Turn on, tune in, log out
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
‘Like’ it or not, social media is reshaping our brains. In more ways than one, the internet influences our daily decisions, partly due to how infinitely fun and intrinsically addictive social media is. Our attention spans are shortening and our taste for convenience is ever-growing.
With increased social media use, there is a rise in social capital. Social capital ‘broadly speaking, is defined as a collective asset in the form of shared norms, values, beliefs, networks, and social relations’. Even if you have not heard this phrase before, you may be aware of influencer culture, ‘like’ metrics and algorithms. All these things place value on individuals and posts, and they make us highly aware of our position within society. Social capital equates to power and opportunity and is one way in which companies can make a social hierarchy and exploit people for economic gain. Being so aware of what everyone is doing online is set to motivate and inspire us, but is it detrimental when it comes to genuine motivation and true self-development?
It is important to ask why social capital cultivates a ‘nature of competitiveness on social media’. What does it mean when your profile is pitted against mine? Using social media is practically essential to success within a capitalist system. It is used to facilitate social interactions, form relationships, and create job prospects. Alongside entertainment purposes, there are practical reasons behind why 87% percent of teenagers in the UK use social media. According to research, there is high pressure for people to sell themselves and make their profile a desirable product, as well as stay connected with friends and family. Essentially social media use is another marketing ploy and it’s distracting for young people when they are discovering themselves and figuring out how to identify. It’s a horrible thought to mistake person for product, but this is how the pressures of technology increasingly encourage us to represent ourselves, ‘market’ our identities.
The internet enables us to connect, become inspired and create a presence online. It is a projection of a breathing identity into a cyber-sphere— doesn’t that seem enticing? However there are side effects that we cannot ignore: panic and a lost sense of self are evident in many young people, especially those who drink up a Tiktok craze like a glass of water. The quick passage of ‘Tiktok Made Me Buy It’ trends are making people far more materialistic, and they promote anxiety when people feel the need to buy the latest thing and post it online before everyone else. Tiktok, the newest social media app and latest Gen-Z sensation, has been proven to cause more mental distress and dissatisfaction than any other app: ‘TikTok users are exposed to dozens of videos within minutes, activating the reward pathway in the brain. Young users can become addicted to the app and may seek constant stimulation’ despite the fact it fuels ‘body dissatisfaction, appearance-related anxiety, exercise addiction and distorts self-image’. Whilst TikTok is promoting addictive behaviour, there are plus sides to it as well, such as learning how to cook a meal in 30 seconds or broadcasting a feminist revolution, such as what is happening in Iran.
Social media’s endorsement of such contrasting forces of change divides opinions, but ultimately leaves the internet user a little bewildered. There are great things happening online, but there’s also a lot of content that is particularly corrosive in its emphasis on people’s life highlights and not their misfortunes. To that end, I am critical about how much we should use online social networks. Surely there is a way we can reclaim some control and honour our mental need for balance? Several times in the past few years, I have deleted my social media apps and vowed to never use them again. Whilst I always end up logging back online, the snatched moments of time offline always prove to be incredibly valuable; I have been able to pick up new hobbies and learn things on my own terms and learnt the value of not seeing myself through the kaleidoscopic lens of others’ perspectives. Personally, I most enjoy using social media once I have got my things done for the day, but starting my day ‘doom-scrolling’ in bed is certainly not the kind of springboard to productivity that makes me (or Wallace and Gromit) cheer. Having management over technology use is the most efficient use of your time.
Deleting social media apps is a powerful reclamation of time, self-hood and energy. Logging off means drastically reducing the harm social media has on your mental health. Data from qualitative studies has shown the effect on sleeping patterns as particularly harmful on brain development. Logging off for a period, or at least using social media more consciously, would greatly improve sleep, learning and social difficulties. The mental setbacks are large, and most people are aware of them, but our dependence on dopamine just keeps winning; we aren’t seeing the harm creep into our lives. We are so intricately bound to our algorithms that our futures can be predicted by probability, our experiences traced to a well-walked map, but opting out of this for a while will allow us to have more chance encounters and discover the unexpected.
Logging out is a radical act of self-empowerment against a capitalist world seeking to keep us earning and consuming at all waking hours. To paraphrase Joan Didion, saying “no” is the ultimate form of self-respect; it gives weight to the unanswered letters and frees us from the expectations of others. As with most things, and after a little research, I reckon that social media should be used in greater moderation. For fun or political fray, social media is great to use, but the greatness of logging out is not to be underestimated. Logging out means you can tune into your deeper self and discover who is waiting for you at home.