The Flip Side of Social Media

Raja Zulkarnain

WE LIVE in an era where almost everything has been digitalized. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that today, social media has dominated our lives. The impacts are both positive as well as negative. However, unfortunately, the needle deflects more towards the negative ones. One of its worst impacts is that it kills creativity and affects our mental health.

We cannot deny the fact that social media tools are designed to be addictive. They lead to fragmentation of attention which in turn reduces the capacity to concentrate. Social media is more an entertainment tool than a fundamental technology. It wouldn’t be wrong to compare it with casino slot machines which play with your mind.

Market values deep work. It values the ability to produce the things that are thin on the ground and valuable. What the market dismisses are the activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value — social media use is a paradigm of that.

Earlier (before the advent of social media), a person had to go through an expert review in order to publish his words. If anyone had to convey creative ideas, they had to go through a process which was essential for their growth. But today, anyone can write anything on social media, whether it makes sense or not. This degrades the writing culture in our society. People start judging their writings on the basis of reactions of others. This is an unhealthy practice which can sometimes discourage a person to write.

The other thing is that people start sharing their small achievements for instant gratification. Due to this, the urge to achieve something big may vanish.

Not only creativity, social media can badly affect our mental health as well. The centre for Collegiate Mental Health found that the top three diagnoses on university campuses are anxiety, depression and  stress. Numerous studies have linked it to high social media use. There is no denying that we spend a good amount of time on social media, even more than the time we spend eating.

We usually put our best moments on social media especially those that look great and glamorous. This too has a very bad effect on our mental health. As Steven Furtick says, “We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel”. Even though this was happening even before social media with TV and celebrities; now it’s happening all the time and is directly linked to us. We let others attribute value to us. We start judging ourselves in terms of social currency such as likes, retweets and comments. This is changing our sense of identity and self-worth.

What is the solution?

We have two options: either to practice safe social media use or we should avoid using it. We need preventive and coping strategies. The first step towards fixing the problem is recognising it. That’s why awareness is critical. After recognising problems, what we need to do is audit our social media diet. As we know input determines output. What we feed in our brain determines our actions. So, we need to make sure that we give a healthy diet to our brain. We need to create a better online experience. We need to model good behaviour. But these things may not necessarily work for all.

Then the better albeit rather adventurous option is to avoid using it. Initially it maybe be difficult but life after social media can be quite positive and productive. Outside social media, things can be quite peaceful. For example, it is far better and aesthetic to start your day with reading a newspaper out in the sunlight than scrolling down your Facebook feed. It may sound retro but for some, life without social media can be pretty nice.

  • The author is pursuing Masters in Physics, photonics and nanotechnology at University of Burgundy, France and can be reached at [email protected]

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