We've heard it once, and we'll hear it again.
Social media can have detrimental effects on mental health. To name a few, depression, anxiety, unrealistic expectations, negative body image, the list goes on. And these are important to voice, to spread awareness. Yet there's something else to consider. The harder it becomes to avoid these "side effects", the more obvious a question becomes: are we in a world where social media has become integral to every part of our lives, including our public perception?
Friends of mine have gone on what they call "social media detoxes" or "cleanses". I, myself, have deleted a few apps for a year and later returned to them. The reasons for why we took part in removing ourselves from these online communities varied. Some of us found ourselves too deeply invested in what seemed like pointless time spent.
Others, maybe it was for our appearance, to look aloof and deep, so done with the trend that had consumed our society...(though that's often a rumor alluding to a deeper reason). Me? I deleted the apps for a while for what feels like a continual blend of reasons. To this day I'm not quite sure what drove me to my break. All I knew for sure was after closing an app or browser window, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of numbness and a craving of wanting.
The very name of these pauses, 'detoxes', signify the impermanence of our break with the sites. I didn't even contemplate abandoning the app for good. Could it be because the question of leaving these sites permanently is no longer a consideration? Are we tightly bound to them? Dare I say, for good?
Can we survive without them?
I know, I'm dramatic, but only to make the point. Social media has developed an outstanding role not only in our personal lives but in our professional lives as well. Employers look at our online profiles before considering our employment. Admissions offices sneak a peek at our online presence when we apply to schools and programs.
So what happens when we don't have profiles for people to view at all? Employers and admission offices aren't the only ones using our social media to glance at our character's online. And not solely for professional reasons.
People are searching us constantly and for many reasons other than seeking crude pictures or posts. They use social media as a tool to predict the person we are and how we will carry ourselves in real life. Making them crucial to the advancements of our connections and presence to other people and in life, offline. From what I've encountered, people seem to have a wave of distrust wash over them when they hear about someone's lack of online activity. They think, "What are they hiding? Are they out of touch? What are they like?". It's met with unadulterated suspicion.
To be respected by others, or to land those first impressions, social media gives us a leg up, to say the least.
So can we withdraw ourselves from social media to avoid some of those nasty 'side effects', mentioned at the beginning of this post, that many of us experience? To avoid loneliness, FOMO (fear of missing out), or will it just hurt us in other forms...will we miss that dream job offer or that invitation for a blind date? To be without social media is to either be too antiquated and out of touch, too self-absorbed, to think you're superior to others. It is to be guilty and sketchy, 'irregular'.
Stay on social media, and be judged. Leave it, and be judged. To win is to lose.
So where do we go from here? I have no answers, only questions. These are things we need to consider. How can we live our lives online if some of us are experiencing crippling pain? Will it cost us jobs, friendships, places to live? is it worth our mental sanity, satisfaction, and joy in life? Social media has taken us so far. It has warped our perceptions of self-worth, connection, and collectivity. We're too far in to say goodbye, but some of us have to.
These next few years will be defining in knowing our dependency on social media, as a society. I say, put yourself first. Put ourselves first, as a society. We need to start focusing on the negative consequences of social media, rather than letting it deem our judgments for future opportunities. Like recognizing the adverse impacts of social media, we should also acknowledge the implications of user removal.
Change is possible.