‘Social media’ – a selection of platforms which are intended to improve and ease our social lives. The prospect sounds great; to bring us, worldwide, closer together. However, as with all things it has its downsides and with all the news at the moment i’m beginning to realise more and more that the cons are outweighing the benefits. More and more i’m finding social media exhausting, uninspiring and like an addictive chore – and it’s not the people i’m following, I’ve always been sure to unfollow when I’ve felt like i’ve needed to, it’s just having it there, having notifications ping up all the time, using it as a ‘break’ when it never feels like one, along with many other factors.
Quitting Social Media is difficult
To quit or not to quit my social media accounts has been the question I’ve been pondering for the last few years, probably much to the annoyance if those I know. I thought if I don’t like it so much and if I find it that exhausting why not just delete it all but there were and still are some things holding me back from doing so.
The Social Media Generation
The first issue is the fact that I am part of a generation in which the majority have social media. In fact, I don’t know anyone my age who hasn’t got at least one and i’m not alone in feeling that way as only 36% of the UK population aren’t on any social media. Therefore, it concerns me that there will be certain points in conversation I wouldn’t be able to contribute to if I deleted all my accounts completely. Already, as I don’t often go on my social media and I don’t always follow the accounts most do, it can feel that way.
Social Media provides opportunity?
Second is the opportunities you can get through social media. I watched a TED talk (linked below) where Dr Cal Newport argued that this excuse didn’t matter as due to our increasingly saturated economy people value innovation and commitment over a social media presence, arguing that people will ‘come and find you’ and that ‘any 16-year old with a smartphone’ can set up a successful social media presence. However, this sounds like a great argument for a computer scientist, which Newport is. But if you want to get into other fields in which audience engagement is key then a social media presence might be more of an advantage to you. There are also more opportunities advertised for young people on social media and if your career of interest is competitive thats especially useful. There is another term for these things and its called fear of missing out or, more commonly, F.O.M.O.
So why quit?
Social currency and value
Many people can get FOMO not only with the issues I’ve described but also with friends, according to one study 7 out of 10 students would get rid of their social networking accounts if it were not for fear of being ‘left out of the loop’. People see their friends having fun without them and feel left out. People publish their carefully curated lives on social media and it’s a facade, people pick and choose what they want others to see and sometimes it doesn’t feel like the person you know. It’s also a ‘highlight reel’ of all the good bits of peoples lives usually and people can feel like they’re inadequate asking questions of ‘why don’t I look like that’ or ‘why can’t I afford that holiday’. This internal dialogue of many social media users is so damaging to peoples self confidence and self worth, and it sounds awful to think that we can’t be pleased for those friends who do look like that or who can afford it but its often a part of human nature to start comparing and thats not helped with social media use where people are curating a so called ‘perfect’ version of themselves. So it is not to say that we didn’t have this problem before social media of comparing and self deprecating but it was on a smaller scale, comparing to celebrities in the latter half of the twentieth century and before that with friends in person. Then if you bring a number of followers, likes and comments into the mix the problem is exacerbated, its quantified rather than a feeling. It creates a kind of social currency, an economy of attention, that places worth on a person rather than simply a product. There are apps now as well which tell you who specifically it is thats unfollowed you or stopped liking your photos. To summarise, social media is unauthentic, its judgemental and it creates paranoia.
Furthermore, social media is addictive. There are attention engineers, psychologists, trained especially to advise social media companies on how to best target the points of the brain which appeal to addiction and more impulsive behaviours (which is why there can be more hate online than there is in person). Cal Newport, whom I mentioned above, referred to social media like a slot machine in your pocket, like being in Las Vegas all the time but rather than gambling money you’re gambling with the worth of your self and the content you publish. As its so addictive, it often means that our attentions are split between the task we have set ourselves and our social media. As soon as a notification appears it can be hard for people not to check it then maybe have a scroll whilst your there. This means that a lot of the time we’re not necessarily focused on the task at hand and we can feel like we’ve been less productive. Of course we can switch our phones off or put them on airplane mode, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be wanting to check and see and its likely you might check it when you have a break. But spending a break on your phone can be damaging too, you’re only temporarily diverting your attention rather than giving yourself time to relax a little. This need for a break is often why people like smoking, it gives them a chance to go outside and often be with your own thoughts or with others. But our phones mean that this break time never really happens. Your brain moves between task to social media to task to unsocial socialising with your phone again. Snapchat I think is the worst for this because it appeals to human curiosity, the fact that you can’t see what the sender has sent makes you feel a need to find out but then once you open it you have to answer it otherwise the message will disappear. And so the cycle goes, our focus is broken constantly pulled in different directions.
Social Media, Data and Information sharing
I have seen some research suggest that social media can be helpful to people at this time during lockdown to help stay in contact with others and the world. But for me I think it makes things more confusing. Social media platforms allows information to be published online to mass consumers in seconds whether it is fact checked or not, and information can be published by anyone. This spreads what Trump has coined ‘fake news’, journalists biting at the bit to get out the latest story in a competitive news race or manipulating information to fuel the latest speculation. In times like these that can spread fear where it may or may not be founded. I follow many different news outlets and each one publishes different data to the next with seemingly no information on why they are different. I still find this to be the case when the information is sent via email but the rapidity increases the likelihood that the information will be edited later.
Information protection is another reason many choose to not have social media accounts or to be wary. I don’t like that I cannot protect my own identity because of the fact that it is not tangible, you cannot see a hacker coming to take your information or exploiting it in any way or you aren’t told explicitly how your information is used or sold. I don’t like the fact that my identity feels like its out of my hands online; it can be taken, manipulated or sold and theres nothing you can do about it once its online. This isn’t only an issue of social media but of technology and the internet in general but social sites are the ones in which you input the most of your personal information. We actively participate in trends, memes, viral challenges that may all help companies collect data. Often social media sites have access to many more sites you visit too. I was thinking of deleting my Facebook account and then I thought of all the websites I signed up to that I still visit which I signed in to through facebook, I began to realise just how much control this website was having on my internet life.
Im not saying that Social media is wholly bad, it has connected us as a human race globally in so may ways, it has allowed us to contact people more easily and its given voices to those who otherwise might not have had one. But I have come to the conclusion that my real friends would still phone me and that ultimately I would be better off in my life without using it, personally and widely anyway, when I can work my way off of it – wish me luck.
What has your relationship been like with social media? Do you find it to be more of a source for good? How do you think some of these issues with social media could be solved?
Sources/ more information:
- Dr Cal Newport on why we should ‘Quit Social Media’
- Bailey Purnell, is social media affecting your mental health?
- Shoshana Zuboff, The age of Surveillance Capitalism
- Manchester University, Can social media help young people to cope with lock down?
- The Conversation, How our need to belong trumps our distrust of social media
- Jamie Bartlett, The People Vs Tech
- BBC Ideas, Why people are choosing to quit Social Media