Social Media: Helpful or Harmful?

Social Media: Helpful or Harmful?

By Lori Bowes

So, here you are, presumably sitting on the couch, slumped between the cushions, probably eating potato chips or something. It’s most likely already late, or getting there, and I bet you haven’t even started your homework yet. You probably mindlessly scrolled through your emails, jumped over to Buzzfeed to take one of those pointless yet entertaining quizzes, and now you’ve spent two hours hopping from one YouTube video to the next. But wait, that’s not all. I bet while you’re halfheartedly scrolling from screen to screen on your laptop, you’re also checking your phone every five seconds to see if someone tweeted you or liked your picture. What about those Snapchats that you’re sending to your friends? Did your best friend text you back? Why does it keep showing that she’s typing, but she hasn’t responded yet? All of these things are flowing through your mind, but you’ve stretched your attention span so thin that you aren’t really paying attention to any of them at all.

This is because we have put such an emphasis and importance on technology in our day-to-day lives. Sure, technology is extremely helpful for so many things. We have our phones and computers to communicate with people, to perform tasks at a much faster rate than we could have ever imagined before, and advanced medical technology has allowed us to save lives and cure diseases. Yes, these are all very important, but what about technology’s impact on your ability to talk to people in real life situations? When was the last time you actually went up to someone to talk to that person for the first time? Chances are, you probably talked to them or communicated with them through social media first. And while this is all good and well, these small actions have turned into much larger trends. We don’t bother to get to know people when our biggest concern is how many likes we have on an Instagram picture. Let’s face it, you probably only truly know a very small fraction of the people that are your followers or your “friends.” Those people – while you may know of them – mean close to nothing to you when it all comes down to it. But why are we so concerned about this percentage of people recognizing us and acknowledging us when we don’t even know anything beyond their first name?

Humans, by nature, live based on approval from others. Whether you want to admit it or not, every decision you make outwardly, and inwardly as well, is in some way or another based off of your acknowledgement of other people’s opinions. We feed off of the approval of others, and that funnels into how we use these social media platforms to help fuel our own self-confidence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when we put such an important value on the use of social media, we are continuing to disconnect from the world around us. These social media sites and apps are meant to enable us to connect and communicate with others, but they’re in fact doing the opposite of that. They’re conditioning us to become detached from the world around us. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen teenagers and adults on their phones, not talking to one another. There’s a reason why your parents probably have the “no phones at the table” rule during dinnertime, because they actually want to have a meaningful conversation with you. Children are being given iPhones and iPads when they are less than 10 years old. The future generations won’t understand a life without technology constantly looming over them.

Not only is technology affecting our ability to communicate with others, but it’s actually potentially harmful to our health. It is normal now to check your phone while in bed. You watch videos with the lights off, while the bright fluorescent lights on your screen blaze on into the night. Studies actually show that it isn’t all that great for our health to be looking at bright screens so late in the night. Charles Czeisler, the director of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says “Peering at brightly lit screens at night disrupts the body’s natural rhythms and raises the risk of medical conditions linked to poor sleep, including obesity, heart disease, strokes and depression.” The artificial light disrupts our sleep by “… dampening down the activity of neurons that bring on sleep, activating those for wakefulness, and suppressing the sleep hormone, melatonin.” This will only get worse as more and more technology is available on the market. Mariana Figueiro, of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, says that “the brightness and exposure time, as well as the wavelength, determine whether it affects melatonin.” Nonetheless, using technology well into the night disrupts our sleep cycle, knocking it off our natural 24-hour day, and thus making us go to bad at a later time. The best advice would be to lighten up on the screens before bedtime. It’s advised to stop using electronic devices about an hour before bedtime to help ensure an undisrupted sleep.

Technology in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem sets in when we give it so much power to transform the way society works, use it for our own personal gains, and become numb to the world and people around us. So, I encourage you to put down your laptops and your phones, go find the person nearest to you and have a conversation with them. Whether he/she is your brother or you friend, ask how his/her day was, and take a few minutes to enjoy life outside of emojis and tweets. Become aware of your surroundings and the beautiful people who occupy this earth. Put down your phone and truly experience life for what it is meant to be.

Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/may/22/peering-bright-screens-dark-harm-health

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bright-screens-could-delay-bedtime/

Image Source: http://www.socialmediasmarketing.com/

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