You are watching TV when your friend comes with the latest phone in his hand. He wants to show you a few pictures of his girlfriend. You go through all of them, nervous about bumping into an exposed nipple or some other inappropriate content, but everything seems okay. Barely 10 minutes later you see her half-naked on the Internet… again! Why does this happen? Your social media friends are not ashamed of their bodies anymore and they post pretty much anything without giving it a second thought, while you hide what’s supposed to be hiding behind thick layers of clothes? Is that fair? It isn’t… but it is reality.
People who work for social media companies want our online lives to imitate real life as closely as possible. They want it to be frictionless and easy, like the good old times when we all used landlines and landlines only. Their vision is our online lives being populated by status updates about who had breakfast, who complained on Twitter that his flight was delayed for three hours, what are people are shopping for on Amazon, or their perverse comments of yet another picture of the same random girl in beautiful clothes.
There is a huge comparison between social life and real life. Let’s take a look at the bigger one.
1 – The Ideal Busy Lifestyle
The Internet has introduced a new type of busy lifestyle – the online busy. This is not to be confused with offline busy, where you’re stuck at work most of the time and just hanging out on social media when you’re back home. The subtle difference between them is that most people see your work life as part of who you are but they don’t expect you to update them every time something significant happens in your private life. Many people spend more than 8 hours a day at their workplace, which means that our regular interactions are bound to happen there only. That’s why it’s perfectly fine for you to share what you had for lunch if someone asks about it without receiving an avalanche of other personal questions afterwards.
On the other hand, if you’re spending more time on Facebook than interacting with people face-to-face then there’s a big problem. You’re not living in the real world and you’re letting the Internet do all the talking for you. This is where social media can be damaging to our mental health as it creates a distorted reality that is far from the truth.
2 – The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
The fear of missing out is one of the main reasons why social media has taken over our lives. We are constantly afraid that we’ll miss something important if we’re not online and that’s why we’re checking our phones every two minutes. It’s an addiction and it’s very hard to break it.
And it’s even more difficult if you have so-called ‘friends’ who are sharing everything about their lives on social media. When they go out for a drink, post pictures of their party or selfies from the club then that’s when FOMO starts kicking in. You start asking yourself all kinds of questions like “Who is there? Are they having fun? Why am I not with them?” which can get pretty annoying after some time. If your friends are posting half-naked images on Facebook then you might also think things like “Why aren’t they wearing any clothes?”
This false image of what our peers are doing while we do not around create unhealthy expectations and gets us to feel lonely, bored, or even depressed because we want to be everywhere at the same time. This FOMO is another reason why people are spending so much time online, while their real lives are passing them by.
3 – Social Media has Replaced Reality
The term ‘social’ used to mean that we’re sharing our lives with other people in the physical world by sitting together, talking and laughing or simply enjoying nature. Nowadays it means sharing pictures of yourself on Instagram, YouTube videos of you singing like Adele or Celine Dion (and yes, there’s someone who does this around me) and tweeting about your lunch every day.
So what happened to all the things which were actually social? The truth is that they have become less common because most people use smartphones when they’re with other people, which means that they’re not really interacting with them. They’re just looking at their phones the whole time and that’s not what socializing is about.
4 – Social Media Is Making Us Anti-Social
This one goes hand in hand with the previous point. We’ve all been to a party or a gathering where everyone is glued to their phones instead of talking to each other. It’s so frustrating when you see people who are sitting right next to each other but they’re not communicating because they’re too busy checking their Facebook or Instagram feeds.
And it’s not just parties – this happens everywhere, including at work and school. A study conducted by the University of Essex showed that people who use social media more than they interact with other people in real life (students and employees) show more anti-social behavior.
On the other hand, those who interact more often show positive results as they are less likely to do something rude or irresponsible. If you’re constantly checking your phone before talking to the people around you then you’ll probably not communicate properly and that can create a hostile environment where unnecessary problems arise.
Social media is a very recent invention, although it has become an integral part of our lives very quickly. This being said, we have to ask ourselves whether this was the best thing that could have happened, especially when you look at how it impacts on our mental health. All these points taken together show that social media can be harmful and really needs to be re-evaluated if we want to maintain good relationships with other people in real life. A study conducted by Linda Kaye demonstrated that most teenagers who spent hours on Facebook every day had more ‘problems’ than those who didn’t spend as much time online.