Based on my interactions with those under 35, I have made the following generalization:
Young people today are increasingly eschewing meaningful friendships, intimate relationships, having a steady job, and being connected to a religion and a community in favour of spending a lot of time on social media.
It is well known that a healthy eating habit is based on moderation. Even though we often do not follow “eating in moderation,” we understand its importance because we have experienced what happens when we consume excessive amounts of sugar, carbs and alcohol, resulting in fatigue, weight gain, and a gaunt appearance.
Furthermore, we are constantly educated about the link between our diet and chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
I remember a time not long ago when children running around in backyards, parks and playing street hockey was a common sight. This stopped when the Xbox console was introduced to the market on Nov. 15, 2001.
Children, especially teens, began solitarily playing video games in their room or parent’s basement, which many find less stressful than socializing.
Aside from younger generations not developing social skills, I believe social media’s most significant damage is that romantic relationships are no longer pursued. Rather than risk being judged and rejected by the cute girl at Starbucks, the easier option is to sit at home scrolling through social media feeds, dating apps, and visiting porn sites, thus avoiding rejection.
Overuse of social media diverts people from real-life experiences, especially those in their formative adolescent years—ages 12 to 21—resulting in a lack of fulfillment and genuine relationships, which social media undermines.
While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are great platforms for keeping in touch with family and friends and connecting with like-minded individuals, these sites create stress by encouraging us to project an idealized version of ourselves.
We also tend to compare ourselves to the idealized version of others, thus feeling we are not “good enough,” and hence withdraw rather than take the risk of putting ourselves out there.
The life-damaging consequences of using social media to escape from real life are that you are not present and engaged with your surroundings. As a result, much of life passes you by, and you miss out on many things, from the opportunity to form meaningful relationships, be part of a local supportive community to learning from social interactions.
Next time you are out to dinner, look at other tables. You will likely see people staring at their phones instead of talking to each other.
Like a healthy eating habit (READ: Healthy food use, as opposed to eating to suppress your feelings.) revolves around eating in moderation, healthily using social media requires moderation, which can be achieved by making yourself aware of the following:
Establish boundaries and specific times for social media use to prevent it from interfering with your real life. My social media usage is limited to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays (Sundays are my ‘no social media’ days.), and I often schedule my posts and content.
Focusing on quality interactions.
Refrain from passively consuming social media content. Instead, be mindful of your social media engagements. Use social media to engage with real-life family and friends, learn something new, or pursue hobbies as opposed to mindlessly scrolling through feeds.
Make your offline life your priority.
Engage in activities that promote real-world connections. Spend time with family and friends, participate in community events, pursue hobbies, and explore new interests. Spend 90% of your time in the real world and 10% in the digital world.
Be selective regarding whom you follow.
Keep your social media feeds up-to-date with your values and interests. Engage with accounts that inspire, educate, and bring joy to your online life. If an account makes you feel inadequate or overwhelmed, unfollow it.
Addiction to social media is real. Like a drug, hearing your phone ping a notification or seeing a like on your Instagram post triggers the reward center in your brain.
Social media companies know precisely what they are doing from a neurological perspective; it is called intermittent reinforcement. Casinos do this with slot machines, and you are doing the same when you are constantly checking your social media feeds, looking for likes and comments to your posts—it is a dopamine hit.
The key to healthily using social media is to use it to enhance your life, much like you should use food to support your health, which exists 100% offline.
Ultimately, it is your decision whether to live most of your life in the real world, navigating all its harshness and experiencing all its beauty, or withdrawing to the digital world because it “feels safe.”
Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan