About ten months ago, I rarely picked up my cell phone. As a stay-at-home mother of two young children my time happily consisted of taking care of them. My friends would tease me about ‘getting with the twenty-first century’ and share their frustrations with my lack of social media use. To be honest, my cell phone package didn’t even include texting and I only dabbled in Facebook.
This all changed once I upgraded my cell package to include texting and slowly became addicted to my mobile device. I soon discovered how fast and efficient texting could be. Once my texting addiction was in place I noticed how conveniently I could scan Facebook and other social media sites. It wasn’t long before my phone started travelling with me everywhere I went: in the bath, to bed, it even accompanied me while making dinner. Social-media-surfing became a go-to activity every time I had a few moments to myself.
Today my cell phone has become an extension of who I am – a lifeline. Social media has become my main tool for keeping in touch with friends, my news source and regrettably my biggest time waster. Unfortunately, this new addiction of mine has not gone unnoticed. It is not uncommon for my children to seek my attention while I try to finish reading an interesting article or reply to a Facebook message. It is also not uncommon for my husband to start up a conversation with me while I continue to scan Facebook. Somehow, somewhere I have become disconnected by connecting.
Over the long-term social media and I have developed a love-hate relationship. Although I feel drawn to social media and a compulsive need to check in throughout the day, I also realize how much time it wastes. Another interesting observation was how I left a ‘Facebook session’ in a lesser mood than I went in with. For these reasons and more I decided to research the long-term negative effects of spending too much time on social media.
Here are the 10 most important reasons I’m unplugging from social media:
1. It’s Bad for Your Physical Health — Since the majority of time we spend posting on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites is done sitting this can be harmful to our health. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost 80% of us spend three or more hours of our leisure time sitting down and this is not good. Add this to the time we spend idle at work, travelling to/from work and sleeping and we spend the majority of our lives in a sedentary state. Recent reports have suggested that living a sedentary life is as dangerous to our health as cancer. Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression.
2. You Are Not Living in the Moment — Almost a quarter of Americans say they’ve missed out on important life moments in their quest to capture and immortalize them for social media. We often over-indulge in our digital world but meanwhile miss what is right in front of us. In “Seven Rules to stop your Phone Taking over Your Life”, Tom Chatfield writes about the habit of “phubbing”: snubbing other people by ignoring them and paying attention to your mobile phone instead”. We have all seen it: families at restaurants all on social media devices. People are socializing but not with the people they are with. This sends the message that other people are more important than the ones around you. Recent studies suggest that simply leaving your phone on the table while dining with friends can create negative feelings. I can relate.
3. It Wastes Time — Often I have tried to justify my time spent on social media as research (after all…I am a communications professional and it’s my job to stay up-to-date). However, 35% of people believe social media is the biggest waste of time in their lives (behind watching TV, playing video games and shopping). Interestingly, when someone is alerted to a new ‘tweet’ or Facebook message it takes them an average of 20-25 minutes to return to what they were doing beforehand. In 30% of cases it took them over 2 hours to regroup (1).
4. It Can Affect Your Job/Education — Excessive social media use can even impact you negatively at work or school. It is commonly known that over half of all people use social media at work and productivity suffers because of it (2). If half of the employees spent an average of 30 minutes a day in a company of 100 people this would equal 6,500 annual lost hours of productivity (3). In addition, Facebook can be distracting and negatively impact one’s ability to learn at school. Studies found that middle school, high school and college students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15 minute study period received lower grades.
5. It Can Make you Feel Bad — An often complaint I hear from friends is how they feel bad after spending too much time on Facebook. Posts on social media often present an idealized version of a person’s life and Facebook users constantly compare their own life to the idealized versions of others. In fact, in 2012, a team of researchers in the UK surveyed users and 51% said using Facebook changed their behavior in a negative way because of the decline in confidence they felt. A separate study from the University of Michigan, found that avid Facebook users were unhappier than those who used it less. So it isn’t just me who feels bad spending too much time on Facebook.
6. Connecting Can Make You Feel Disconnected — Ironically, spending too much time on social media can actually exacerbate feelings of disconnect, and put people at higher risk for depression and low self-esteem. In fact, the “passive consumption” of social media (scanning without commenting) can be related to loneliness (4). Surveys also found that Pinterest users often felt depressed because they perceived that they weren’t as crafty and interesting as everyone else. Similarly, Facebook can make people feel unpopular and boring.
7. It Can Hurt Your Relationships — Spending too much time on social media can even hurt your relationships and get in the way of intimacy. In a recent study, 10% of people younger than 25 years old responded that they participate in social media and text messages during sex (5). Although this is not something I would ever do I have noticed social media putting an occasional wall in my relationship. A January 2012 study found that families spent 34% less face-to–face time than 10 years earlier – which is a direct result of increased social media usage (6). 32% of family members admitted to using social media and texting during meals instead of talking to their families. This lack of face-to-face time is bad for relationships and the long-term effects are currently unknown. In the world of social media, people meeting face-to-face is becoming increasingly rare as they decide to communicate via the web. Furthermore, social media provides a ‘tool’ for cyber bullying as people are more inclined to be cruel when not faced with a person face-to-face. According to a February 9, 2012 PEW report, 15% of users on social media had an online experience on Facebook that caused a relationship to end. One can only wonder if the result would have been different if the disagreement had occurred in person. Often without face-to-face communications the message is distorted. So much of communication is actually done through body language or other subtle cues which can be lost without a visual.
