Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Social Media Usage Hurts the Individual 

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How many times have you opened your phone for a quick scroll at night only to be sucked in for hours? I have, and I hate it. 

It is appalling that our society has made it normal to feed companies our data when their sole goal is to get us hooked on their content. While trying to limit social media usage is an uphill battle, after learning about how social media wires and fights the brain, and watching the Social Dilemma, a docudrama exposing the psychological underpinnings and manipulation techniques used by Big Tech, I have largely quit social media, and I recommend others do so as well.

From a neurological perspective, social media and drug consumption have the same addictive quality that drugs like methamphetamine, albeit on a more controlled level. Most users are aware of these consequences, yet, we still consume social media. 

We also need to first grapple with the physical detriments of social media. Chronic cell phone use leads to chronic sleep loss. Teens and young adults who need nine hours of sleep to fully develop are, on average, getting seven and a half hours of sleep. Research has shown that students are still developing (their brains) in college and the years following. Late night social media use cuts into this process by slowing down and essentially messing up (emotionally) the well-organized brain. Even adults can suffer. The late 40’s are a critical time to rewire and integrate the unorganized parts of the brain (hence the midlife crisis). Sleep is the bedrock of this process, and undercutting it not only disturbs the process but also increases risk of dementia by 20%.  

Increased social media usage negatively impacts students as it correlates with lower grades by creating a short-form distraction experience, reducing attention span, and in many cases causing general feelings of depression and social anxiety. The change related to using social media is subtle, and with so many people on it, the cause of the problem (depression, anxiety, jittery focus) evades an immediate connection. Many people try to improve their grades with productivity hacks like Pomodoro technique, but without removing the obstruction (social media) causing the disturbance to mental health, succeeding in school (at the highest potential) is a herculean task. 

Social media also impedes on the social connections our daily life requires. Humans have evolved past our primitive forms because we had the capacity for social bonding ingrained in our DNA. Close relationships historically meant increased chances of survival, in the form of increased access to food and protection from the dangers of the world. As social scientists Robert J. Waldinger and Marc Schulz have pointed out in their book “The Good Life”, happiness is a long-term product of our social relationships. Social media is harming this capacity. The average 13 year old spends 4.8 hours of their day on social media. It’s not just the time spent that’s a problem. By watching a myriad of unconnected videos on our phones, how are we training our social skills? And, how is this disconnect carrying over to the real world? I urge us to think about that question the next time we open Instagram. 

Luckily for those who wish to abstain, you aren’t alone. There is a growing body of people who have chosen to delete or severely limit their social media usage. If you google “celebrities who quit social media” you will find a list with dozens of people like Tom Brady, Christopher Nolan and Ed Sheeran. 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs don’t even have a social media account on a single platform. By looking at these performance-obsessed individuals, we can get a telling story of how social media affects our life and performance in general. Steve Jobs, reportedly in an interview with the New York Times shortly before passing, said, “Actually we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them in effect.” His son Reed was 18. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, when asked, has admitted that he refuses his children access to Instagram. 

I think that as conscious individuals, we should be promoting trends like dopamine fasting, cold showers and working out as an alternative and healthier source of dopamine. We should pay more attention to the bad habits which are holding us back, such as excessive social media usage, so we have more space for the good habits that will leap us to a better life.

Bryan Jiang is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2023 quarter. He can be reached at bryanj4@uci.edu