As mentioned, we all want to fit in. Social acceptance is one of our human needs. “This form of acceptance seeking draws a distinct, deleterious difference between in-person interactions. When we walk into a room of people and say something, we receive reactions and feedback in real-time, and a deeper dialogue can commence instantly. By contrast, social media’s “room” is far more populous, and our remarks are initially unrewarded with feedback” (via Listverse). While getting likes and comments makes us feel good temporarily, it’s the constant need day after day for this attention that backfires. That and it’s horrible a feedback loop, where we tend to post things we know will get us more likes as opposed to hate.
Mild insecurities that arise from social media may mask serious mental health disorders and develop into something more sinister. Without anyone to monitor our social media use except ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle of obsessive social media use. Whenever we’re feeling lonely or sad, many of us may turn to our online apps to feel liked and loved by strangers around the world. The horrible thing is, though, that this attention is only a momentary fix. Social media gives us a sense of false security, and without fixing the underlying issue, it only leads to more disappointment and depression.
Psychologists have found major links between social media use and anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. According to Help Guide, “a study at the University of Pennsylvania found that high usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram increases rather than decreases feelings of loneliness. Conversely, the study found that reducing social media usage can make you feel less lonely and isolated and improve your overall well-being.” It seems counterintuitive, but the more you practice putting the phone down, you may realize just how disastrous it can be for your mental well-being. That leads us to our next point.
The hottest drug on the market is, you guessed it, social media. If you thought your only vice was coffee and the occasional cigarette, think again. Social media is as addictive as most drugs and alcohol. According to Addiction Center, “as many as 10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction. This may include mood modification, salience, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse.” If we told you those were the negative effects of social media addiction, would it make you chuck your phone out a 10-story window?
Screen light negatively affects our sleep. The closer you use your phone to bedtime, the worse the sleep you’ll have. The blue screen light tricks your mind into thinking it’s not bedtime. This suppresses melatonin release, which makes it hard for us to turn off our brains. Without proper sleep quality, this affects other areas of our life, like anxiety, depression, mood, focus, and overall energy. To help prevent this, don’t use your phone or computer before you go to bed. Limit your use in the evening.
If the thought of that gives you anxiety, well, then, you’re addicted, just like the rest of us. Instead of deepening our connection to other humans, social media makes us feel lonelier than ever before. It’s the sickening reality of how social media is ruining our lives. We’re “faced with smiling pics of friends in staged, often disingenuous settings, we’re left with the sense that others’ lives are happier than ours. This can lead to a sick sort of compulsive cyberspace comparing that leaves us feeling left out rather than linked in” (via Listverse).
Social media is the Picasso of a fake world. It’s able to paint a false picture of reality. Why don’t we have a chiseled jawline and billions of dollars to spend on a private jet? Why aren’t we fancy celebrities with good genes and a pocket overflowing with cash? Because that’s not real life. First of all, we’re only seeing the highlights of someone’s life and none of the horrible parts. Creators formed social media to make everything visually pleasing, even if it’s completely unattainable by 90% of the world. The next time you call yourself boring, unadventurous, or ugly, stop yourself. Think again. Social media isn’t real life. Real life is what’s unfolding right before your eyes without a rectangle sitting in your hand (via Psych2go).
Social media attempt to turn us into mini-celebrities. We believe our followers are our friends when they’re nothing more than a name on a screen. You could have thousands of followers and friends, but feel empty and alone inside. Medium describes this as saying “we have “friends,” but perhaps they’re better described as our network. There is much less personal, deep, connection.” If you zoom out and look at it from a completely different perspective, you’ll see that having more followers does not make you happier. It makes you lonelier.
We need to think about Jesus, the man (or woman) with billions of followers from around the world. He had billions of followers, so we need to, too! Wrong. Medium goes on to say, “Jesus had 12 disciples. Twelve companions, with Peter, James, and John the closest of the close. Always go back to Jesus. When we think about how we use social media, remember that He connected with a handful of people closely, personally, and intensely. The 12 were Jesus’ early adopters.” He had twelve close, personal friends, and that was it. Not millions and billions. Twelve. So if you feel uncomfortable about your thirteen Instagram followers, who you also connect with in real life, remember, you have more than Jesus.
