The Elephant in our Newsfeed

In light of the internet’s 30th birthday and some recent research I have conducted for my undergrad, I felt prompted to write on the issue of social media and our declining mental health.

There is undoubtedly a rise in cases of poor mental health. While there is some debate around whether there actually more cases or just more reported cases due to better understanding of mental health, we are nevertheless seeing a shift in are emotional climate towards poorer mental health manifested in low self-esteem.

But why? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a significant difference between the previous generation and ourselves is social media and all that it encompasses.

Social media has made us voluntary prisoners. I feel this is best explained using Focault’s. The French philosopher, of whom I am quite a fan, had a theory of disciplinary power that control is exercised through surveillance. It is through social media that there is a sense of constant surveillance on our lives. We no longer create products but become products. Instagram influencers sell us happiness in the form of a weight loss shake. People flood to plastic surgeons with face tuned images and snap chat filters.

There is a culture of constant critique and a global platform for comparison. If we are good at something, then social media will quickly teach us that there are many others who are ten times better. For those that discover they are the ones that are ten times better, the exposure of the internet means fame and fortune even if it is only short lived. Our standards for satisfaction have been raised.

In relation to this point enters the paradox of choice. This was researched and written about by psychologist Barry Schwartz and is the idea that too many options leads to choice overload, which in turn often leaves us with unable to make any choice at all. This has been experimented on with jams in supermarkets, but we could very easily apply it to internet shopping and dating apps. Does our inundation of choice mean we are less likely to firstly commit and thus be happy in a relationship?

This however this paints a very gloomy picture for the future and gives a sense of helplessness. It’s like in the concept often used in films that we can’t take liberties without being punished. We make our lives easier with social media but at a cost because nothing is free. The cost of convenience is often the loss of happiness.

With this all being said we have reached a point where it is far too easy to point the blame directly at ‘social media’. This is somewhat of a cop-out given social media is something that we construct. By shifting the blame on to social media and not looking further into ourselves we are missing the point of what is really wrong.

Social media is simply a tool not a big scary demon we make it out to be. Our focus should shift to also addressing the deeper issues within us and our society instead of making social media the bad guy.

Let’s face it: social media is here to stay and if we get rid of one platform it wont take long for another to take its place. We need to work together to address the deeper issues of which negative social media use is a symptom. Pointing the finger at social media is not going to get us anywhere and paints a very gloomy future, and while it may seem confronting pointing the finger back at ourselves it is the more hopeful in terms of seeing progressive change.