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Societal Function Today: Social Media Impacts on Communication, Identity Development and Relationships
As you look around you probably notice eight out of every ten people on a technological device and out of those people, many are surfing the internet or using social media to capture their latest “adventure.” The reality of it is: individuals who place social media as a priority in their lives are typically the least happy, regardless of what their profiles might show. We tend to show off our lives by posting the miniscule details of mundane activities on social media, but what are we really developing as our “self,” image? More importantly, who are we developing as our identity and are we allowing others to know the true version of us or only the false version portrayed on social media? Although media has positive influences, such as connection to new friends or easier access to the newest trends, the negative impacts are much more prevalent and can potentially hurt individuals in their communication skills, identity development, and success in relationships.
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Clarissa Silva introduces an idea of “FOMO or fear of missing out,” in which she questions the motif behind people’s posts and why the “highlight reels of life,” are what we compare our own values to. As young adults, we pride ourselves in being successful, or at least being perceived as successful. So, we compare ourselves to the “false realities,” of influential models and strive to meet the expectations of the portrayed life of social media, (Silva, 2018). Not only is this concept explored on a global level, but some academic articles also accept the notion that social media negatively affects individual’s development and portrayal of self.
“Social networking is altering the social dynamic of communication by creating the impression of a constant audience looking in on one’s life. … People present themselves in fixed singular and self-conscious ways on these pages to put themselves in an optimal light,” (Brown, 2013).
With the constant fear of impressing others and fulfilling the need to fit in, individuals tend to omit details or portray a version of themselves that they believe to be appealing to the party. This masking of one’s true self is one of the major problems with developing and maintaining meaningful relationships today.
“60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way
50% reported social media having negative effects on their relationship
80% reported that is easier to deceive others through their social posting,” (Silva, 2018).
The results conclude that social media users in a wide variety of ages have experienced negative consequences in both their own self value and value of relationships from the prioritizing of social media. However, some positive effects have been acknowledged by popular sources. Seidman explores the positives of becoming “Facebook official,” and how publicizing a relationship can also be related to satisfaction offline. “One study showed that couples who portrayed positive … and assuring … relationship maintenance behaviors on Facebook reported greater relationship satisfaction,” (Seidman, 2015). Nonetheless, she still acknowledges that the studies, and their results related to couple satisfaction, should be cautiously interpreted and not used to satisfy a happiness standard in a failing relationship. Today, individuals are struggling with their relationships because of social media’s impacts and the desire to provide a false reality of themselves. Individuals can seem happy with their relationships or even their selves, but the real question is: why do we want others to accept us and why is what we portray on social media the version that is the most accepted?
This notion seems to address the effects of social media use on self-esteem in younger generations. Adolescents are affected most by the negative implications of technological communication and are typically unaware of how excessive use is related to problems with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and aggression. All these factors contribute to the development of self-esteem and self-image issues. A correlation between social media use and the development of anxious behaviors has been explored numerous times by many professionals. However, some question the validity of research from others that found:
“Adolescents who communicated more online reported feeling more relaxed and reported communicating online to meet people, to belong to a group, and to make up for weaker social skills. This raises questions as to whether such vehicles enhance or hinder the identity formation process.” (Cyr, 2012).
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While Cyr acknowledges that the information may be valid, she also connects to her audience by calling attention to their views of communicatory technology and its impact on identity development. By doing so, she includes her audience in the discussion and allows them to form their opinion on whether online communication is enhancing or hindering to development and communication. Ultimately, she agrees with other research she found that states “increased internet usage is associated with decreased well-being,” (Cyr, 2012). Other researches even concur and exploit that “preference for online communication is strongly correlated with poor social skills and high social anxiety,” (Brown, 2013). These negative impacts are directly related to excessive use of technology for communication. Therefore, adolescents struggle with identity development because the time spent on social media is time spent comparing themselves to the false realties portrayed by so called role models.
While, most teens believe that social media is an essential part to their popularity within their circles, the correlation between excessive internet use and issues with development is positive for detrimental effects on identity development, self-esteem, and physical health. “Depression, sleep deprivation, social anxiety, aggression, Internet addiction, social isolation, and susceptibility to the influence of online advertising have all been noted as potential consequences of adolescent social media usage,” (Farber, 2012). Not only does Farber address the psychological effects, but he acknowledges the tangible effects on one’s outward appearance. This seems to solidify his validity and makes his audience believe that while social media use is marketed to be a positive and an influential thing, it affects self-esteem and even physical health negatively. Other professionals share the same opinion on social media use and believe that “extensive internet use could result in problems such as depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, and anxiety as well as physical impairments such as lack of sleep, lack of eating, and limited physical activity,” (Cyr, 2012). Adolescents are impacted at such a high level, it raises the question of why social media is considered a positive influence by the public and why, when facts are presented, there is no change in the way society functions and how available technology is to young and developing minds.
