Does Social Media Really Make People Social?
Social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter et al is now an indispensable part of professional as well as social life. These networking sites provide not just a wider marketplace for aspiring business people but also serve as a space of entertainment. It helps people to connect with their loved ones or socialise especially in the times like that of pandemic to address the boredom of isolation. As a the swiftest storytelling medium, the social networking sites enable people to share their experiences, feats, innovations, business models or frustrations with larger audiences.
However, excessive or obsessive use of social media networking sites might affect the users’ productivity and ability to focus on life’s goals and other responsibilities. Moreover, such obsession often harms the physical and mental health of the addictive users.
The experts term the overuse of social media as ‘problematic use’ rather than addiction acknowledging that the excessive use of social media affects the mental well-being of the obsessive users.
To know more about this issue, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts. Here are the excerpts:
Arif Wani (name changed)
Former social media user
It was exciting to converse with people from various fields of life; read poetry and share my views to a wider audience. For me it was a thrilling experience to reconnect with people who were out of my mind for long. I could connect with interesting people outside Kashmir, in fact outside India. It was all an absorbing experience. It really added to my knowledge and I felt myself socially alive. I used to spend on an average 2-3 hours on Facebook. It was an activity which became part of my routine. I found it extension of my professional life.
After some nearly five years, I realized that the use of the Facebook has turned into an addictive compulsion for me. I had started taking those people serious, who didn’t matter in my personal or professional life. The 2-3 hours usage doubled, and my days started with Facebook and ended with Facebook. I found out that I interact with people more in the online world than real.
Worse, I had disputes with people, whom I didn’t know. It ruined my peace of mind. The arguments-mostly on political and religious issues, turned too sour; it impacted my relations with those who were good to me in the real world. Also, I had to struggle to protect my so called “image.” More of my mental and emotional energy used to be spent on explaining, defending and promoting things on Facebook. I had to be literally on Facebook for what psychologists call Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
Finally, through willpower and a self-study, I distanced myself from Facebook. It is now almost five years, and I haven’t shared anything on Facebook, I don’t log in. I don’t think I am missing out anything, and I feel more peaceful.
I would not use the word ‘addiction’ to describe someone who spends a significant amount of time on social media; rather, I would term it as ‘problematic’ use of social media, which indeed is harmful to the mental well-being of the involved person.
We are essentially social beings and that is because of our social bonding and connection in the real world. Meeting people, being friends with people, and talking to each other face to face are the real attributes of human beings. In the real world, we, every movement get changing situations that keep our brain active and moving. This is why I have been vocal against people spending most of their time on social media.
In fact, before the Covid pandemic started, I frequently used to talk against the excessive use of social media, particularly its use by kids, adolescents, and young people. I would say repeatedly that people should actually be human beings by spending most of the time in the real world, rather than the virtual world.
However, since the Covid outbreak, I tuned down on this subject because I understood that the use of social media for maintaining connections, social networking, and bondage is very important in times of a pandemic. Yet, I continued insisting minimum use of the medium.
Spending a whole day on social media disconnects a person from the real world, and it eventually impacts his or her brain. Because, once we lose connection with the real world, our sensory inputs start getting affected adversely. Worse, the sensory inputs that social media gives us are mostly irrational, illogical, and sensational that creates worries and anxieties in people.
Many people are indulging in the problematic use of social media. Mostly, people who do not have the capacities and capabilities to socialize, are vulnerable to fall prey to social media, as they see this medium as a refuge for themselves, and with time they get dependent on using social media all the time. They create a fantasy world; start believing it as a real one, and then start living in it. Eventually, they lose their connection with the real world. They forget themselves and their day-to-day responsibilities.
In my view, social media is an effective mode of communication that cannot be abandoned. It has unlimited benefits in terms of connectivity with the people. Initially, I used to see this mode of communication as an insignificant thing. But then I realized that it is an unavoidable tool for communication and connectivity in this modern era.
