Why should you read this article?
Human life is dynamic, it has been changing and evolving since it began. The recent decade has seen more transformation than before. It has not taken a single breath to stop, pause and introspect. I feel it is very vital for us as humans to think and analyze the path we are on. Though we are more connected than ever before and we think that we are living the “best life”, we find that many people aren’t as happy and satisfied as they look.
This disparity of lifestyle and mental health has always bewildered me, and so to ponder on this more, I decided to take up a survey and study the results. The majority of people who took this survey were above the age of 21, with only less than a tenth being less than the age of 18. So, they are all adults on the internet. Many things came to my notice and this article is an insight into what the results were and the things that I came to realize.
Social Media Usage
The piece of glass you carry in your pocket has left its mere purpose and has become the new constant in our daily lives. The basic purpose of a cellular mobile was to be a portable device that could make calling and reaching out easier than telegram and landlines. But nowadays it serves more purposes and the use cases it caters are increasing every day. From the survey, which was conducted with 250 people who gave their opinions, it came to light that 80% of the people liked using social media daily. This clarifies why influential people like celebrities and politicians are using these platforms to influence our choices and manipulate our decisions. The total social media usage varied but the average came out to be 2 hours 24 min over the entire collected data. If one thinks about this number, it is around 10% of our day going in scrolling and viewing content.
This depicts that one needs to introspect how they choose to spend not only their time but also how they share their mental space. This shows that we should worry about what they give their energy to.
People claim that the lockdown implemented all around the globe due to COVID-19 is another reason for their increased use of social media. This could be justified with the want to connect and to be in “the loop” with what is going on. 72.4% of the people claimed that their usage increased. This number isn’t a small one, as the scales could tip over to this side more, with increasing time indoors. This increase could hamper our future physical real-life interactions. We might get accustomed to stopping people with a mere button, and these virtual habits might ruin our real relationships. The lockdown has shown varied responses and various industries have suffered by the same, but the webspace has seen an upsurge and its blooming in the current times.
The options that are available when it comes to the webspace, are growing. One can choose from an array of good options, with each app competing for our attention. When we analyze the results, we can see that WhatsApp shines through, as it connects one and all. YouTube and Instagram do compete for our attention, but some people are opting for simpler apps like Pinterest too, with 7 people choosing it. This choice could be a way to escape the world of social, where one gets frustrated to see other people, and hence interesting algorithm pushed images seem to be a better companion. Here, in this survey, Reddit, Twitter and Snapchat don’t perform well at all, and Facebook seems to struggle too with 3.6% people opting for it, i.e. 9 people.
Feelings connected to Social Media
This medium might have struggled in the beginning when people weren’t connected to the internet, but now, we can’t seem to be okay without it. Our life is entangled in these streams of data that travel through the air. When asked, 23.6% of the people said that they feel empty without social media, this means that approximately 1 out of 5 people feel a void without it. This needs our attention. We need to be able to differentiate our real life from our virtual one, before it completely takes over.
The emptiness will become prominent if one takes a digital detox and understands that checking our mobile phones, again and again, is slowly turning into our addiction. We are developing a habit of continuously checking each and every notification that we receive. This is an unnecessary act, as one should prioritize their time and their value. Some things can wait. A beeping sound and tingling vibration shouldn’t let real life slip away. Even though the numbers show that not everyone responds to each notification, 69 people still claim that they do feel the urge to respond to everything they get. This means, that maybe, they are putting themselves in the back seat, and the driver of their journey, is their phone.
When asked what people would miss the most, if their mobile phones were taken away, the most common answer was talking to friends and chatting. Though some people expressed that they would be happy if they got that stillness in their life, a vast majority would miss connecting to people. This could be a consequence of the lockdown, as our real-life outings and meeting have reduced. This also shows that we all seem to be in love with the idea of constant chatter. We aren’t letting our minds calm down and rest. We don’t pause even amid nature, as we are busy telling everyone what we are doing. This could be indicative of the fact that we seek constant validation and broadcasting our activities is a “normal” thing to do.
Other answers to this question included responses like missing the camera and also missing the constant scrolling and endless source of entertainment that we now have at the touch of a button. Science shows that we are carrying around little dopamine stimulators in our pockets, so it’s not surprising that we’re constantly distracted by our phones. According to an article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes, when you get a social media notification, your brain sends a chemical messenger called dopamine along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs … and now, social media. Brain scans of social media addicts are similar to those of drug-dependent brains. There is a clear change in the regions of the brain that control emotions, attention and decision making. A TED video explains, that too much social media can make us bad at multitasking and causes phantom vibration syndrome, which is when you feel like your phone is buzzing even though it’s not. If something is being compared to drugs and gambling, and if this thought isn’t bothering you, then my friend, you need to think.
