Social media frequently receives blame for many issues in our society. Often, such blame is justified. After all, the rise of social media correlates with the rise of a lot of pretty lousy things.
The effects of social media deserve closer scrutiny through a balanced lens. So, right out front, I have no axe to grind with social media or social media companies. Many of the negative effects of social media, while specific to social media, are symptoms, not diseases. Furthermore, those symptoms point not to social media, but to larger societal issues. As for the positive effects of social media, they essentially show the power of technology and the community at large. Whatever it comes down to in the end, social media seems a durable part of our world. Coming to grips with what it all means deserves our attention. We’ve broken our short analysis up into 2 sections: Psycho-Social and Physical effects of social media.
Below we outline the negative and the positive psychological effects of social media.
Social media, according to a report done The Independent UK, tends to affect psychology negatively in the 5 following areas.
- Self Esteem: Constantly comparing your real life to the manufactured presentations on social media takes its toll. Most people don’t talk about real things, and when they do they glamorize or self-aggrandize. Taking social media for reality, as our brains tend to do, harms your own self-image.
- Human Connection: While social media allows for connection with a vaster group with a shared interest, real-life human connection matters. People isolate themselves more and more, and social media is part of the problem. Without genuine, in-person human connection, many struggle with greater rates of depression.
- Memory: Unendingly refreshing your feed, filling your brain with everyone’s posts, then resetting to fill up on more hurts your memory. Social media even, in some cases, negates memory’s role in our lives. For example, there is no need to remember birthdays thanks to Facebook. It helps us not forget, but it does not help us remember.
- Sleep: Social media makes it harder to shut your mind off. If you tend to overuse social media during the day, when the night comes you can’t just shut it off. Your mind will compel you to check just once more. This puts you into mindless scrolling mode. Before you know it, it’s 2 am, and you have to get up in 4 hours for work.
- Attention Span: If you find something dull or otherwise unengaging on social media, what do you do? You scroll past it, you unfollow the page, you get the post out of view, move on to something else. Doing this constantly creates a poor attention span feedback loop. The more you do it, the worse it gets.
Harvard Scientists conducted a study looking into 3 psychological health outcomes related to social media use. They found that social media itself did not cause poor psychological outcomes. Rather, the user’s relationship with social media informed psychological results. For users who took part in social media as a part of a daily routine, with regular interaction, but did not do so obsessively, they had positive outcomes. For those who used it out of need, with more addictive relationships with social media, they had negative outcomes. Consider the following examples of positive relationships with social media.
- A grandmother who lives far from her children and grandchildren. Without social media, the busy lives they lead would prevent regular contact and interaction. Through following her children and grandchildren, the grandmother can stay connected to her family until their next visit.
- An exchange student in a new country, on a new continent. Such students cannot always afford to keep in direct contact with friends and family. Time differences, financial costs, and everyday busyness get in the way. Through social media, such exchange students, their families, and friends sustain close and essential relationships with one another across vast differences and through long stretches of time.
Such interactions, unsustainable over distance, have indispensable positive psychological effects. The problem for psychology and social media is not the platforms, but how we use them. The social connection we desire with those far away can be crippling. Furthermore, those of us who struggle to find a circle of like-minded individuals near us can find that community of support on social media. The socio-psychological effects of social media are, by no means, all good. The parts that are good, however, are very good.
Below we outline the negative and the positive physical effects of social media.
Sysomos’ article on social media and health offers 4 negative physical outcomes related to social media.
- Carpal Tunnel: Poor form and posture when using computers or cell phones contributes to wrist pain. Carpal tunnel can be extremely painful. Related to this, neck problems are on the rise due to our craning posture when using social media on our phones.
- Eye and Sleep Problems: The blue light emitted from electronic devices, a necessary accessory to social media, harms our eyes. The imperceptible flicker causes eye fatigue and pain. Additionally, headaches and dry eyes often come with overuse. A related point, is sleep. Natural blue light controls our sleep cycles. Without careful regulation, unnatural blue light can disrupt sleep cycle. The resulting eye problems (including macular degeneration), and sleep issues cause often irreparable physical and mental harm.
- Fatigue: Related to the sleep problems mentioned before, overuse of technology leads to fatigue. A constant feeling of tiredness that rarely gets relief from sleep or rest.
- Lack of Exercise: Staying inside and using social media constantly replaces regular exercise for many. Without regular, vigorous exercise, our health suffers. The connection between digital devices and obesity is well documented. Intemperate social media use can contribute to this.
Positive physical outcomes from social media are more limited that positive social outcomes. For some social media can be a connection to motivators. Someone needing help getting in shape might find an inspiring Instagram account that helps them move forward with their goals. Perhaps someone follows on social media a page suggesting positive outdoor and physical activities to engage with as a family. Again, the question of positive vs. negative outcomes relates to your relationship with social media, not the media itself.
If you have felt any of the effects mentioned here, positive or negative, you’re not alone. Millions of social media users, for example, struggle with sleep issues. The relationship between technology and sleep is fascinating and important. Learn more today about how to sleep better in our modern technological world.