Alright, social media and technology aren't all bad. We've got that part surrounded. But social media and technology do have some significant downsides. You might be aware of these but many are sneakier than they seem, especially since most of them blend into one another.
Do any of these look familiar?
1. Technology is Addictive
Did you hear about the man who walked into a bar while texting? Or the lady who fell into a mall fountain while she was talking on her phone? I’d tell you to go ahead and spend some time on Youtube researching examples, but that would be counterintuitive to the spirit of this book.
People get distracted by technology and hilarious, painful, or unfortunate results ensue. You know it. I know it. The people to whom it happens know it.
We may think these are extreme situations that don’t apply to our life. But just like walking into a room and forgetting the reason you’re there, have you ever found yourself on some random website with no recollection as to what brought you there? Ever find yourself justifying a ‘few more minutes’ to scroll through your Facebook feed? Or compulsively looping back to check various notifications you may or may not have actually received?
The addiction is real. Heard of distracted driving laws? Do we need the government patrolling our use of devices even when we’re not behind the wheel? Yes! Well, maybe not the government - but I’ll do it for you!
The reality is social media and technology addiction is a serious and growing problem. So many of us are addicted to the point we can’t stop even when our lives depend on it.
Adults are on the rise as the highest users of social media, with usage peaking between the ages of 25- 54. On top of that, a report of over 50,000 adults shows they are now spending just under two hours per day on social networks and have an average of almost eight separate social accounts. Let’s be honest and call it like it is: an impulse control disorder. We may as well have a slot machine inside our pockets because the compulsion of our devices is eerily similar to the pull of a casino. Any way you want to look at it, this compulsion is difficult to control.
Like any addiction, an affliction to technology and social media creates a negative impact. It can force us to increase online spending. It disrupts our ability to follow through on other tasks. It can even damage our ability to carry on a meaningful conversation with another human being. People are so addicted to methodically checking their phones that research in the field has already started to create clinical psychological scales to assess specific levels of addiction.
That’s right, science is studying the effects of technology. What a time to be alive.
This will seem counterproductive, but like we said, technology isn’t all bad. Search for FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) online and this is the first thing you’re likely to see:
“Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”
The interesting thing about FOMO is it’s an urge to keep connected to what other people are doing so you don’t miss out. In order to stay in the loop you have to swing back and forth from one input to the next: you check your email, scroll through Facebook, head over to Instagram, and quickly peek at Twitter before you realize you’re probably at work and you’d better do something quickly to keep your job…
But then you repeat it all moments later because, perish the thought, something may have happened while you were away.
Perhaps your compulsion simply forces you just to push the home button on your phone just to see if any notifications have rolled in. FOMO compels us to check in, but the irony is that checking in could cause us to miss something in real life.
3. Keeping Up With The Jones’
Is the grass really greener on the other side? Whenever I open up my social media feed it sure seems that way. One minute I’m totally content with my work, my house, and my family and the next I’m filled with despair because my life just doesn’t meet the mark - all this after seeing a photo of a friend working on a beach in Thailand.
People are notorious for painting a pretty picture of their life. Working on a beach in Thailand looks like a dream come true, but that blissful scene doesn’t show us any of the pitfalls of such a situation. What about exotic animals? Cockroach-infested rooms? Stomach bugs brought on by micro-organisms in the drinking water?
Social media bombards us with pretty pictures of holidays and the perfect lover. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing our current circumstances with what could be if only…
Those images are idealizations. They’re snapshots of the best parts of someone’s life. They don’t paint the entire picture.
We have to work for a living. We have responsibilities.
Social media and technology have a nasty habit of glossing over the real world. The idealized representations are frustrating and damage our confidence with the choices we’ve made in the real world.
The end result is a dark shadow cast on our lives where there should only be light.
4. Electronic Notifications are Making us Restless
The ability to stay constantly connected is also making it impossible for many of us to not connect - technology and social media are irresistible for a lot of us no matter what the situation.
Here’s an example. Do you wear glasses? I do. Anybody else find themselves pushing their spectacles up the bridge of their nose and quickly realizing you’re currently in the glasses-free world of contacts? Think of it as phantom limb, but in this case it’s phantom glasses. The same test works for your phone. Even when it’s not with you it’s hard to put down. You’ve built in a reflex to check, re-check, check, and re-check and without the companionship of your device it can be hard to know what to do with yourself.
5. Decreased Productivity
Our brains aren’t designed for doing several tasks at once. I know, newsflash right? Yet social media has us hopping from one stream to another. Here’s a quick way to test yourself by taking a quick inventory; how many internet tabs do you currently have open? I have six. When is the last time you checked your phone and how many apps are open on it?
Now here’s the meat of the question: are these open apps and programs actually helping you in your current situation?
When we focus on the task at hand we accomplish more. Tasks are easier and they’re accomplished faster. Focus increases efficiency. Focus also frees up time to do other things that we’re passionate about. Unfortunately most of us live on the dark side of this equation - bouncing around from one assignment to another and wondering why everything takes so long to complete.
6. Decreased Movement
I’m no rocket scientist, but bums in chairs typically means little movement is happening. Although the advent of laptops, smartphones, and tablets lets you take your screen anywhere, that doesn’t mean you’re carrying them around with your running shoes on. Mobile technology doesn’t equate to mobile people and enhanced levels of physical activity.
Let me paint a picture. When my son was quite small we went out for “walks”, which meant he was strapped into a stroller. And although I might have appeared to be walking, my movement was a jagged mess of interrupted zigzags. Why? My phone was in my hand the entire time. I texted, I checked feeds, and I snapped photos. There were days when although I was outside in the fresh air, the only thing my eyes took in was the dull glow of the screen in my hand.
And to be honest, sometimes it’s difficult to re-live that reality. How much did I miss?
