By Julia Fernandes
Social media which began as a harmless means of social communication has over the years turned into a growing addiction whose effects are damaging our minds, lives and altering human behaviours in ways we are unaware of.
People glued to their phones scrolling through their feeds or watching movies is a common sight in any public place. Social media gives you the illusion that you are connected to thousands, but in reality you don’t even know who is sitting beside you.
In earlier times when people had issues they talked things out one-on-one. Today, when people have problems they vent it out on social media through subtle status update, posts, tweets, etc. Listed below is the dark side of social media which many of us may have encountered:
- Reduced attention span
We live in an era of information explosion and hyperactivity. When you are 24/7 reading and consuming information in the form of posts, messages, videos you are over stimulating your brain, which is unable to process this extra load of information resulting in reduced attention span and other brain disorders.
Today, there are websites that offer book summaries because people do not have the attention span to read a full book. I know of a young student who tells me to read a blog for him and explain the gist because he does not have the patience to read the full article!
- “Do not reveal your thoughts to everyone, lest you drive away your good luck.” – Sirach 8:19
Be careful of what you share on social media as you are constantly being watched, and not all your friends are genuine well-wishers. When you reveal too much about yourself, you tend to attract negative energy or the evil eye.
A friend of mine confided in me that whenever she puts a beautiful DP of herself on whatsapp she always falls sick. It may not be the case for all, but true for some.
- A new addiction
When we engage on social media our brain releases a chemical called dopamine which is the same chemical that is released when we drink, smoke or gamble. When we get likes or good comments for something that we share our brain recognizes it as a rewarding feeling.
Social media giants manipulate this rewarding brain pattern to create addictive social media products by constantly keeping your brain addicted to likes, comments, etc., through constant reminders and notifications. Apparently, brain scans of social media addicts are similar to those of drug-dependent brains.
Life is so fast-paced and hectic that nobody has the time to stop and consider how technology, mobile phones, internet and social media is affecting your health and life. For example, I have noticed when I don’t get notifications on my phone I find myself constantly checking my phone to see if the Internet is working or not!
This is a classic symptom of withdrawal symptom, an after effect of barrage of notifications. We have gone so used to the flow of information constantly trickling in that when it stops it triggers an alarm in us.
- We waste our energy on trolls
Studies reveal that users especially teenagers are more prone to cyberbullying, trolls, toxic comparisons that result in reduced sleep, anxiety and depression. I know of a friend who used to be exhausted using Twitter continuously arguing and answering trolls from complete strangers. He tried deactivating Twitter, but would go back to using it. The addiction to social media can be so grave that we end up neglecting our personal life, studies, work and even our health. The constant compulsion to scroll through our feeds is a warning sign of over-dependency.
- We start speculating
We subconsciously get anxious for the number of likes we get or didn’t get for a post. We speculate the reasons why a friend has not liked our post or has not commented and conjure up our own truths. This constant social approval and over analysis is not only detrimental to our mental health and well-being, but also damages our relationships.
- If you are inactive it means something is wrong with you!
I am very fond of conducting experiments. There are times when I deliberately choose to remain inactive. And when that happens my friends keep speculating on my well-being. They wonder what has happened to Julia?
Inactivity on social media is now presumed as a person who is going through some sort of problem. If I don’t put likes or comment on friends FB posts, even that inactivity is presumed as disinterest by me which in both the cases are actually far from the truth.
- Everybody wants to love you from far
Nobody wants to call or have heart-to-heart or face-to-face conversations anymore because people would rather mind read you on the basis of your social media activity. Interestingly, the more we engage in social media the more anti-social we become in reality. This is proved by a small experiment I conducted recently.
This New Year I decided to call up and wish those whom I know. Out of the 5 or 6 I called up out of the blue, two took my calls. The rest didn’t take my call. Texting has become the norm and calling has become an exception.
It’s easier to text messages because people cannot figure out the tone of your voice, or detect your emotions and feelings. You can mask your emotions with emojis and hide behind screens. If you don’t like a message you can still put a thumbs up and mislead someone.
I have also noticed that some who find it difficult to strike a conversation in person will easily chat with you on social media as well as flirt with you. Talking in person takes a lot from you, whereas chatting behind a screen does not demand much from you. Truth is relationships built on social media die as easily as they are built!
How can you guard yourself?
I myself am a reformed Facebook and Twitter addict, and I cannot describe how peaceful and happy I am to have a reduced online presence. When you have found the higher dimensions of inner peace you no longer feel the need to express your thoughts publicly. You start enjoying your anonymity.
Our earlier generations (including mine) sailed through school and college without mobile phones. We did wonderfully well without social media. We had a life – and a real one without phones and social media.
I have conquered FB and Twitter, what’s left to conquer is whatsapp which takes up most of my attention bandwidth. Half my day goes in deleting the whatsapp picture messages and videos that clog my phone memory.
While you cannot totally ignore social media here are some things you can do:
- Use Social media with discipline. Use Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, etc., only when it’s absolutely necessary
- Deactivate inactive social media accounts (streamline your online presence). Don’t worry if you feel the urge to reactivate, it has happened to me, too.
- If you find yourself addicted to any platform, stop using it
- Switch off your data pack or wi-fi for some hours daily for relief from notifications (don’t worry you will get the news when World War III will start)
- Switch off your cell phone when you are eating, working, watching TV, praying, driving, with family or taking a nap (you don’t have to be available all the time; set healthy boundaries)
- Make calling a habit when tempted to text
- When tempted to send a whatsapp forward remember that same message your friends will get from other groups (so save others from repeated forwards)
- Take the trouble and catch up with friends and acquaintances in person
- Not everything that we cook, eat, drink or wear has to be shared. Be in the moment, and enjoy (our parents and grandparents did well in their life without social validation)
- Elders and parents - wean your kids from gadgets and Internet. Introduce them to the older and slower way of life
- And lastly, step out without your mobile phone once in a while. You were not born with a mobile in your hand and neither will it be on your hand when you die. So, why carry it constantly in our hands when we are living?
Invest your energy and time in creating the life that feels good, and not one that looks good. Ensure that the best moments of your life do not make it to social media. Don’t forget, there is a monster industry out there busy creating addictive social media products feeding on your attention. Do more of living and less of liking, posting and commenting. Be safe, happy and peaceful in the real world!