In old days, people in Kashmir would meet at Yarbals (banks of the streams) and Kandarwans (bakery shops) for community interactions, outreach, and even for the neighborhood gossip. With changing times, we have social media as a powerful mode of individual and community outreach.
When we talk of the power of social media in terms of connectivity and outreach, we can recall how it helped us in the floods of 2014. People used this mode of communication fully to outreach and help the flood victims. It worked as a powerful tool for people to connect with each other in times of chaos. The fact is that social media has revolutionized the connectivity of the people. It is easy and comfortable as well. Particularly, the new generation that has grown up seeing social media as a mode of communication, is comfortable with it.
However, as they say, everything has its pros and cons; social media has its merits and demerits. Excessive use of this mode of communication proves harmful for users, in many ways. Those who spent too much time on social media networking sites end up with wastage of time. Even some of them lose their capabilities to deliver responsibilities in their respective fields. Since it is a proven fact that excess of everything is bad, we need to learn minimum but productive use of social media platforms.
When we talk of the adverse impact of social media on individuals and on overall society, we should not forget that every new invention has negative repercussions if not used wisely, and the user always has discretion to choose the way to use new things. The Internet as a whole is both a blessing and a tool of destruction for mankind, and it depends on how we use it. Take the example of nuclear energy. It has revolutionized the medical world. But at the same time deadly bombs were invented with the same energy.
Lastly, I would say that since we do not have enough means of entertainment available here in Kashmir, most people fall prey to the negative use of social media. Pandemic has worsened the situation in terms of the availability of other avenues for entertainment, and that is why we see many people spend most of their time on social media networking at the cost of other productive activities.
To conclude, I would say that as societies, we need to revive establish some productive means of entertainment to ensure we are not dependent on the internet and gadgets beyond a certain limit. Also, to evade the negative impact of social media on our lives, we need to revive our traditional value system.
In 1850, Karl Marx gave us the concept of social alienation. In his theory of alienation, he talked about the subject-object relationship; and he said this relationship would be inverted. He predicted objects would become masters of the subjects. More than 170 years down the line, these words have proven true today. We are literally becoming slaves of the gadgets. These tools should have been in our control, but it seems rather they are controlling us, and eventually, we are getting subjected to alienation by each passing day.
Our overwhelming dependence on social media has enhanced this social alienation further. For example, earlier, we would go visit our friends and relatives in times of their grief to share their pain; or in case of their jubilant events, we would go to congratulate them. These traditional gestures would cement the human connection and bond, and it is how human civilization has evolved since the beginning. But now these physical gestures have been replaced by social media. Now, whether in times of joy or tragedies, we send messages through social media to the people to express our thoughts accordingly. Instead of paying a physical visit to our ailing friend or relative, we send readymade ‘get well soon’ massages to them. Similarly, earlier we loved social gatherings, but now we like to have group chats on social media network sites. This is not a small change in our social fabric. By overdependence on social media, we have reduced the value of a human. I have observed some people are so much addicted to social media that even if they have a guest in front of them, they fail to control themselves from scrolling networking sites ignoring the guest; and in some cases guests themselves do the same.
In many cases, I have observed people giving information about the passing away of their own parents through social media, minutes after they die. I wonder how come a person, whose mother or father dies, instead of getting traumatized finds himself or herself stable enough to share the bad news through social media, and that too soon after they face the tragedy. Similarly, I find it strange when I see people posting photos of their mothers on social media, on so-called ‘Mother’s day’ to express their ‘love and affection for their parents. While as in some cases, parents feel themselves mistreated and ignored because their children are so much addicted to social media that they have hardly any time to spend with their parents.
As per my observation and information, besides changing our traditional way of life, the excessive use of social media has created some strange problems in our society. Take the example of fake identities on social media platforms. This is no secret that there are a large number of fake ID’s on social media networking sites, and sometimes innocent people fall prey to these fake accounts in terms of getting cheated, misled, and blackmailed, and so on. I had a case study where some mischievous students had created a fake Facebook ID of a reputed official belonging to the education sector, and then obscene content were shared through that fake account to defame the official. By the time concerned authorities disbanded that fake account, the victim was slandered everywhere.