On the other hand, there were times I desperately needed the connection to other adults and the online world was the best, scratch that, the only way to get that.
So don’t condemn yourself to technology purgatory because your phone is on you during walks with your kids. The key to it all?
Balance. It’s difficult to find.
It’s this level of distraction that causes people to step into busy streets. Have you ever seen this? Has it happened to you? Tapping into our devices so strongly can create a person so completely unaware of their physical movement in real time that it threatens personal safety.
Plus, there are hordes of folks out there opting for online games instead of the gym or recreational adult sports leagues. I know, people have been shutting themselves in to play video games for years, it’s not a new thing necessarily, but technology these days has created video games so realistic and impressive that they’re harder than ever to resist. It’s just one more technological temptation.
These days even when people are at the gym they’re distracted. They’re not focused on the benefits of physical activity, and it’s likely because they’re staring into a screen with earplugs in. These days research is showing the way you do a task impacts its effects, so it’s a worthy consideration.
Are you embodied or merely moving your body?
7. Increased Social Phobia
While online interactions can increase confidence, it’s typically correlated only to the online world. For better or worse, when we’re online we have the ability to shape ourselves and our opinions and ultimately how we’d prefer to be viewed by others. We can hit the delete key over and over until we can choose just the right words.
It’s a luxury not afforded by real life.
Too much practice at dwindling our emotions down to 140 tweetable characters can actually lead to increased anxiety about real life interactions. Not knowing how to behave, how to speak, and worrying about how it will all be received… the reality is we’re losing practice in the art of face to face interaction.
The nastiest side of online interactions - being picked on. I know of politicians and prominent business people who are harassed regularly and the content of such communications is nothing short of appalling. The online world is faceless and removes the reactions caused by classless, tasteless, and downright horrible comments. It’s tough to defend yourself and it’s usually a battle that’s lost before it begins lest you become intertwined in an ugly back and forth barrage. And even if you don’t bite back, the comments still sting.
Sadly, we’ve seen extreme cases of cyberbullying resulting in suicide. And the saddest part is the stories we’ve learned via the media are probably just scraping the surface. The situations in which cyberbullying is a culprit, but no direct link to technology is made, likely slip beneath our radar as we attempt to measure how vast an impact social media is having on mental health.
9. Inappropriate/Glamorized Content
Technology and social media don’t have filters the way mainstream media did at the turn of the century. The availability of it all also lends itself to anyone and everyone sharing their personal message. Inappropriate content is readily available to people of all ages and developmental stages. This changes the barometer against which inappropriate behaviours are measured. I’ve worked with adolescents who have been exposed to extremely violent pornography and assumed it to be what normal sexuality looks like. Now they’re in trouble with the law and honestly, they’re quite clueless about how they crossed the line into sexually inappropriate behaviour. After all, it’s all they’ve been exposed to. I’ve seen hate messages online that go viral because a popular icon stated something and his followers ‘liked’ the message - “like” in this sense being the push of a button that effectively rings the bell of endorsement.
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll - once an old adage that spoke to a life we all fantasized about - is a fantasy no longer. In fact it’s never been more accessible. Messages and speech spread online by organizations, communities, and gangs have a free platform to indoctrinate new members into their fold.
10. Loss of Privacy
We’ve all heard of hacking and information leaks. The online world is not completely secure. The content you share can inadvertently fall in front of the wrong eyes and sometimes result in painful consequences. Everything you say online is published forever. Sometimes it’s merely accidental, but the sting is felt all the same. Anyone ever get an urge to post a negative comment about a boss? Imagine that comment being shared with a friend who knows a colleague who ‘accidentally’ sends it all the way up to management.
Sometimes the violation is purposeful. As you access and use smartphone applications and online information, heaps of data is being gathered about your patterns and preferences. This information is used for the marketing of targeted advertisements. It can also hold you accountable in the case of law enforcement. Privacy policies you sign off on contain minuscule small print often describes your rights and your lack of rights. The more personal the information you share, the more difficult it is to maintain your anonymity. Some say online privacy is a pure myth.
What do you say?
11. Technology Dependence
Being tapped into our devices is changing the way we learn or teach social, cognitive, or language skills. Most of us grew up with the idea of looking someone in the eye during a conversation. Have a conversation with most teens today and it’s unlikely they’ll meet your gaze. They simply aren’t used to it. For instance, dinner is an opportunity to connect and unpack your day, but many friends and families are still connected to their devices and completely absent from the people in front of them. As we determine the hidden meanings of texts and social posts we lose the ability to do things like read body language.
I remember when I could tell you phone numbers and birthdates for everyone near and dear to me. Now I’m lucky if I remember my own! Dependent on calendar apps and reminders and our list of contacts, we’re less and less able to operate on our own. Think about it - if you needed help and your phone was dead, would you be able to contact someone? If the first person you called wasn’t there, do you remember a second one? Do you know how to read a map and street names or are you completely reliant on electronic GPS? The comforts of our devices make life easier but they also keep us from using our brains to their fullest extent.
Then What’s The Point Anyways?
We’ve already built the case that technology and social media offer plenty of benefits to our lives. So why don’t we just stop at the feel-good components and leave the rest behind?
Most of us don’t have much experience anymore of being alone with ourselves and our thoughts. Left to our own means, we often turn to a device to manage the discomfort that looms in our own mind and body. As comedian Louis C.K. once remarked, “you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something.”
Let’s learn that skill together.
Chang, L. (June 13, 2015). Americans spend an alarming amount of time checking social media on their phones. http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/informate-report-social-media-smartphone-use/
Global Web Index (Q4 - 2016). GWI social summary. http://insight.globalwebindex.net/social
Paddock, C. (June 22, 2015). Facebook addiction - new psychological scale. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/245251.php