As a child, I was under the impression that cell phones and the internet were strictly reserved for adults. However, in the past decade, our society has moved away from this notion entirely. Modern technology no longer has boundaries; preschoolers are introduced to iPads, coding is taught in schools, and everyone is expected to be a phone call away. But what has this done for us? Has being constantly connected left us disconnected in real life?
A study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found a direct correlation between isolation and social media usage. To ensure randomness, the only qualification for participating in this month long study was to be in the age bracket of 18-30; participants were reached through random-digit dialing and address-based sampling. In total, there were 1,787 participants from ages 19 to 32 who engaged in social media usage.
Participants were first asked about their engagement levels on various social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Then, they ranked their feelings on a scale of isolation that was created specifically for this study. The scale scored participants on a range from 1 to 5, which corresponded with the responses of never, rarely, sometimes, often, and always. Many described feeling misunderstood or disconnected from their peers. Despite the study having certain limitations such as self reported social media usage and personal bias, the claim that users who engage in social media perceive themselves to be more socially isolated still stands.
More often than not, it is social media personalities that are victims of the problem depicted above. An excellent example of social media pushing a user into isolation (no matter the follower count) is Essena O’neill, an Australian Youtuber, who quit social media because she could no longer handle everything that came with the deceptive image that she created for herself. In her final appearance on the Internet, she asked one of her friends to share something she wrote as a reflection of her social media fame.
In her letter, she addressed pushing away her real friends and spending over eight hours a day working on content for her social media networks as part of her self destruction spree. O’neil wrote, “What’s ironic, during all of this struggle I was getting more and more followers, thinner and thinner, better and more visually appealing pictures… online it looked like I had the perfect life… yet I was so completely lonely and miserable inside. I hid it from everyone. I smiled and laughed in pictures and vlogs. No one knew I had what now is described as social anxiety disorder, depression, body dysmorphic.”
The unfortunate reality is that there are many more social media figures out there just like Essena, except they are unwilling to break out of this visage for either personal or financial reasons. It is understandable that we follow those with the qualities we wish to see in ourselves – fame, wealth, beauty. However, we often fail to acknowledge the fact that social media only highlights the fondest moments of an individual’s life.
This is when we need to bring ourselves back to reality and realize that nothing has been gained from comparing our life to someone else’s. There is even a holiday dedicated to this idea! The National Day of Unplugging takes place on the first Friday of March; it was first established in 2003 to combat the toxic relationship between society and excessive media usage.
Even though the holiday is traditionally observed only once a year, it is important to implement unplugging every now and then. It is to our benefit to pull away from the ideals set forth by social media and to focus on building actual relationships with people that are not based on likes. This will drive for more genuine connections with other people and will improve your overall productivity. By changing our relationship with social media, we can improve our own health, wellness, and success.