Thursday, April 4, 2024

Likes vs. Life: Navigating the Digital Distractions of Social Media


Once upon a time, before social media and smartphones took over, people found joy and connection in simple things. Instead of spending hours scrolling through feeds and messaging friends, they gathered together in walking groups to chat about their day. In cosy kitchen gatherings, women shared knitting tips and recipes, while children played outside, making up games and creating memories that lasted a lifetime. People were more focused on each other and the experiences they shared. They enjoyed reading, riding bikes, and having tea with friends, free from the constant interruptions of notifications and pings. However, while technology has its advantages, it has also changed the way we connect with one another. Social media encourages us to show only the best parts of our lives, and smartphones constantly distract us from the world around us.


Back in the early days of social media, platforms like MySpace and Friendster were hugely popular for staying connected with friends. One of the coolest features was being able to customize your profile with glittering backgrounds and choose your top eight friends to feature. People created these amazing online personas and kept tabs on their friends and even their enemies, all from the comfort of their screens. It was a way to keep up with people we might not have interacted with in person very often.


As social media became more common, companies turned to Facebook and Twitter to advertise. They had a lightbulb moment: why waste tons of money on conventional advertising while they can merely post a few photos or even a video on social media and get thousands of likes? Now, it is a more considered and socially accepted approach by the firms to use the social media to reach their customers. Social media can be thought of as one big party where everyone's invited, and being there is the key for businesses. It's something like going to a costume party without pants on – it's just not done! To put it another way, social media is where we go to see what our exes are up to, or to post photos of our meals. However, marketing has not been left behind as well. They employ the media of social networks to force people to buy unnecessary things. The purpose is to become billionaires, of course.


Imagine if companies really realized what their customers need and responded in time, just like you would in a personal conversation with a friend. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But with social media, they can do it as well! They can do it by using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for a direct talk to their customers which helps to gather their opinion and ideas too. It looks as if technology has some sort of a magical force. Who would have ever thought that the very place where we post cat videos and food pictures can become so useful for businesses? Social media is a golden goose which enhances sharing of people’s lives and turns them into brand ambassadors without them being aware of it. It is as if the platform is a virtual stage on which people can display their accomplishments without seeming as if they are bragging (although deep down we know they are). Social media can sometimes feel like a battleground of keyboards, but hey, who needs real conversations when there are memes to send, right?


This gap between the virtual world of social media and the reality of human and non-virtual connections is now more pronounced. When we were just joining social networks, it blew our mind: we could restore contacts with our long-lost old friends and relatives and the similar ones. It was like we were all meets again and making up for the lost time and space. Years, distances, or other issues played no role at all in our thriving reunion. Yet, by and large, it happens that not all "friends" in the social networks are genuine. Some show up just as flaky as the crust made of baked cheese; this causes some frustration. Social media can simulate reality, and it appears as if everyone is having a great time on social media screens even if it is not the case. We feel secured by having an online girlfriend or friend, but it comes with a shadow of us, like spies who are trying to find the truth from behind their posts.


 Certainly, social media is the perfect tool which enables those who are masters in spying, comparing, or spreading complexity to succeed. Sadly, the boundaries of our virtual connections have been burned out. Nowadays, many users of the social media are left with little emotional nourishment from these connections. There are numerous cases (of individuals) that form themselves online by sarcasm, derision, or simple negative modes of expression. It is like you are studying a foreign language without a dictionary: you have no idea what is going on and you feel immature and stupid. Certain individuals might really take the position that being smart-mouthed and sarcastic all the time automatically makes them popular on social media, so just how true is this?


 Undoubtedly the social media has been the very centre of communication change, but it also draws mental issues including brain disorders. There is a feeling of being compared to others because people keep their life on social media compared with the others which has considerably aroused the problems in the society. Scientists have devoted a lot of time to the causes behind this psychological distress. One major issue is the lack of authenticity in the way people portray themselves online. This phenomenon, known as "curated" or "edited" self-presentation, involves carefully selecting and manipulating images and data to create a favourable image.


Social media users curate the appearance of self for various purposes. Some look for validation and acceptance within this community, while for others it is a way to overcome their insecurity and low self-esteem. Studies have shown that people who portray themselves in this manner value their social image and seek affirmation from others more than those who do not. This curated self-presentation may only offer a short-lived boost to the self-esteem, but continuously seeing such posts may result to feelings of inadequacy and depression. Research has shown a connection between the unrealistic content on social media and negative consequences like poor social comparisons, low self-esteem and sadness, greater anxiety, and even to the point of self-harm.


 The last research has proven that the ones who use social media frequently and compare themselves with other young adults have the tendency to feel the depression and anxiety (Grieve, 2019). Moreover, it has been discovered that when a person interacts with images of ideal bodies on platforms like Instagram, he/she is likely to feel more dissatisfied or even depressed. Addressing and preventing mental health issues related to social media can be challenging, but there are several helpful strategies to consider:


Practice Mindfulness:  Mindfulness means being present at the present time, accepting thoughts and feelings in the same way without being judgmental. Through mindfulness, you can gain an insight into how social media impacts you mentally and develop skills to handle your emotions rationally.


Set Boundaries: Although disconnecting from social media completely may be a big challenge in life, establishing boundaries and regulating its use is certainly important. Designate the times of the day where you will get to check your social media accounts and try to stop using them the minute you prepare for your bed.


Engage in Offline Activities: Even in daily routines, offline events provide an avenue to have equal footing. Engage in different activities including dancing, visiting with friends and family or joining clubs for a sport. Likewise, engaging in activities you love in the offline world will keep you grounded and also prevent you from seeking online social media as a pastime or a platform to look for validation from others.


 Be Mindful of Social Comparisons: Look at social media with self-awareness, that is don't compare yourself to others. Be aware that there are times when you might view what you see online that may not truly portray reality because other people often portray their lives. Mimicking real situations in a way that makes for a more realistic world than the world actually is. Do not place yourself in the showdown of others' successes, strive to improve yourself and have your own achievements.


 Seek Support: It should also be a priority for the school administration to look into the mental health issues of social media. Finding a good counsellor, a local support group, or a friend or relative can be an excellent source of help in such situations.


 These strategies could, in turn, be the way to mitigate the negative outcomes of social media. Use social media responsibly. A real compass is to withdraw us from the complicated digital world and our attention on the simple pleasures and activities which we did without social media and smartphones. At that moment, we can understand that true happiness and connection were there all along. Go away from the social media and meet your family and friends, stick to the offline activities and find bliss in the current moment. Let's turn off our gadgets now, hang out with a pal, and appreciate what nature offers that brings us the joy we want. Long gone is the idealism and concrete goals, which we might have had in the past; now it's all about the people we meet and the feelings we share that light our path to happiness.



Draženović M, Vukušić Rukavina T, Machala Poplašen L. Impact of Social Media Use on Mental Health within Adolescent and Student Populations during COVID-19 Pandemic: Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Feb 15;20(4):3392


Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P. C., Vartanian, L. R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). Social comparisons on social media: the impact of Facebook on young women's body image concerns and mood. Body image, 13, 38–45.


Hillman, J. G., Fowlie, D. I., & MacDonald, T. K. (2023). Social Verification Theory: A New Way to Conceptualize Validation, Dissonance, and Belonging. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 27(3), 309-331.



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