By Karen Moss
It seems like every other day, there’s yet another article about a study that proves social media leads to depression, especially among teens.
Chicken, meet egg. Which came first: The depression that leads to social media addiction, or does social media addiction lead to depression?
In my opinion, social media and our society’s obsession with it arose from something that had been brewing long before social media became ubiquitous. I noticed it around the late 80s, early 90s. I’d go out with my friends and it was like a contest to see who could out-busy whom. Being “busy” gives people the illusion of importance.
Then the 90s saw folks in start-up mode, ready to be the Next Big Thing in i-This or e-That. Or if you were at an already established company, you were scrambling to catch up, or frantically prepping for Y2K.
After 9/11, our already busy world became even more convoluted with bureaucratic red tape due to increased security, and people started cocooning more. And why not? You never had to leave your house thanks to web-based services like Webvan (R.I.P.) and that new online store, Amazon.
By the mid-2000s, enter smartphones and social media.
These days, so many of our interactions are through screens. Is it any wonder we are addicted to the thrill of getting likes, comments and followers? It’s not the same as real friendships, but better than nothing.
Social media addiction is a vicious cycle. You find yourself isolated because everyone in real life (IRL) seems too busy. So you turn to social media. You post and people respond. Maybe even a lot of people. For a brief shining moment, you are a rock star. But even a post that goes viral only does so for so long. And then depression sets in.
Fortunately, there is a cure. Take your conversations offline. Start with direct messages. Then pick up the phone or, if possible, make arrangements to meet in person.
I find that teenagers, the most accused of being smartphone-zombies, are primarily the ones who make the effort to interact and see their friends IRL. (Note to parents: Make sure when your kids make these plans, that they are with people they already know, and they’re not being catfished by some online creep.)
Parents shouldn’t pass the “busy” down to kids to the point where they have no other alternative than to stay up late Snapchatting, Skyping or FaceTiming.
For adults, make plans to get lunch or coffee. At work, get up from behind your screen and walk over to someone instead of messaging them. Hearing a human voice and having real-time conversations can make a difference in your quality of life and your self-esteem. And those anonymous trolls and bullies will seem less important.
Escaping the safe cocoon of hiding behind screens is risky. But many things that are rewarding start that way. What it all comes down to is this: social media can help open doors or close them. It’s our choice.