The Obsession with Social media

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Courtesy of BrickinNick via Flickr

Scrolling: we’re all guilty of it. Lying in bed? Scroll. Awkward situation? Scroll. Ignoring responsibilities and procrastinating? Just get your phone out, laugh at some meaningless memes, and suddenly life is 100% better. It’s modern day life now for most, it’s just part of the everyday. Technology is everywhere, social media is accessible on nearly every platform and it seems that our collective willpower to ignore these temptations – both as a student generation and a society – is at an all-time low.

I’m a first year student, and despite the wonderful 40% pass rate (thank you Lancaster), I do want to try to do the best I can this year. So, about 3 weeks ago I deleted all social media off my phone in a last ditch attempt to focus my attention on revision and meaningful social interaction.

How’s it going? Not very well.

Like millions of people all over the nation, I had downloaded every social media known to man: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, WhatsApp. I even had a brief affair with Pinterest in the hopes of finding a better use of my time. I realised that I spent at least 15% of my day flicking mindlessly between the same 3 apps. Often seeing the same memes, posts and thoughts from people I knew currently, and from people I hadn’t interacted with since the age of 14; but for some reason I’m still invested in their lives.

Why does it matter that Paige, a girl in my high school English class whom I spoke to once, is having a good time with her boyfriend? Why do I care? Why does it feel odd to delete her off snapchat when really, she’s bringing nothing whatsoever to my life?

It’s a weird paradox: somehow by keeping up to date with these perfect constructions of other people’s lives, we perceive ourselves to feel less alone in our own, if only for a few minutes. But this wears off. According to a study by Pittsburgh University last year, the more time spent on social media, the more probable the likelihood of the user being depressed. Recent research also revealed that Instagram has been crowned the worst social media for mental health, as rated by 1479 young people aged 14-24. Yet we continue to use these apps, to spend our leisure time checking and updating them and hoping to seek validation through them – and society shows no signs of slowing down.

This perfect conception of ourselves is also a bizarre concept: scroll through my Instagram and you’ll see how I want to be perceived by the world, as opposed to a reflection of my day-to-day life. I don’t think that there is anything ethically wrong with presenting the best version of yourself on social media, but it can undoubtedly be detrimental to mental health to be exposed to these ‘perfect’ people living their incredible lives on a daily basis. For those vulnerable to mental illness, the lines between reality and the online world can be blurred, as it is easily forgotten how people can be massively different to how they present themselves on social media, and this may cause worsening feelings of worthlessness.

This phenomenon has created and advocated a virtual reality of escapism, procrastination and mindless time wasting, with no real benefits. But despite my hatred for it, I can’t seem to tear myself away. Without it, social isolation seems to rise, and being the only one of my friends to stop using it, I soon felt the alienation. On day two, my friend asked me to redownload Facebook because she missed tagging me in memes. I managed to refrain. On day five, Eurovision fever hit my house, and unable to resist the temptation, I redownloaded Twitter to watch Louis Theroux liveblog the spectacle, while automatically tweeting that I was “not disappointed” about the coverage. It’s been a bit of a downwards spiral since this point. I’ve not redownloaded any apps, but I’ve compromised on the Facebook front by checking it on my phone every so often to keep in the loop.

A life without social media has been a weird one, that has felt quite lonely at times. Having been used to having meaningless notifications that I often found to be an annoyance, I was reasonably surprised (and disappointed) to find myself missing the feeling of waking up and swiping away messages. It’s a learning curve, but one I’m trying to force myself to appreciate. Social media can be a drain on your mental energy, and unless used productively, is essentially wasted time. Being in the prime time of exams, the pressure to use every moment in a resourceful way is prominent, especially for those who live on campus and are constantly within the working environment. The online world can be a wonderful form of much-needed and deserved escapism, but it can also be all-consuming.

There are definitely more fulfilling ways to spend your time.

Apps such as Breakfree and Menthal are good ways of monitoring and keeping in control of the amount of time spent using your phone, as well as flagging dangers of phone addiction. For now, I’m trying to throw myself into creative habits and revision, but it can be hard to prise yourself away from the online world, especially when it’s at your fingertips at all times. Hopefully at the end of the exam period, social media will seem as meaningless as all the last-minute exam revision I’ve had to learn, and this experiment won’t have all been for nought. Hopefully.