Pointless Scrolling for Endless Hours: A close look at our relationship with social media

As someone who grew up in a world with social media, I am no stranger to pointlessly unlocking my phone to check if I have any notifications from Instagram, Facebook, or WhatsApp. Throughout this pandemic, I have spent hours and hours on my phone, aimlessly looking at memes and videos of cats dancing, double-tapping to like posts without even actually reading what was written- social media was the one-stop-shop for all my procrastination needs. 

Don’t get me wrong, the benefits of social media are endless: for people like me, it’s an outlet to share our talents with those who are willing to engage, to put forth our opinions to those who are up for discussions, and so much more. However, social media, as I increasingly realised during my “pandemic-related” social media high was that every time I posted a new cover of a song (yes, I sing!) I would constantly check how many likes or shares the post was receiving; pretty soon, my inner student of Psychology told me that I was attaching quite a bit of my self-worth to the validation I receive from social media.

While a vast majority of social media use is benign, social media addiction is a real thing. It is considered as a behavioural addiction, in which a person can show symptoms similar to those of any other substance-related disorder. It should come as no surprise that social media was created to be addictive; the dopamine-inducing environments are catered to your interests and your opinions and attitudes, producing consumerism in which “a whole team of individuals’ job is to use your psychology against you”.  

As I said earlier, social media addiction can cause symptoms similar to that of any other substance use disorder, ranging from mood modification, salience, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, etc. Circling back to my own usage, I realised how happy each meaningless like from a faceless follower brought me, how checking my feed felt like a compulsive habit, and how even app-blockers could not stop me from finding a way to get my scrolling needs fulfilled. This is when I decided to take a step back and re-evaluate the way I view and use social media, and if you relate to any of these statements that I have made, I urge you to do the same.

The unique thing about social media, and the reason it can be compared to addictive substances and habits is because of its use of dopamine signals and rewards, which always leave our brain wanting more. The validation is like a reward or positive reinforcement that activates dopamine production in the brain, which influences sensations, future decisions, and produces a need to keep using social media. These chemical reward pathways and brain regions are associated with several other addictive substances. In fact, these chemical pathways have been found to be the most active during self-disclosure, or when an individual talks about themselves, and since 70% of our online presence involves showing off our lives and the things we do, this only feeds into our social media addiction. Not to mention the psychological dependence that arises from using social media as a coping or avoidance mechanism against interpersonal problems, stressful events, responsibilities, health issues, etc. In this case, the tendency to use social media to receive validation and relieve undesirable moods and gain instant, short-lived gratification is to blame. 

Excessive social media use can lead to addiction, and has been related to other negative outcomes like increased isolation and loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, social anxiety disorder, disrupted sleep patterns, reduced empathy, reduced work/academic performance, and so many more. Spotting social media addiction isn’t always easy, since most social media use can be considered a mindless activity that is completely benign. There are a couple of questions you can ask yourself, but like with any addiction, it is not a good idea to self-diagnose. Questions may include, “Am I using social media to forget about personal problems?”, “Am I restless when I am not using social media?”, “Am I thinking too much about using social media?”, “Am I constantly trying to reduce my usage with very little success?”, “Is my productivity or performance decreasing, and can this be related to social media?”

If your answer to even two of the above questions is “Yes”, you may be in need of a digital detox, which entails drastically reducing the amount of time spent using electronic devices like laptops, smartphones, etc., more specifically, social networking sites. Depending on your needs and comfort level, you can either start by deleting all these applications from your phone, or if your self-control is good enough, you could just turn off notifications from these apps on your devices. Personally, the latter worked just fine for me when I wanted to cut back on my social media usage. Another essential step, especially in the pandemic situation, wherein school, college and work are all on our devices, and there is very little accountability, make sure to turn off your phone during classes and meetings, so that the urge to ignore these important commitments and scroll through Reels does not take over. Lastly, although social media can serve as an effective distracting tool, enabling us to ignore all the worries and fears that come with a threat to potentially our entire family’s health, every time we even choose to step out of the house, the best thing to do for our entire family’s mental health is to spend time together, and try and get each other through this. 

To conclude this personal attack on myself and you which I am sure you are also reading on a smartphone, I would like to remind of a simpler time, when our favourite TV shows and movies could not be rewinded or paused at will, and advertisements were the most annoying thing; when sitting in the car with your family was more than just scrolling on our separate phones, listening to separate music on our earphones; when comparing ourselves and our bodies to the Instagram models and their edited, perfect pictures and perfect figures did not crumble our sense of self. Can we please go back to a time when a daughter did not text her mother to get her some food? Yes, I have seen it before my eyes, which I DID have to lift up from my phone, as I aimlessly double-tapped yet another meme.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Social Media Addiction, Addiction Center (March, 2021) https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/
  2. Ngien, A., & Jiang, S. (2020, May 6). The Effects of Instagram Use, Social Comparison, and Self-Esteem on Social Anxiety: A Survey Study in Singapore . SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305120912488
  3. Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2017). Social psychology (14th ed.). Pearson. 

 

 

by Aakanksha Sundar 

(Christ University, Kengeri Campus)

Intern, WingsWithin