YouTube, arguably one of the most popular forms of social media today became big in 2005. Facebook leaped onto the scene in 2004 (I was going to explain the back story, but that’s a tangent and I’m sure you’ve seen The Social Network) but it wasn’t until 2006 where it was made available to people worldwide. Twitter was founded in the same year and Instagram followed four years later in 2010; the same year that Facebook met its 500m mark. This is all fact heavy, and nothing that you probably don’t already know. But it’s necessary to make the next point.
A life online
The past couple of years have seen an increase in people searching for things like “do I have anxiety?” and there’s a question about whether this is linked with social media or not. Is it just the ease and availability of asking Google instead of visiting a professional for a diagnosis or is social media having negative impacts on us?
As it stands, we’re a generation who live our lives online. Every new haircut, job, relationship, driving test passed, graduation gown worn, wedding day and baby born – it’s all online. We’re a culture of needing validation in the form of how many likes or RTs we can get on a new selfie or tweet. We’re obsessed with sharing how well we’re doing with our “friends” online, but is the filtered version of reality ruining our mental health?
Everyone is guilty of this, I know I am. I sit there refreshing Instagram after I upload a new picture and it gets me down if the likes don’t come rolling in – in fact, I’ve seen friends delete pictures because they didn’t get enough likes. But why do we do this? Why do we care so much about our presence online? It’s because people find talking about themselves intrinsically rewarding.
Harvard University conducted a study: people hooked up to MRI scans were asked to talk about themselves or listen to other people talk. Most turned down money to listen to others, preferring to talk about themselves. The study found that talking about yourself lights up the same part of the brain that activities such as eating and having sex do. The pleasure centers were even more active when people had an audience. And there’s no bigger audience than a generation of people attached to their phones, eagerly scrolling through their timeline.
Are we missing out?
I think people’s decisions to join in on social media is led by the fear of missing out. It puts the world in your hands. Without social media, you’re out of the conversation. Back when I was a compulsive tweeter (I’m talking about a-hundred-tweets-a-day, get-put-on-a-tweeting-ban-by-twitter obsessed) I decided to give up Twitter for Lent and for those six weeks I found that I didn’t have a clue what was going on in my friends lives or the world. I was missing out and it was uncomfortable.
Social media also has a way of amplifying the fear of missing out. We’re constantly looking to see what other people are doing that we aren’t. A few weeks back, I saw that my best friends went for breakfast without me via their Snapchat Stories. I was deflated and spent the whole day locked away in my room crying. I withdrew myself from them because I was hurt that I was missing out.
It’s the same for everyone; you see Instagram lunch dates and Facebook party photos and it makes you feel like shit when you aren’t there. My friends assured me that it was a coincidence they all happened to be in the same place with an hour to kill. They didn’t hate me at all. But this is the problem with social media; we see what’s online and then assume the worst and I’m not saying it’s the same for everyone but for me personally, it aids my low days.
Like I mentioned earlier, social media presents a filtered version of reality. We choose what we put online and it’s usually only the good stuff that makes the cut. In the world of social media, we have a perfect life, the perfect relationship, the perfect diet etc. We don’t put the greasy kebab we eat at 3 am on Instagram in place of a fancy bean salad. We don’t write a status about the argument we had in place of telling friends about how lucky we are. This opens up the possibility to compare yourself to other people and what they have, and often leads to a sense of despair and envy. And what we’re coming ourselves to is someone else’s rose-coloured life. It lowers your self-esteem which in turn could lead to depression.
Related post: Why I’m scared of Instagram.
So, is social media making us sick?
To answer the question, do I think social media is making us sick? I don’t. It’s easy to use social media as a scapegoat for problems that have been around for years before the curation of it. There’s always been stigma connected to being mentally ill and sadly, I think there always will be. So it’s no surprise that people feel more comfortable seeking help through a Google search rather than going to the doctor.
I’m not saying we aren’t obsessed with social media, and that some days it may be more of a problem than others. I think in a world where we’re more connected to information through the internet, it’d be ridiculous not to use it. We’re the digital age and that’s never going to change – we just have to embrace it.
What are your thoughts about social media and mental health? Is there a correlation? Do you think that social media is making us sick?