Thanks to social media, we’re more connected than ever before. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - they're all in the palm of our hands, literally.
On the surface, social media is an incredibly powerful way of bringing people together. But look a little closer and you’ll soon realise that the true impact social media is having, especially amongst millennials, is somewhat darker. A lack of real social interaction, loneliness, anxiety, depression and constant comparisons to idealised lives and physical appearances – these are all direct effects of the social media epidemic.
So despite being more connected than ever before, are we in fact more alone?
The average person will spend nearly 2 hours on social media every day. That’s a staggering 5 years and 4 months over a lifetime. In comparison, we only spend 3 years and 5 months of our lives eating and drinking.
So essentially, we’re spending more time looking at instafood then eating actual food. And with these figures constantly increasing and various social media platforms continually expanding, it’s indisputable that social media is dominating our attention, and ultimately our lives.
But let’s focus on the millennials – the founder generation affected by this new digital age. Growing up in a world where interactions are being replaced by apps, this new way of communicating is having a negative effect on the health, wellbeing and general outlook of an age-group trailling the progression of technology, and it’s effects … or what authors Shalini Misra, Lulu Cheng, Jamie Genevie and Miao Yuan have called The iPhone Effect.
The iPhone Effect is a research study which explains the relationship between the presence of mobile devices and the quality of real-life, in-person social interactions.
The article discusses that ‘the presence of mobile technologies has the potential to divert individuals from face-to-face exchanges, thereby undermining the character and depth of these connections.’ The study gives evidence that iPhones and their apps are fast becoming a replacement for real social skills, inhibiting the process of building relationships and in turn creating a social barrier to reality.
And that’s not all. As well as changing the way we interact, social media is also responsible for increased cases of loneliness, anxiety and depression. A US research study sampled more than 1,787 U.S. young adults between the ages of 19 to 32, discovering that 25% of participants showed high symptoms of depression.
The science behind our social media usage is a crucial reason for this. It’s a well-known fact that we like getting likes, but have you ever considered why? Social media use produces the same effect as love in the brain, activating the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is a vital chemical for sleeping, mood, motivation, attention, seeking and reward. Dopamine motivates us to take action toward our desires, goals and needs, giving a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them, and once achieved we create new goals. When it comes to social media these seeking desires and goals are in the form of ‘likes’, and once achieved, new goals are created – hence why we are never satisfied with the reception of our social media activity.
Simon Sinke, a renowned author and motivational speaker, recently addressed this relationship with social media in an Inside Quest interview which has since gone viral, with a staggering 3.2M views on Facebook within 1 month.
“Engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine, that’s why when you get a text it feels good right, so you know we’ve all had a weird feeling a little bit down and feeling a bit lonely and so you send out 10 texts to 10 friends and hi, hi, hi, hi, because it feels good when you get a response.” - Simon Sinke
The same goes with every form of social media. It feels good, yet we are never satisfied. The more likes and followers we get, the more we want. This is most evident on Instagram, a newsfeed full of unrealistic expectations and filtered fantasies, where satisfaction is based on the number of likes and followers you receive. These unattainable goals are a distorted and often inaccurate version of reality which sadly the millennial generation have been lead to believe is the truth. Do we really need (or want) the lips of Kylie Jenner, the waist of Selena Gomez, or the squad of Taylor Swift? Yet this is what social media leads us to believe will make us happy, and satisfied.
So what’s the solution?
How do we as millennials get out of this pattern, away from our screens, and out of these fiction lead fantasies? How do we reignite natural human interactions, face to face communication, and in-turn improve self-confidence and feelings of belonging? To begin the change, we need to be in an environment where we can switch off and be around other people, where real conversation can happen. This could be at dinner with friends in a no-phones allowed surrounding. It could be getting out and doing something active for the day, distracting your mind from the daily social media intake. It could even be picking up your phone and calling your friend, having a real conversation and not relying on WhatsApp to make plans. Or, it could be travel…
Travel is the ultimate way of bringing people together, providing the kind of authentic experience we’d normally lust after on social media. Travel enables us, forces us even, to have real life interactions which in turn organically build bonds and deepen relationships. But we have to be conscious not to fall into the trap. Being constantly plugged in whilst travelling and forever chasing the next photo op will only deepen those feelings of self consciousness; that need for Instagram likes. Sure you want to take photos and capture the moment, but do you need to upload them there and then, or find out what’s happening on the Facebook world whilst exploring a new place for the first time?
This shit can wait. It’s not important. What does matter is the new bonds you’re forming with people, and these relationships can last a lifetime.
I think if we're being completely honest with ourselves, we all know we're way too addicted to social media. It's the first thing we check in the morning, the last thing before we go to sleep at night. Sometimes we log into Snapchat before we've even said good morning to the person lying next to us.
This isn’t right. And we have the power, instantly, to change it. And travelling social media free is the best way to try out the theory…