Social media has its virtues. It has transformed Internet use from a solitary pursuit to a social networking opportunity. We can check up on old high school friends, send a quick message, or share photos with family members across the country. Yet, dabbling in social media or using it as an occasional way to connect with others is a far cry from overuse, misuse, and downright addiction. As interpersonal communications and real life relationships are set aside in favor of virtual socialization, we are in fact lonelier than ever. Research is revealing that the overuse of social media can have a serious impact on an individual’s life.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Leeds, excessive Internet use has been linked to depression. Relying too heavily on Web sites, as opposed to engaging in normal socialization, can affect mental health and lead to depression and addiction. The researchers determined that “some users have developed a compulsive Internet habit, whereby they replace real-life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.” In many situations, this behavior interferes with the basics of day-to-day life.
Some experts deem the constant need for communication as the “fear of missing out.” In an article in the Charleston Gazette, author Kathryn Gregory writes, “It’s increasingly difficult for people to differentiate their virtual life from their real social life, leading to ballooned social anxiety.” Individuals may worry that something amazing is going on that far surpasses whatever they are doing at the moment. A compulsion to be connected at all times develops.
Humans no longer unplug or spend downtime. Those who want instant gratification, simply turn on the computer and hit social networking sites. We are connected 24/7, which is stressful and prevents mindfulness in our daily, real-life activities. Families may gather for a movie night, but every member is on their cell phone or laptop keeping abreast with friends, connections, and Internet-based relationships. Our ability to connect with others face-to-face has diminished. Even time with loved ones has seen a decrease in quality.
By nature, we are social beings. Mental health and even physical health depends upon a strong support system. This need is no longer being met. The Internet becomes the support system. Social media is not a valid substitute for human interaction.
Overuse of social media isn’t the only concern. Misuse can have a negative impact on one’s life as well. There has been increased attention on bullying and cyber-stalking through various sites. Yet, these problems existed long before the advent of Facebook. Individuals without social skills are now just individuals without social skills who suddenly have 24/7 access to victims.
Inappropriate comments about friends, family, employers, teachers, and others can damage relationships and reputations. Some users have even been known to include pictures of themselves doing wildly inappropriate things, such as the picture of the individual drinking an alcoholic beverage behind the wheel of the car that made the Internet rounds. Drinking and driving isn’t intelligent in any situation. Posting proof for the world to view is plain ridiculous. This behavior isn’t the fault of social media. Instead, an individual made a stupid decision and then used Facebook as a platform to broadcast it. Photos, status updates, and Twitter messages when put in the hands of people who don’t understand the true meaning of social media, can result in the loss of jobs, friends, and credibility. Those who don’t know how to implement privacy settings can be tagged in others’ photos, posts, and blogs, eliminating an individual’s control over their own reputation.
The effects of overuse and misuse of social media are far-reaching and could fill volumes. Obesity, concentration difficulties, a lack of intimacy, and more can all result from spending endless amounts of time on the Internet and cell phones. However, the most disturbing consequence is the collapse of interpersonal relationships, including those with family, friends, and co-workers. Face-to-face communication is becoming a dying breed, but its benefits are crucial to our health and well-being.
Assigning all of the blame to social media isn’t the solution, either. Instead it’s about receiving an education in how to use social media to our benefit. Reconnecting face to face and relying on the Internet as a tool to broaden our connections, network, and put our best face forward can change our relationships with each other and the world at large.