Rejecting the False Dichotomy Surrounding Social Media

Shreya Mapadath, Staff Writer

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Stories of morning routines that begin not with the sound of an alarm, but with the artificial light of a phone screen and scrolling through notifications are often the beginning of arguments about how social media has irreversibly transformed our culture for the worse. People view it as a major contributing factor to the teen mental illness epidemic.  

Recent studies offer a clear verdict on social media’s effects on teenage mental health: According to the Child Mind Institute, “…teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially higher (from 13 to 66 percent) rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.” Statistics like these paint an overwhelmingly bleak picture of the self-documenting generation raised on social media, but the issue is a bit more nuanced. 

The research does present valid concerns about social media’s implications, but it seems unlikely that our lives would really improve in the absence of social media.

Generation Z is the frequent object of past generations’ pity. To their predecessors, they are deprived of the good old pre-iPhone days of true socializing. But society has a marked tendency to yearn for the past—regardless of whether or not it was objectively better than the present.

Social media equips everyone with an audience, but it is not all about gaining followers and receiving likes. At no other time in history has it been possible to so easily explore the world beyond the bubble of one’s immediate surroundings. Even if there is not a single person around who has knowledge of someone’s particular hobby, there is an online community that does. Be it through subreddits that exist for every niche imaginable (Yes, every single one) or Instagram accounts devoted to supporting certain—often marginalized—identities, there is no shortage of paths to a sense of belonging.

Yet the downfalls of heightened connectivity are everywhere: the toxicity that permeates much of the content people consume, the ease with which they can compare their lives to those of others, and the hours whiled away absorbing meaningless images they can scarcely remember the next day. Most everyone has had their fair share of sleepless nights spent aimlessly scrolling through a vapid, repetitive feed, but these shortcomings do not necessarily prove that life would be better without social media.

Social media is said to exacerbate loneliness, but the connectivity it provides is often the means by which people deal with their own. Of course, relying solely on virtual interactions for a sense of fulfillment lends itself to an unhealthy addiction. However, for those dealing with struggles in their non-virtual lives or acclimating to otherwise foreign environments, the importance of familiarity cannot be overestimated. 

 

The problem with the current debate over social media’s effects is the false dichotomy accompanying it. Arguing that it is either the evil force ruining youth or a flawless advance towards interconnectedness is just unproductive. The question should not be whether or not to use social media; completely abandoning what has become such a prevalent force in our lives is both unrealistic for most and unlikely to improve the mental health crisis. Society should instead be asking itself how to best establish a healthy relationship with social media that involves neither radical detoxes nor obsessive refreshing. 

Social media is simply a tool that is not in and of itself good or bad; there is nothing inherently harmful about sharing our ideas for the world to see. Our inability to indulge in moderation is what’s hurting us. Sacrificing the meaningful connections, abundant inspiration and thought-provoking discourse found on social media will not do much to better people’s lives. 

What will help is an earnest effort to achieve what this generation lacks most: balance. 

 

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