8. It Can Cause Stress — Excessive Social Networking can cause stress. In fact, the more friends a Facebook user has the more stressful that user finds Facebook to use (7). Interestingly, social media can often lead to a commonly used term called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). FOMO is a phenomenon that can lead you to feel pressure to share everything on social media to show how much fun you are having. Personally I have felt a tremendous pressure to post ‘status’ updates despite my very private nature. Sometimes trying to keep up with social media appearances can feel like a full-time job. With more and more communications moving online there is added pressure for an online ‘presence’. The common phrase “if it didn’t happen on social media than it didn’t happen” is becoming widely accepted by many. This reminds me of the Matrix and makes wonder if ‘one day’ we will all be living in a virtual world.
9. It is Bad for Your Mental Health — a UCLA report has suggested that excessive online media use can essentially change the way your brain works. The use of too much social networking has been correlated with personality and brain disorders, such as the inability to have in-person communications, a high need for instant gratification, ADHD as well as self-centered personality disorders and addictive behaviors (8). Social media can also perpetuate already existing problems. For example people with low esteem tend to post more negative posts and are ‘Liked’ less which leads to an increase in low self-esteem. It’s a vicious circle. A Boston-area pediatrician has coined the phrase “Facebook Depression” which she included in the newly revised American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines. She believes Facebook acts as a magnifier for people who are susceptible for depression. Additionally, teens using Facebook have more narcissistic tendencies while young adults who have a strong presence show more signs of other psychological disorders. In summary, daily overuse of media and technology has had a negative impact on the health of our children making them more prone to mental illness.
10. It’s Addictive — Perhaps the most shocking and relevant discovery for me was the fact that social media is actually addictive. The 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM) is currently evaluating “Internet Addiction Disorder” for inclusion. Some believe that social media sites can even be as addictive as cigarettes or alcohol by activating the reward part of the brain. In an article published in the journal of Psychological Science by Wilhelm Hofmann, 205 people were given Blackberrys and tracked on how they use social media. They found that their desire to participate in social media was only surpassed by their desire for sleep and sex. Social media addiction is so common that researchers have created “The Berge Facebook Addiction Scale” to qualify the level of addiction. Another study in 2012, based out the UK revealed that two thirds of users admitted to being unable to relax if they didn’t have access to their social media accounts.
When It’s Time to Unplug
Experts suggest you know it’s time to walk away from social media if you find yourself needing to spend more and more time on social media; constantly think about it or plan to use it; feel anxious if you don’t have access to it; if you are moody or restless if you can’t use it; try but fail to cut down on social media use; or neglect other areas of your life in favor of using it. If you find yourself checking-in to see what other people are doing instead of actually doing things yourself it might be time for change. Additionally, if social media is the last thing you do before you go to sleep, you check it during the night and/or it’s the first thing you do in the morning it might be time to consider it an addiction.
It’s Not All Bad News
We all love and use social media. Things like Facebook and Twitter have ingrained themselves in society because they make our lives better. However we need to be aware of the amount of time we spend on social media and monitor it accordingly. We need to ensure that we are offsetting the time we spend online with spending time in the moment with friends and family. There are many benefits to social media: you can stay connected, share pictures, share ideas, find employment and niche groups with similar interests. Social media gives us the ability to share and connect in ways never before possible. But it’s also important to remind ourselves that there is a time and place for social media. When my kids are with me (which is most of the time) they need to take priority; if I am out to dinner with a friend I need to give her my full attention; and when my husband and I are watching a movie I need to respect this as our special time. My personal goal is to spend less time on social media and more time just being here!
1. Mark Dolliver, “Social Networking: A Waste of Time?,” www.adweek.com, Oct. 7, 2010 2. Nielsen Wire, “Social Media Report 2012: Social Media Comes of Age,” www.blog.nielsen.com, Dec. 3, 2012 3. GFI Software, “Social Networking at Work: Thanks, but No Thanks?,” www.gfi.com, June 3, 2011, David Schepp, “Employees Admit Social Media Is a Waste of Their Time [Infographic],” www.jobs.aol.com, June 13, 2012 4. Stephen Marche, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?,” Atlantic Monthly, May 2012 5. Beth Snyder Bulik, “Apparently That Text Can’t Wait — Not Even During Sex: Report Reveals Surprising News About Social Media and Its Grip on Our Lives,” www.adage.com, May 5, 2010 6. USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, “Special Report: America at the Digital Turning Point,” www.annenberg.usc.edu, Jan, 2012 7. David Gutierrez, “Facebook Is Making You Miserable, Scientists Find,” www.naturalnews.com, Nov. 29, 2012 8. K. Wolfling, M. E. Beutel, and K. W. Muller, “Construction of a Standardized Clinical Interview to Assess Internet Addiction: First Findings Regarding the Usefulness of AICA-C,” Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, 2012, Tony Dokoupil, “Is the Onslaught Making Us Crazy?,” Newsweek, July 16, 2012 9. Vito, Piilieci, “Is Social Media Harming Our Mental Health”, National Post< March 2012