In the case of Kashmir, rumor-mongering through social media has become a new trend. For instance, in a recent case of interfaith marriage, fake news about ‘forced conversion’ was spread like a jungle fire through social media networking sites.
I am well aware of the tremendous advantages of social media; yet I would emphasize that using social media beyond a certain limit has adverse repercussions for the users as well as the overall society. Social media is a blessing with a curse.
Social media, indeed, has provided us with a better and fastest mode of connectivity and communication. Giving a personal example, I would say my siblings and some other relatives are living abroad, and I am in touch with all of them only through social media. Also, as a professional, I find most of my audience only because of social media. So there is no denying the fact that this new mode of communication has advanced our personal and professional lives.
That said, let me also admit the fact that social media has brought a lot of miseries to people in general. People, particularly youngsters are getting addicted to using social media networking sites beyond a reasonable limit, and it has started showing its negative consequences.
When youngsters share their pictures or feelings on various social media networks like Facebook and Instagram; they keep watching of how many people liked it and commented on it. In case they don’t get expected likes or comments, or if they get some negative comments, they get emotionally hurt. Also, they develop comparison behaviour. They frequently compare themselves with others and start believing that they are less liked or less appreciated.
Bullying and blackmailing has emerged as a grave problem due to social media. I recently met a girl, who was the victim of blackmailing. She had shared her photograph with her classmate and now the boy had started threatening her that he will share her morphed photograph on social media, and would also send it to her fiancée. To cut a long story short, we met the boy, pressurized him, and ensured that he deletes the morphed picture from his phone and abstains from blackmailing the girl. However, all such cases do not come to light. I am afraid that cyber-blackmailing and bullying also might be one of the causes of the suicides in Kashmir.
I have lived in places like UK and Holland, but I have never heard of misuse of social media in these countries. Unfortunately, we have made social media a miscible thing, which is otherwise a very useful and productive means of connectivity and communication.
We are social beings – we have always had patterns of connecting with others in our genes but in recent past years, we have moved from physical get-togethers to online connectivity, where we share our moments with others to be a part of the global world and to get to know what’s happening around. This process then becomes a hobby that we all have. We do feel that social media is addictive as our reward system gets activated and we get pleasure out of it and after using social media the pleasure we get increases the probability of us using it again. So when the ‘feel good part’ comes down you will again go back to the source i.e. social media. This is how we develop a pattern of dependence on social media. There is no official diagnosis of social media addiction but it does have some aspects of addiction to it because nowadays social media is not limited to just a hobby, it has become a central part of our lives.
The adverse repercussions of being addicted to social media can start changing you before you even notice it. One of the major consequences being that your life revolves around social media- you get cocooned in the shell of social media and disconnect from the physical world that can cause problems for your physical, emotional, and social health and also your work and academic life . You may start having low self-esteem based on how others are living their lives. As you will be more restricted to the online world, your physical relationships will tend to decrease which may lead to social anxiety or depressive features. You may also develop a fear of missing out which will push you more towards using social media. Your sleep will be affected.
Behavioral dependence indeed affects the psychological well being of a person as it creates a gap between the real world and the online world, once it goes off balance it starts stirring up disturbances and you end up avoiding your immediate responsibilities and aren’t able to work on your life goals. It causes fear of missing out and in order to not miss out, you end up spending more time on social media.
If the user becomes obsessive, it can be treated as a psychological problem and then work needs to be done to help him/her control the compulsive urge. Treatment modality will work the same way as for any other behavioral addiction with motivational interviewing and developing coping skills leading the charts.
Anything that we see, hear or experience has an impact on our psyche. When we see something pleasant it makes us happy, when we see something saddening it saddens us. But if we are going through some vulnerability and we see some posts regarding any mental health issue or some sort of emotional stuff, we connect immediately, we empathize, we relate and we share such things – it’s like an indirect vent to our repressed and unexpressed emotions.