We live in a world of free speech. But social media may have changed that considering how much censorship the internet puts on us nowadays. Social media can remove anyone and everyone from a platform, no matter how powerful they are. Only a select few have ultimate power over social media. This skews our reality and gives us false information and perception about the world that are not true. We now question the red line of free speech, and who’s holding that red pen. With billions of users on social media, who are the ones who get control of what’s posted and circulated? Social media blurs those lines (via Listverse).
Every single human in the world wants to be accepted by society and the community. It’s referred to as a “sense of belonging.” Very Well Mind defines this as “the need to belong is an intrinsic motivation to affiliate with others and be socially accepted. This need plays a role in several social phenomena such as self-presentation and social comparison.” However, because we’re so vulnerable as a species, social media easily affects us regarding social acceptance. We unknowingly compare ourselves with likes, dislikes, and snide comments that make our stomachs churn.
Have you ever had a person comment on one of your posts negatively? You probably spent the rest of your day thinking about the comment over and over again. In reality, it doesn’t mean anything to who you are as a human being. The more time we spend on social media, the more dependent we become on being accepted by our phones and the digital numbers and people hiding behind the screens. If you start your day reading negative comments, then you’ll spend the rest of your day in a negative mood.
According to Now, “an article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes, when you get a social media notification, your brain sends a chemical messenger called dopamine along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs, and now, social media.” Social media sends us into a compulsive cycle. It’s impossible to escape without awareness or help from the outside. With a little bit of awareness and habit change, you could rewire your brain to avoid social media addiction.
Social media has taken our simple minds and turned us into materialistic robots who constantly seek validation from what we own, instead of what we feel or act like. Day in and day out, you scroll Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, which all promote these material items and happier life. Our overstimulated, tired brains don’t know what to do with this information except compare our own lives to anyone else and buy whatever we can to fit in with the crowd. Everyone’s happier with a nicer watch, right? No, and it’s ridiculous that our world is completely turning to material items for joy. It’s a toxic cycle. If you start to feel “less than” because everyone on social media has a nicer jacket than you, give yourself a moment and remember that none of it’s true. You’re perfect just the way you are (via Psych2go).
The more extreme you are, the more popular you are. Social media shuts down measured thoughtful ideas. Social media rewards the wildest or the most boring people. It gets pretty political, and according to Listverse, “white heterosexual males are shunned and dismissed simply for being white, heterosexual and male, three identities they were born into. That’s the textbook definition of prejudice. Social media also rewards and normalizes pusillanimous trigger-signaling. Every time another word, person, or classic work of literature is pilloried for not meeting 2021 standards of social justice, a snowflake angel gets its wings.” It’s complete nonsense, and it’s all driven by the same political group of egotistical people. A society that deems itself to be more aware and “woke” is having a pitfall that’s the complete opposite.
Many people use social media to talk about themselves, brag, and show off their expensive items. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and social media is the weapon that’s bringing us all to our downfall. According to Addiction Center, “another perpetuating factor of social media addiction is the fact that the reward centers of the brain are most active when people are talking about themselves. In the non-virtual world, it’s estimated that people talk about themselves around 30 to 40% of the time. But social media is all about showing off one’s life and accomplishments. So people talk about themselves a staggering 80% of the time. When a person posts a picture they may receive positive social feedback. This stimulates the brain to release dopamine, rewarding that behavior and perpetuating the social media habit.”
Social media is making us worse people all around. Instead of humbling us, it’s allowing us to brag and show off. And we’ve all fallen into that trap. The way people use social media is a great indicator of who they are as a person and their status anxiety. According to Psych Reg, “this is the idea that social status carries an implicit judgment of one’s value to society; the higher up you can cast yourself on the ladder the more respect you feel you should command from those around you. The lower down the ladder you perceive yourself the more you believe that you are implying you are a failure and have not lived up to society’s standards of success.” Social media is a way for us to climb or fall off a social ladder. As if we needed more ladders to climb.
Before we had the internet, we’d have to go to the library and source information from books and textbooks with withered paper. It took a lot longer to find out a small piece of information, which we can now have in a mere matter of seconds. But it also provided a source of genuine, real information that was factually based. Now, we can open the internet, read one sentence about something, and believe it’s true when it’s a complete lie. Misinformation now spreads like wildfire thanks to social media.