Effects of social media on shopping
We are just consumers at the end of the day. Consumers for the bloggers and creators we admire, and the consumers for the products that every online business is trying to sell. To make things look appealing and to make us feel validated every time we buy something online, is something that we see. The constant ads we see, are catered to our choices. They are made in a way, that we are constantly reminded, across all platforms, of what we once desired to purchase.
When asked if social media is affecting the choices of the products you buy, 157 people said yes. This is roughly, 3 out of 5 people saying that these applications are affecting the things you buy. That means, not only is social media defining our virtual life, but also the real-life product choices we make. It illustrates how, marketing strategies are working and companies do have our attention. Approximately 2 out of 5 people agree that the products endorsed by content creators do appeal to them more. This number shows, that we trust people who we haven’t met personally, but the relationship we build with them on the online platform, is one that is trustworthy, and we go ahead and spend money on the products they recommend.
Things that are a concern
When asked what would people want to change about these applications, the most common answer was to control their usage and to have some sort of notifying service that would tell them when to stop using their phone.
Data is something we treasure the most in the 21st century, and the possibility of these applications misusing them is something that could count as a nightmare. People seemed really concerned about their data privacy. They would rather that apps did not mine their data and misuse it. Others wanted more regulations on the data being circulated on these applications. Fake propaganda and news was thus a major worry.
Another response people gave was that they wanted lesser ads, and a more randomized app. People seem to like it, if once in a while, they could see newer options available rather than the same things repeatedly.
Cyberbullying and trolling was also an objection for some, with a few parents wanting more parental locks. This shows people are wanting a better and safer environment for their kids, as persons of all ages co-exist on these platforms. They would prefer stricter age limits. Individuals would want a more real-life environment rather than one with beauty filters and a lot of fakeness, where our true identity has no “space” to shine through.
The future of Social Media
One might think, that we will get bored of social media soon, and things will get saturated. But this isn’t something that the numbers of the survey depicted. Nearly half the people believe that, this medium isn’t heading towards any sort of decline. With new advancements every day, this could be true. Every time we think, that this is it, new things come our way. For example, Instagram grew from posts and stories to IGTV and Reels. All sorts of content is available across all platforms, and things just seem to grow every day. In June 2018, Instagram had reported 1 Billion active users. If that number doesn’t seem a lot, then this is how it looks : 1,000,000,000.
In February 2017, India counted 200 million active users on WhatsApp. Currently, there is an estimated active WhatsApp user base of 250–300 million in India. Also, India has reported 120 million Instagram users, now that in figures is : 120,000,000. And to put things in perspective the current population of India is : 1,380,004,385. This means, there is still a lot of scope for growth in India. It is a huge market for all these social media applications.
I believe moderation is key. We should keep in mind, social media is a boon, and it shouldn’t turn into a curse. Social media is a miraculous invention, but to use it like that, is our responsibility. It’s our duty to not become some sort of product that all these companies might seek after. To be more conscious while scrolling and believing, is the key today.
For people having issues with time usage, I would suggest apps like Block, that can be used both on their desktop and also mobile phones. You can set hourly usage limits, and even schedule your app usage time tables. Instagram and YouTube can both show your daily activities, and you can also try setting daily data limits. This way, one can control their time in a neat way. To be vary of fake news, one should follow and subscribe verified people, and also avoid forwarding news that has no substantial evidence.
When you choose to spend a chunk of your day in this virtual world, choose great sources of inspiration and motivation too. Make this platform the reason you take better life decisions. It could be some great business coaches that push your business forward. It is an amazing way to connect with friends who are far away, but don’t forget to have real relationships with people who you can meet. We shouldn’t just have a lot virtual friends, but more real actual relationships. Travel pages could be the reason you pack your suitcase to see the world. Use social media to be aware of things like environmental issues and also the reason, why you choose better more eco-friendly products. Lots of creators out there are talking about productivity, travel and planet-friendly products, we just need to be more aware.
Being present is the key to a happy human life. We aren’t robots and should make sure we don’t turn into them either. Our life shouldn’t get completely digitalized. Our thinking, acting and doing should be balanced with our being. I urge you all to pause and reflect, and to mindfully connect, whether it’s in your real life or virtual life.