Unavoidable transformation has heavily impacted 21st century lifestyles. Social media networks have become an invasive aspect of our lives, altering our habits and routines, comforting us when we’re feeling low, and keeping us in negative emotional states. As a Trojan horse, it is often neglected despite its real-purposes (which would be best examined under the discipline of political economy) and real-effects on day-to-day life.
The seemingly obvious choice of “being on social media” needs a second (or third) more informed look at the many ways in which it can affect one’s life, from the macro level (how it affects our communication and relationships with others in general) to the micro level (how it affects one’s outlook on life, mental and physical health, and so on).
Newly discovered research  by the largest social network organization in the world demonstrates, among other things, the risks associated with children’s and girls’ passive use of these networks alone. Anxiety, desperation, problems with one’s body image, and even suicidal ideation are all symptoms of this “dangerous use.” The extensive research conducted by the academic community has revealed more nuanced impacts of social network usage, which significantly affect one’s quality of life and may even alter one’s view of reality.
While having the capacity to make decisions is outside the scope of this article, we will present an overview of “social media” usage, a high-level review of its mode-of-function and mode-of-interaction, and a collection of evidence grounded in science as a result of its widespread use.
What happened to ‘face-to-face’?
Throughout human history, people have had a desire to find the quickest, most efficient manner to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and messages to one another. The vast majority of human effort and resources were put toward communicating with friendly allies and warning non-friendly ones of the existence or occupation of land. G. Mead, a famous and significant social psychologist of the 20th century, argues that communication is crucial for an intelligent human being. Mead contends  that the social process is what elevates and shapes a person’s intelligence and mental capacity. However, the primary concern is whether or not this ‘social process’ can be easily mediated by technological means (and hence, social media) to be considered an equivalent of the face-to-face contact.
The ability of humans to use a wide variety of senses simultaneously makes the process of communicating incredibly difficult, yet so casually easy. It’s common for people to place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on either our auditory channels (hearing and subsequently responding audibly) or our visual channels (reading and subsequently responding in writing). In contrast, the sense of touch (and, to a lesser extent, scent) plays a significant role in interpersonal (and intimate) interactions.
The multifaceted nature of harmony, which integrates multiple senses into a single process or act of “communication,” is often overlooked because of its seeming lack of complexity. We often neglect the most crucial active usage and communication through our senses in modern life owing to our preoccupation with the necessity or idea of getting the information transmitted and received as quickly as possible. More significantly, we forget, that this sensual balance allows us to understand and to (not) respond appropriately. The intricacy and diversity of human senses at work have been with us for thousands of years, yet they now appear to be under attack.
Thus, the subject of harmonious use of senses is the starting point for any successful communication. The harmony, essential for complete comprehension of another human being, cannot be compensated for while a written message transmits to us some specific logo-centric information or an audio-message provides us with the recorded (however encoded and decoded) piece of auditory-information.
When we read someone’s “short text,” for instance, we miss out on the opportunity to listen to them, to observe their facial expressions and body language (including gestures), to control and understand the physical distance between us and the speaker, and on a host of other subtle but crucial elements. Even while audio-messages may seem like a faithful recreation of “real speaking,” the encoding and decoding involved in creating such artifacts gives us a false character that does not reflect the one that actually exists.
As a result, it is crucial for our development as intelligent beings that we cultivate a realistic perception of social interaction (one not mediated by technological means), and one way in which this might be accomplished practically is through interactions, in which all of our senses are employed, and the subject of conversation is another living and analogously interacting human being. That is to say, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, the effects and benefits of ‘face-to-face’ interaction cannot be replaced by virtual ones, no matter how much we turn to social media and other forms of communication.
This distinction is mostly qualitative. No part of human flourishing and growth can be supplied (or taken) by means of such mediated communication. Studies conducted on infants and toddlers shed even more light on the need of genuine social relationships. For instance, infants who were taught by a live tutor in a foreign language outperformed those who were taught by the same teacher virtually in terms of their ability to discern between similar sounds.
The Effects of Social Media Usage
In the preceding paragraphs, we have provided a high-level overview of aspects such as the impact of social media on our personal and societal growth as a result of information perception and interaction. Next, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the more nuanced results of social media use.