As a result of advancing technology and of changing standards, social media is being introduced earlier in the lives of younger generations. How does this affect those individuals and how does it isolate older generations? Younger adults are expected to use social media more frequently. Data from the Pew Research Center supports this expectation, in which eighty-six percent of individuals who are ages eighteen to twenty-nine are social media users, while the percentage drops drastically to thirty-four percent in ages sixty-five and older (Cohen, 2017). The groups place social media at different levels in their hierarchy of life values which leads to a division of ideals and ultimately to the creation of a more polarized society. Older generations tend to see technology as a hassle rather than a positive way to communicate. For example, a family will have a difficult time bridging the gap between parents and children because of the preference children take to isolate themselves by choosing a device rather than a person. Teens also begin to have a diminished desire for face to face interactions. It was found that teens will avoid spending time with their parents and instead surf the Internet, which could be “destroying the basic fabric of human society, or family and community relationships,” (Gapiso, 2015). However, teens are not the only ones ruining societal standards, thirty-nine percent of Americans were found to spend more time socializing online than communicating verbally and this correlates to a decrease in empathetic behavior and in social interactions with others (Brown, 2013). When communicating online through various social media outlets, individuals are more likely to develop anxiety in social situations and struggle with interpersonal communication due to an overreliance on technology. Without intervention, the influence of social media will continue to divide the generations, impact the development of unique characteristics, and change the communication standards of society.
In addition to the variables of the generations, a noticeable difference between gender has risen. Brown’s research concludes that technological communications are used differently between the genders, in which females attach themselves to social media easier and have a higher potential to develop an internet addiction due to their behavioral tendencies. Biologically speaking, women are more likely to approach situations with the tend-and-befriend mindset, which exemplifies the idea that social media is a new way to connect with others and develop meaningful relationships. Most women behave in a communal way to establish bonds within societal interactions while men tend to be more task focused and independent in their beliefs (Brown, 2013). Therefore, when surveyed “women say they are closer to their Facebook friends than their friends in real life and feel addicted to Facebook,” (Brown, 2013). It is logical for women to use social media more often and feel addicted because its purpose is to and maintain connections while keeping up with other’s lives, which fulfills the need to be social. While women use social media as a web of connections in their social circle, men are more independently driven and are less likely to develop an addiction to technology.
Individuals who struggle with internet addiction tend to also struggle with their own self-image and loneliness. Common knowledge leads us to believe that social media helps us communicate with others more efficiently. This is a common misconception. Social media has a paradoxical effect, in which it is used as a resolution to problems that individuals already struggle with in their daily lives, (Brown, 2013). Silva agrees that there is a paradox at work within social media, but instead she questions why such a highly connected world is so disconnected in face-to-face interactions. An interesting idea presented by Brown is “the greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” (Brown, 2013). While this is true, it leads researchers to explore new concepts and provide evidence for the connection between loneliness and lower proportions of societal interactions within social circles. With this came the creation of the Internet addiction scale (IAS). It showed that eighty percent of individuals surveyed could be addicted to the internet, in which this group scored significantly higher in depression and thoughts of suicide, (Cyr, 2012). As found before, internet addiction is strongly correlated to negative impacts on psychological health. If the possibility is ignored, the rates of internet addiction will continue to increase and affect societal function unfavorably.
Internet addiction has been categorized as a mental illness because it affects the brain in portions that are necessary to function socially. There has been an increase in the study of the neurological side of internet use, in which changes were found in the portions of the brain that control attention and the emotional process, (Brown, 2013). Along with this, Brown found more research that concurs with brain changes, in which the brain of an internet addict resembles that of a cocaine or heroin addict. Those who are predisposed to addictive behaviors should be cautious using the internet because research has revealed that the repeated exposure of the internet has the potential to rewire our brains in the same ways as drug abusers, (Brown, 2013). For example, a study was done on college students and their ability to take a step away from technology. 200 students were challenged to go “unplugged.” The individuals struggled with accepting their sickening reliance on technology and showed symptoms of withdrawal (Brown, 2013). As society progresses, we tend to ignore the negative effects of social media because they seem like background noise. However, as presented, social media use impacts individuals more negatively by characteristic changes and neurological impairments.
Overall, individuals should pay attention to the information their provided with and realize the negative consequences of social media use. If not, individuals will continue to degrade their unique characteristics by trying to live up to expectations portrayed on social media and leave little room for authentic happiness.
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