Word Count: 1000 | Time to Read: 5 minutes
I take my New Year’s Resolutions very seriously. In the past, these resolutions have spurred me to become a vegan, attempt to find my biological father (an interesting story I’ve save for another post), and spend a year ‘living without’.
In March of 2014, I temporarily deleted my social media profiles for 31 days and in my adapted celebration of Lent the year previous, I did the same. Despite these efforts to go off the grid and withdraw from Facebook and Twitter, however, I was eventually pulled back in. Why?
Among children as young as twelve and adults as old as 104, social media is ubiquitous. No website can be visited without a reminder to post an article, a video; to share something, anything with friends. Every movement, every photograph, every spoken word is now precisely calculated in anticipation that it’ll be posted on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, where other people will see it and– as we hope so desperately– ‘like’ it.
In high schools across the Western world, sociologists are observing the rise of the ‘100 club’ (not to be confused with a group of centenarians). Increasingly, 100 likes on a post on Facebook or Instagram is being used as a litmus test, at times unconsciously, to deem whether one is popular, attractive, or relevant.
In most cases, this obsession with validation from others is enough to warp one’s perception of self worth. ‘If I don’t accrue a certain amount of likes on this photograph, I must not be cool/pretty/interesting enough,’ or so adolescents and young adults subconsciously tell themselves.
At our root, after all, we are social beings that long for verification of our existence. The use of solitary confinement in prisons is so cruel because of this psychological yearning for a face and a presence beyond our own. Being an introvert, as I identify, doesn’t change that fact, despite the rampant misperception.
Introverts merely obtain their energy from being alone or having interactions with only a few close friends, but it doesn’t mean they’re anti-social. For instance, I am certainly outgoing and gregarious, even though my ultimate source of energy comes from my hours of solitude, as well as perhaps my cruciferous vegan diet.
In recent years, the undeniable desire for human interaction has been hijacked by social media. We now sense a constant need to stay relevant and know that we’re in the ‘cool group’, leading us to take risks we might not even have considered otherwise. All the while, as we rack up likes on our posts and the amount of our friends and followers endlessly grows, we still feel lonely at the end of the day. There always seems to be a party going on without us and information to which we are not privy.
The great loss of productivity our society has experienced in the wake of social media is also concerning. This effect is especially acute among college students. How often have I promised myself a short study break only to be drawn into a Facebook argument or an amazing photo collection on Instagram? Sure, spending just twenty minutes a day scrolling through Facebook doesn’t seem like much, but over the course of a semester, 30 hours are lost to social media. (See calculation below.)
Most of us, of course, are already aware of the frightening impact of social media (read: dependence on technology, shortened attention span, loneliness, decreased productivity, lack of privacy) and yet still do nothing. The need to feel included is just too strong. That was what inevitably drove me to rejoin Facebook after my hiatuses; I couldn’t stand the thought of being left out.
Then, of all people, my grandmother sent me a video that really made me stop and think about my use of social media.
Indeed, social media still has its redeeming qualities. Its ability to ‘rally the troops’ and quickly give rise to demonstrations and action is perhaps the most positive. At Wesleyan University, such was observed two weeks ago, when the Black Lives Matter March was organized seemingly overnight in response to the great injustice stemming from the refusals to indict police officers in the deaths of young black men like Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and John Crawford among countless others.
But, as the social movements of the 1960s and 70s evince, protests and demonstrations can be accomplished without the use of social media, though conceivably not as quickly.
Further, social media can also prove to be a vehicle for hate and bigotry, perpetuating stereotypes and racism that some Americans fallaciously believe no longer exist. How?
In particular, Facebook works to ensure that the photos, videos, and articles that appear on a user’s news feed are things that they generally agree with and enjoy. If you identify as liberal, for instance, you are more likely to see articles from Mother Jones or The Nation, compared to those from the Drudge Report or the National Review.
Gradually, as the exposure to other points of view diminishes, your opinions begin to polarize so much so that when you finally chance upon a piece written by a conservative pundit, it is dismissed almost immediately without even an attempt to entertain the ideas expressed. Such outright antagonism between viewpoints is not the making of a healthy democracy and an equal society, but instead their undoing. But I digress.
In sum, social networks can be thought of as being somewhat akin to religion. They each bring so much joy to a great deal of people and do incredible amounts of good around the world. At the same time, however, they each have the potential to be a incredibly destructive and malicious force, which can at times exceed their positive attributes.
Beginning on January 1st, I plan to abstain from almost all social media. (Under some definitions, YouTube and Wikipedia qualify as social networks. I will continue to use each for educational purposes.)
In wake of my departure from social media, this blog will become far more active and the hub for my virtual expression. I’m looking forward to the feeling of freedom that will soon abound.
Assume a college student uses social media six days a week. Assume 20 minutes are spent on social media each day. Assume the semester is 15 weeks long. (Wesleyan University, my college, is infamous for its absurdly short 13-week semesters.)
20 minutes*6 days = 120 minutes ; 120 minutes*15 weeks = 1800 minutes ; 1800/60 = 30 hours