Technology is evolving and faster than ever before. Simultaneously, social media is becoming more and more an innate part of our lives and, in some cases, is taking over completely. The Gryphon explores the positive and negative effects of Social Media – and the extent to which being online really is a conscious choice.
Many argue that social media is positive and, to an extent, it is. Nevertheless, it is extremely powerful. During the Arab Spring, social media was used to spread revolutions. Furthermore, when you look at recent cases like the Ferguson unrest in America, it is clear that the transparency of social media is contributing to spreading truthful news. Most of us heard of the Ferguson incident through social media before our TVs and newspapers caught up and, in some ways, social media works as a pressure on our media, to ensure that we are getting the right information.
Though social media is often being praised, sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, has another point of view in the debate. He mentions how social media makes us feel a false sense of community. On social media we can be selective about whom we add as friends and whom we simply ignore. This concept of networking is very different from the concept of communities and yet it makes us feel the same kind of solidarity. This also brings a certain feeling of loneliness with it. Social media can result in the individual looking inwards and feeding their loneliness with the feeling of false connection. Bauman also fears that, by being active on the Internet, we forget fundamental human social skills. These are not needed on social media and therefore our traditional ideas about what interaction and norms mean are in danger of being forgotten.
When looking at numbers on social media addiction, the figures are alarming. According to research from the University of Maryland, half of us feel that social media has helped us in our friendships and 30% claim that social media makes them feel more outgoing. 4 out of 5 students experience negative side effects if they are disconnected from technology for a day and 18% of social media users cannot go an hour without checking Facebook. It seems that social media is more addictive and time-consuming for the average modern person than previously realised. In a time where 2.3 billion of us are now online, it is becoming increasingly important that we address and realize the flipsides to our global network. Is the connection actually, in reality, disconnecting us all?
After learning about all of these facts on our Internet use, it became apparent that trying out a ‘social media detox’ would be an interesting experiment. Could it really be true that we are that addicted to social media? Surely it does not initially seem very hard to go for 24 hours without Facebook. By choosing to go off social media for a week I primarily wanted to test myself, but also challenge the figures that I had found. I decided to cut out all my social media use, which, for me, consists of Facebook and Instagram. And what I experienced was surprising and in some ways worrying.
Before going off Facebook, I most importantly had to notify my network about it. Not being online for a week creates unexpected barriers and challenges in communication and at first I was in doubt about how I would stay in touch with my friends and family that are not in close proximity to me in Leeds. Secondly, being unresponsive on Facebook can be looked upon as rude by many people, so it was important for me to address that not answering requests or messages had nothing personal to it, but was just merely a part of an experiment I was conducting. Before even starting my detox week, I began understanding why just logging off was not as easy as it initially seemed.
The thing I appreciated most about the detox week was relearning the art of patience. While waiting in queues for example, I realised that I could no longer just pull my phone out of my pocket and scroll through information to pass the time. In those moments of silence and boredom, I recognised that I had perhaps forgotten a bit how to just be myself. And strangely enough, it felt like I was getting more out of my day-to-day life, even though I was officially receiving less information.
Another noticeable thing about taking time off social media was the loneliness. Bauman states that social media isolates us and this tends to be true. However, not being on social media in a world where everyone is online can also be isolating. The interesting thing, though, was that if I tried to keep myself occupied by talking to a stranger, I was often met with kindness and openness. Their focus on their screens quickly shifted to reality and most of the people I approached seemed to enjoy talking more than scrolling. I begun to wonder if social media has in fact made us more disengaged with each other, even though we naturally seek frequent social interaction: an interaction that we cannot get fulfilled through social media.
Halfway through the week, I had reached a point where I no longer noticed the absence of my own social media use. Additionally, the days seemed longer and time seemed better spent. However, after the week was up, I did go back online. I realised that social media is inevitably a part of modern organising and communicating and that cutting it out for good can be very disadvantageous and complicated.
By both reading about social media and experimenting with it myself, I concluded that the addiction is real. The average person spends about two hours a day on their phone, which may not seem as much at first. But when you add it up, two hours a day is one month in a year. This means that the average modern human being spends a month of their year just scrolling. Now, take it that many of us spend more than two hours a day in front of a phone, let alone a screen. How many months do you spend in a year by being online? It seems like we are increasingly missing out on being present, while succumbing to the wonders of technology and networking. Social media is useful and positive in some ways, but it seems that it is beginning to get the best of us. All good things must come to an end. So, is it time to pull the plug?
Images: Alexander Rentsch, We Are Social