Social media seems to have covertly slipped through the net to become what seems like an integral part of modern life. There are plenty of reasons why we love social media, of course; for instance, from a business perspective it can work well as a marketing tool. Depending on the kind of connections you have and the accounts or pages you follow, you may learn quite a lot just from scrolling through your news feed.
You can also keep track of others, check in with them easily, and chat online at a moment’s notice. Finally, social media serves as a kind of entertainment system and interactive magazine, so it’s no wonder that - generally speaking - we’re so hooked on it. All good, right? Actually… maybe not. The aforementioned aspects of social media are undoubtedly the most positive ones, but there are other aspects we were never warned about before signing up to the numerous platforms available.
The truth is that social media use often brings quite a few less palatable side effects along for the ride:
At its worst, social media can be a bit of a narcissistic playground. That’s not to say that anyone who uses it is a narcissist, or has predominantly narcissistic traits. However, even when such behaviors are not our own, we can still be affected by them. Social media accounts allow people to embellish and post all kinds of daily minutiae. Even if this equates to pretty small talk or the kind of personal ruminations that would normally remain inside one’s head, on social media it tends to garner validation, or at least some level of attention and interaction.
If not kept in check, this can lead to a sense of self-importance or an over-inflated ego. There is an obvious tendency for users to present only their ‘best side’, be that through cherry-picked tales or filtered, carefully angled photos. If we’re not careful, social media can become a kind of fantasy portfolio of the life we want others to believe we have. It’s all about cultivating a precise impression and collecting likes, follows or praise off the back of that.
For those regularly scrolling through social media, all kinds of emotions may arise. Fear of missing out, for one thing; for another, unrealistic expectations of life, relationships and even self. It helps to remember that authenticity isn’t hugely common across social media platforms.
Social media offers access to a wealth of images and videos of other people. It’s the modern version of the glossy magazine, except most people are doing their own editing. By way of example, consider that platforms like Instagram have become a breeding ground for internet models and the like. We won’t throw the baby out with the bath water: some Instagram models are undoubtedly putting inspiring fitness content out there, but there are plenty whose motivations are probably a lot less inspiring.
Social media can encourage superficial values, and the result is a tendency to compare our appearance to that of others. We can convince ourselves of all sorts of detrimental, negative ideas that shape the way we approach life in general. We might also compare lifestyles, interests, or whatever else is on display, finding ourselves inferior by comparison.
Procrastination is the killer of productivity, and although being obsessively productive isn’t particularly healthy either, there is a balance to be found. Social media is one of the major procrastination tools available to us, since it has a habit of sucking you in. Sometimes entire hours can disappear in a blur of scrolling, posting and commenting. Before you know it, your mind has completely wandered from the task you were ‘taking a break from’. You may have run out of time to complete it, or at the very least, it may be difficult to muster the motivation to get going again.
On top of this, social media is a big contributor toward information overload, as while using it, your mind can be generating a plethora of thoughts from moment to moment. Information overload is a modern problem in the digital era, even without social media… so the last thing you’ll want to do is fragment your attention span even further by dipping in and out of social media throughout the day.
Although social media is connective by definition, the quality of such connections is substandard compared to that created by face-to-face or verbal interactions. The same issue applies to texting and emailing, of course, but social media allows us to feel that we are keeping in touch with people, when really we are only accessing and providing minimal information, and interacting on a very basic level.
Humans need deeper, more authentic connections than this to thrive. We need to spend time with each other physically. Making this effort also demonstrates that you genuinely value each other. Social media may actually encourage us to make less effort with one another in the ‘real’ world, in favor of limited exchanges over the internet. We can feel that we are ‘in touch’ with others, but if you think about it, is that not an oxymoron?
Social media makes it feel less necessary to engage in deep and meaningful connections with others. It certainly doesn’t help us to develop great social skills! Ultimately, it’s not that social at all; actually, social media use can lead to loneliness and anxiety, according to psychologists.
The bottom line is that social media use can quickly get out of hand, and we may not even notice just how much of a negative impact it is having on our perception, relationships and productivity. The trick is to engage only with the most useful social media apps at appropriate times, and for the right reasons. It is important to try to use social media for its positive aspects, and to notice when its negative aspects are drawing you in. When that happens, it’s time to bow out in favor of healthier, more constructive activities.