The algorithms we fall into aid in the spread of misinformation. “To keep users engaged and therefore sell more ads, entities like Facebook and Twitter monitor our interests and feed us more of the same, columnizing us by a variety of factors, including political affiliation. As we gather news from like-minded media and read comments from like-minded avatars, opinions become hard-set and immovable, while opposing stances become not only disagreeable but disgusting” (via Listverse). The algorithms know what we want to read about and see, and it does anything they can to make sure we get that information.
Instead of arguing with someone face to face, people now rely on their computer screens. It gives them that confidence boost they’ve been looking for, all of their cowardly lives. People say hateful, racist things to one another. They seem to get their rage out with the black keys on their keyboard. People don’t have to look each other in the eyes. They don’t have an argument that’ll likely cause them quite a bit of discomfort. These loudmouths can now flex their phone muscles and have a way to act out their disgusting behavior for no other reason than to boost their fragile egos. Most of them don’t even dare to use their real names (via Listverse).
Believe it or not, social media isn’t free. We’re paying for it with our lives. Our mental health is at stake. While it may not seem like it, in the long run, we’ll eventually notice it. According to Psych2go, Jacqueline Sperling Ph.D., a psychologist at McLean Hospital describes how social media is designed to be like a slot machine. If players knew what they would be rewarded with for the game, there would be no interest to play in the first place.” Most of us would never play a slot machine at a casino, but we all have multiple social media apps we’re not afraid to use every day. She goes on to say that “the idea of a potential future reward keeps the machine in use. When the outcome is unpredictable, the behavior is more likely to repeat.” Social media is recording and remembering every scroll, click, like, the question asked, and dislike. It’s becoming smarter and smarter, and soon, will probably outsmart us.
Think about it. Instead of picking up a book, going on a run, or taking a course to learn a new skill, you’re picking up your phone and scrolling social media, hopelessly devoted to something that’s only making your life worse. If the first thing you do in the morning is roll over and check your messages, you’re not alone. Those first moments in the morning set your mood for the entire day. The first 20 minutes, call the alpha stage, after waking up are the most impressionable part of your day. It’s like a sponge. It soaks up the most valuable information in those first waking moments. So if you’re rolling over and looking at social media, you’re using those precious moments to put false information, judgments, or negative comments into your brain.
If you thought we were a lonely generation because of social media, think about the generations that are born with a phone in their hand. According to Medium, “the generation that was all but born with a device in their hand, 18-24-year-olds, are four times as likely to feel lonely “most of the time” compared to those over 70.” Most of the time is a lot of the time. It’s too much. Social media has backfired. Instead of bringing us closer together as a society, it’s causing us to dig our graves.
If you’re ever waiting in line for something, what’s the first thing you do? Pick up your phone! Like the rest of the world, you feel the need to distract while waiting for more than a minute or two. Why focus on the real world when we could distract ourselves with Twitter and Instagram? An interview on Mind Matters speaks about this. Author Doug Smith said, “but not only are we distracted, we almost have to be distracted. If we have five seconds to wait in line, we first think about pulling out our phone and seeing what happened on Twitter. And that’s by design.” We lose focus and feel an immediate urge to reach into our bags and check the latest news. And it’s only getting worse.
Instead of spending precious hours focusing on our new business or writing a book, we’re spending those hours scrolling social media and comparing ourselves to others. “Online stardom is often considered an alternative to a prestigious job. Instead of working hard and acquiring the skills to gain a decent job, people are often distracted by social media. Achieving our goals takes a lot of hard work and drive, but we may take the easy route and become distracted” (via Medium). Thanks to social media and the ease that comes with falling into scrolling and posting for immediate gratification, people don’t have enough of an attention span to spend enough time focusing on their goals.
We’re not talking about working harder at your job. We’re talking about working harder to break the addiction and negative feedback loop many of us have fallen into. One of the ways to do this is to set a timer for your apps. It’s challenging to monitor how much time you spend on social media, especially if you’re not paying attention to it. It suddenly becomes second nature, and you’re left mindlessly picking up the phone. To combat this, “you can set a timer (or even better, a time limit!) to do the work for you. Most timers will give you a warning when you are about to exceed your time limit. This can help you become more self-aware while providing you with better self-control” (via Psych2go).