OPINION: I quit social media. You should too.

By Harrison Joseph Kent | February 26, 2020 7:30pm
Harrison Joseph Kent, freshman biology major. Photo courtesy of Harrison Joseph Kent.

From the rise of online media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and the plethora of others, the technologically-driven 21st century has become inundated with keeping everyone connected. For what seems like my entire lifetime, social media has engulfed everyone, including myself. The rise of inventions such as the smartphone displays social media in the everyday lives of almost everyone who has access to it. Some might view this through a positive lens, saying the world is more connected now than ever, but at what cost? I say to stop using social media or at least take a break/limit time on these platforms and see what happens.

Similar to many other people my age, I grew up through the development of social media, and I engaged and took part in multiple platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. The idea of not using these every day meant I would be perceived as an outsider because everyone — including all my friends — was using them. So, like every other teenager, I downloaded the apps and created my profiles to share my life with the world. 

In theory, the idea is excellent. Businesses have the ability to look at you. Exciting experiences become shared with others. The world can be more connected, and there are many other possible benefits to partaking in the social media craze. There are many studies released about the positives of using social media; however, the question remains: Do these positives outweigh the potential negatives?

I stopped using social media platforms — aside from Snapchat as a simple messaging app — about a year and a half ago. Since I've stopped, I haven't so much as looked back. The constant comparison of viewing other people's lives to my own eventually wore me down. On social media, everyone only ever shows the grandeur of life while leaving out the unpleasantries. From a teenager's point of view, this created an unrealistic expectation of what my life was then, and what it should be in the future. I created a very different impression of living, far from reality. Whenever the difficulties of ordinary day-to-day life came along, they created a harsher impact because I wasn't living up to this preconceived notion of life always being perfect.

Along with the constant comparison to the lives of others, I was constantly comparing myself to individuals. A recent study conducted by Penn State University found that those who view other people's pictures of themselves posted on social media experience lower self-esteem. The rise of photo-editing, lighting tricks, and countless retakes that came along with social media, have all allowed for the unrealistic expectation of perfection. Similar to the false ideology of life always being perfect, social media has created the message that we each always have to be looking flawless. The superficial way of measuring self-worth manifested itself without my knowledge, and I found myself unconsciously in a constant worry about the way I looked or appeared to others rather than the essential things such as health. 

This life of comparisons proved to be very detrimental to my mental health. While I never struggled with anything severe, a sense of loneliness resulted. While always viewing others' seemingly idealized lives, people are much more likely to report the feeling of social isolation. The feeling of loneliness stems from the idea that others lead more successful and happier lives because of their representation on social media. However, anyone who has lived for any amount of time at all, knows it is very far from perfect. Being away from the constant bombardment of romanticized representations, it made me appreciate the happy times so much more and deal with the negatives so much easier.

There are many problematic effects social media has on individuals, but what about the overall impact it might have? The problem with identifying an overarching effect is the fact social media hasn't been around for too long, and during the period it's been around, it has continuously been changing. If we look at some of the starting platforms like MySpace and compare that to a relatively new one, like TikTok, there are a lot of differences that make it difficult for scientists and psychologists to conduct studies that come to defining conclusions. 

While there are not hundreds of studies revolving around the overall effect of social media, one study focused on the overall well-being of individuals exposed to social media. The study concluded that the more often individuals visited and were on social media, the worse they reported their overall well-being. This study had to do with the number of times people visited social media, so this could point to a different problem: obsession or addiction. I had the problem of constantly checking my feed on my account to look for new information, pictures, videos, etc. and found it to be a problem. Soon after quitting, I would often pick up my phone without thinking and realize that I didn't have the app anymore. I'm sure if others decided to stop or attempt to limit their time on social media, they would run into a similar problem. 

I do not deny the positive outcomes social media brings to our ever-growing technological world, but many signs point to a looming dark side unbeknownst to most. I advocate stopping worrying so much about the digital footprint we leave and begin appreciating the life around us rather than the life and lives of others on the tiny screen inches from our faces. It remains imperative to stay connected to the world and friends, but in moderation. Not all of the troubles that come with social media identify themselves. But some evident problems arise, so why not try giving it up for a while?

Harrison Joseph Kent is a freshman biology major. He can be reached at kenth23@up.edu.