Media psychology researchers are beginning to tease apart the ways in which time spent on social media is, and is not, impacting our day-to-day lives.
Social media use has skyrocketed over the past decade and a half. Whereas only 5% of adults India reported using a social media platform in 2005, that number is now around 70%
Growth in the number of people who use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat and other social media platforms — and the time spent on them—has garnered interest and concern among policymakers, teachers, parents, and clinicians about social media's impacts on our lives and psychological well-being.
While the research is still in its early years — Facebook itself only celebrated its 15th birthday this year — media psychology researchers are beginning to tease apart the ways in which time spent on these platforms is, and is not, impacting our day-to-day lives.
Social media and relationships
One particularly pernicious concern is whether time spent on social media sites is eating away at face-to-face time, a phenomenon known as social displacement .
Fears about social displacement are longstanding, as old as the telephone and probably older. “This issue of displacement has gone on for more than 100 years,” says Jeffrey Hall, PhD, director at the University of Kansas. “No matter what the technology is,” says Hall, there is always a “cultural belief that it's replacing face-to-face time with our close friends and family.”found that social media use is linked to greater feelings of social isolation. The team looked at how much people used 11 social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit, and correlated this with their “perceived social isolation.” Not surprisingly, it turned out that the more time people spent on these sites, the more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be. And perceived social isolation is one of the worst things for us, mentally and physically.
Comparing our lives with others is mentally unhealthy
Part of the reason Facebook makes people feel socially isolated (even though they may not actually be) is the comparison factor. We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others as we scroll through our feeds, and make judgements about how we measure up. One study looked at how we make comparisons to others posts, in “upward” or “downward” directions—that is, feeling that we’re either better or worse off than our friends. It turned out that both types of comparisons made people feel worse, which is surprising, since in real life, only upward comparisons (feeling another person has it better than you) makes people feel bad. But in the social network world, it seems that any kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms.
It can lead to jealousy—and a vicious cycle
It’s no secret that the comparison factor in social media leads to jealousy—most people will admit that seeing other people’s tropical vacations and perfectly behaved kids is envy-inducing. Studies have certainly shown that social media use triggers feelings of jelousy. The authors of one study, looking at jealousy and other negative feelings while using Facebook, wrote that “This magnitude of envy incidents taking place on FB alone is astounding, providing evidence that FB offers a breeding ground for invidious feelings." They add that it can become a vicious cycle: feeling jealous can make a person want to make his or her own life look better, and post jealousy-inducing posts of their own, in an endless circle of one-upping and feeling jealous.
Another study looked at the connection between envy and depression in Facebook use and, interestingly, discovered that envy mediates the Facebook-depression link. That is, when envy is controlled for, Facebook isn’t so depressing. So it may be the envy that’s largely to blame in the depression-Facebook connection.
We get caught in the delusion of thinking it will help
Part of the unhealthy cycle is that we keep coming back to social media, even though it doesn’t make us feel very good. This is probably because of what’s known as a forecasting error: Like a drug, we think getting a fix will help, but it actually makes us feel worse, which comes down to an error in our ability to predict our own response. One study looked at how people feel after using Facebook and how they think they’ll feel going in. Like other studies suggested, the participants in this one almost always felt worse after using it, compared to people engaging in other activities. But a follow-up experiment showed that people generally believed that they’d feel better after using, not worse. Which of course turns out not to be the case at all, and sounds a lot like the pattern in other types of addiction.
More friends on social doesn’t mean you’re more social
A couple of years ago, a study found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to myriad health and mental health problems (including early death), getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the therapeutic effect as time with real friends.
All of this is not to say that there’s no benefit to social media—obviously it keeps us connected across great distances, and helps us find people we’d lost touch with years ago. But getting on social when you have some time to kill, or, worse, need an emotional lift, is very likely a bad idea. And studies have found that taking a break from Facebook helps boost psychological well-being. If you're feeling brave, try taking a little break, and see how it goes. And if you're going to keep "using," then at least try to use in moderation. The norm of seeking validation for your actions is not going work well for your mental health, it will affect your sense of security. How often do we sit with our self and think is it really necessary to post this on social media ? Why are we posting what we are posting ? Are we only celebrating for social media ?
Sit with yourself at times and question.
We would love to take this as a discussion or even if you have any pointers, drop them in the comments section below :)