Human connection is the oldest, most intrinsically valuable thing in life that connects us to our surrounding environments and to each other. It makes us happy, being able to spend time with family and friends, with loved ones, and to feel that human connection.
So how to approach the generational switch where digital connection supersedes genuine human interaction? How do you get people to disconnect from their social media when their whole happiness has become dependent on how many 'likes', 'follows', or 'friends' they have?
What is now a known fact about how social media affects the brain is that posting on social media and receiving appreciation in the form of likes, comments, or follows triggers a dopamine release. I thought this article described it really well:
The minute you take a drug, drink alcohol, smoke a cigarette if those are your poison, when you get a like on social media, all of those experiences produce dopamine, which is a chemical that’s associated with pleasure.
And like the majority of drugs, including alcohol and nicotine, the dopamine release associated with social media can become addictive. However, the addiction to the attention, so to speak, is not the only problem here.
Looking at the lives of your 'friends' through the lens of social media reveals only the best aspects of their lives, carefully tailored to appear as perfect as possible. This creates impossible self-comparisons so far from reality that it can lead to severe feelings of inadequacy and depression. I personally think social media is doing irreparable harm to the future of my own generation (and I use it too).
An excellent article published by The Economist reveals the results of a study into the impact of social media use on the mental health of teenagers. What prompted this research was when a steep increase appeared in the number of teenagers being hospitalised for suicidal thoughts and attempts. The suicide rate for boys aged between 15 and 19 increased by 31%, and doubled for females in that same age category. So what was causing this devastating trend and how could we fight it?
The supposed cause? The amount of hours adolescents spend on their phones.
"Data collected from over 500,000 American teenagers... found that adolescents who spent more time on new media—using Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram on a smartphone, for instance—were more likely to agree with remarks such as: “The future often seems hopeless,” or “I feel that I can’t do anything right.” Those who used screens less, spending time playing sport, doing homework, or socialising with friends in person, were less likely to report mental troubles."
Now this is seriously troubling, especially in an age where the majority of us will attend to our phones in moments with nothing to do, to avoid awkward eye contact on the tube, the second we feel the vibrate of an email...the list goes on.
The article by The Economist outlines a study published in 2016 where a random group of adults were selected and were asked to quit using Facebook for a week, whilst a control group continued their regular use. What do you think the results found? Well, you probably got it:
"Those who gave up Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week than those who continued using it. Another experiment published in 2013 found that the more participants used Facebook, the gloomier they felt about their lives."
Seems obvious, doesn't it? BAN FACEBOOK! But no, who are we kidding? Though back to being serious, a great article published by Vanity Fair in January discussed the downfall of Facebook. It was a timely article, published not long after a former Facebook executive spoke out about his "tremendous guilt" regarding the way in which Facebook is "ripping apart the social fabric of how society works".
Ultimately, I think it's a great feature of our technological generation to be able to connect with friends and family all over the world. It can enrich our relationships, help us get together and explore the world, and it can keep us updated on major events in the lives of our social network. However, the cost of this connectivity seems to be doing more damage than good. I think it's important to use social media as a crutch to connecting with your friends, but not as the be-all and end-all of your day-to-day human connection. In brief, take the time to disconnect.