Ofcom’s research  from 2022 gives helpful background information for understanding young people’s use of social media. Knowing that a person’s formative years—those spent in childhood and adolescence—are so critical, we pay close attention to them with special caution.
Ofcom believes that 60% of children aged 8-11 and 33% of children aged 5-7 have their own social media profile, despite being under the legal age of 13. Moreover, 6 out of 10 parents of children ages 3 to 17 were aware of the prerequisite age.
Moreover, the content that is being received via these mediums is of utmost significance. Six out of ten adolescents now rely on social media to get their news, despite the fact that this is the source they trust the least. Even though most teens said they could tell which material was real and which was phony, only 11% of those who participated in an experiment conducted during data collecting actually picked the real answer.
Furthermore, adolescents (13-17) report having more positive than negative feelings regarding social media, with 53% claiming that it is beneficial to their mental health. Furthermore, 80% of adolescents who sought help for their mental health did so via online services. However, a different study  found that young people saw social media as dangerous since it facilitates cyberbullying and is linked to the development of mood and anxiety disorders.
Ofcom has also confirmed the latter. Children are more likely to be bullied online (compared to face-to-face), and over a third of them say they have seen something “worrying or nasty” online in the previous year. While a startling 84% (more than 8 out of 10!) of children aged 8 to 17 reported being bullied online, 61% reported being tormented in person.
Adolescents’ happiness appears to be significantly impacted by their time spent on social media. The lives of students are not immune to these consequences . Student academic performance is more likely to suffer if they use these platforms. According to the research, negative social comparisons are one of the factors that contribute to this.
In addition, we find that adults in general experience these unfavorable effects . When people in the UK, for instance, are unable to access their favorite social media sites, 50% report feeling agitated. Younger generations feel these impacts as well, with some even developing Phantom vibration syndrome (the false belief that one’s phone is ringing or vibrating when it is not). A further consequence of this addiction is the need to monitor social media for messages even when there are none.
Therefore, there is substantial proof that excessive social media use increases the risks of mental health problems like depression and addiction (caused by the persistent pursuit of validation through “likes” and “comments”), as well as social isolation, a lack of focus, and stress.
We must now establish a link between the two. Considering the negative consequences of social media and the theoretical knowledge of human communication necessary for healthy development and meaningful living, it is puzzling that so many of us cannot conceive of a world without it.
Answers that include phrases like “easier communication,” “higher connectability,” “staying in touch with relatives,” and “getting the news” refer to the concepts that have their equivalents. All of these and other functions can be accomplished just as well using “old-fashioned” ways, such as getting together with friends and family for a meal or party, talking about one’s day over the newspaper, etc. However, when these explanations are exhausted, new factors enter the scene.
The most challenging aspect of these networks to understand and overhaul is their dependence on routine and habitual behavior. The business model of these networks is complex, thus a thorough evaluation is required. It is obsessed with establishing regular use and will go to any length to achieve this. Yet, armed with knowledge of its consequences, one must fight back. As an adult, you should think about these risks, and as a parent, you should think about them for your children.
The question of whether or not this “ease” is worth it has become crystal evident.
- 1.Vaidhyanathan S. Leaks just exposed how toxic Facebook and Instagram are to teen girls and, well, everyone. The Guardian. www.theguardian.com
- 2.Mead GH. Mind, Self, and Society. University of Chicago Press; 2015.
- 3.Ofcom. Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2022. Ofcom; 2022:80.
- 4.O’Reilly M, Dogra N, Whiteman N, Hughes J, Eruyar S, Reilly P. Is social media bad for mental health and wellbeing? Exploring the perspectives of adolescents. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. Published online May 20, 2018:601-613. doi:10.1177/1359104518775154
- 5.Braghieri L, Levy R, Makarin A. Social Media and Mental Health. American Economic Review. Published online November 1, 2022:3660-3693. doi:10.1257/aer.20211218
- 6.Hilal Bashir, Shabir Ahmad Bhat. Effects of Social Media on Mental Health: A Review. Int J Indian Psychol. Published online June 30, 2017. doi:10.25215/0403.134