How Smartphones & Social Media Affect You Personally
Smartphones are an increasingly pervasive part of our lives. They’ve become progressively capable of supplementing, or even supplanting various mental functions.
The effect of Smartphone use on memory
Research has shown that smartphones adversely affect cognition because if our brains don’t have to work to find information, they don’t retain it so well.
The more time you spend looking at a screen, the less time you spend interacting in person with others. This makes it more difficult to establish interpersonal connections and to develop strong relationships – both important for mental health and the health of the community at large.
Amount of time people spend on their screens
You might wonder how much time people spend looking at their screens. According to a Uswitch.com study in the UK, the average citizen spends up to 6.4 hours every day on their phones and devices. According to US phone usage statistics, in North America people spend an average of 6.31 hours on the internet daily.
Excessive screen time is harmful
A study conducted at Hankamer School of Business: Baylor University confirms that smartphones impact relationships quite negatively. They can also make you more depressed as a result of your attention span being wrecked.
Research published by the US National Library of Medicine to determine associations between use of three different modes of social contact (in person, telephone, written or e-mail) shows that face-to-face contact trumps Facebook, phone, and email for lowering depression. The probability of having depressive symptoms steadily increased as frequency of in-person-but not telephone or written or e-mail contact decreased.
Effect of screen time on sleep patterns
Tempting as it might be to use your computer or phone before bed, studies have shown these devices can interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin a natural hormone released in the evening to help you feel tired and ready for sleep.
A study by Indian mattress producer Wakefit has revealed that a whopping 92% of Indians check their phones just before going to sleep, with the result that smartphones have emerged as a major sleep disruptor. Not surprisingly, about 27% of the people who took part in the study reported that they woke up tired most days, indicating the erratic pattern in their sleep timings.
In his book The Shallows – What the internet is doing to our brains, Pulitzer Prize winning author Nicolas G. Carr wrote: Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, the circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart.
There’s now plenty of evidence that smartphone use causes ‘Digital Amnesia’. When cyber security company Kaspersky conducted a survey of 6,000 mobile phone users, it found that 71 per cent of them couldn’t remember the phone numbers of their children and 87 per cent were unable to recollect the phone numbers of their children’s schools.
In Kaspersky’s 2015 study, 34% of European consumers admitted that their smartphone is their memory, as it contains almost everything they need to know or recall. The latest study takes this further, with a third (32%) of people admitting their digital devices are like an extension of their brain.
Over three-quarters (79%) of respondents to the Kaspersky study are now more reliant on their digital devices for accessing information than five years ago. Perhaps this is why most consumers in the US (74%), the UK (61%), and India (57%) say they would rather lose their phones than their wallets!
Humans are social creatures who need the physical companionship of other people to be happy and to thrive in life. According to a May 2014 Stanford Medicine study, Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection, social connection improves physical health and mental and emotional well-being. There’s evidence that strong social in-person connections lead to a 50% increase in longevity, a strengthening of the immune system, the aiding of recovery from disease, lowering of the rate of depression and anxiety, the increase of self-esteem, provision of better emotion regulation skills…and maybe even the lengthening of life.
If you doubt how badly humans need social connection, consider this. The Geneva Convention forbids the isolation of prisoners. Even at Abu Ghraib in Iraq where prisoners were sexually humiliated and physically abused, the jailers had to seek the permission of the commanding general to keep a person in isolation for more than 30 days.
FOMO and feelings of inadequacy
On social media, even when you suspect what you’re seeing probably isn’t reality, another part of your brain is thinking I must be missing out!
The idea they might be missing out is enough to trigger sufficient anxiety in some people that they feel compelled to look at their phones every few minutes to check for updates and alerts. But if a person is doing this while their driving, or when they should be sleeping, they have a real problem and should probably seek help.
The more time you spend looking at a screen, the less time you spend interacting in person with others. This makes it more difficult to establish real interpersonal connections and strong relationships and as we’ve seen, both these can greatly increase your health and happiness.
Narcissism and self-absorption
In Greek mythology Narcissus was the beautiful young man whose punishment from the gods for rejecting all romantic advances was to fall in love with his own reflection. For the rest of his life, he sat staring at his reflection in a pool unable to leave. On one level this is a warning about vanity. On another it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of isolation; for the true cruelty of his punishment was to be confined alone, completely away from other human beings.
Social media is a natural home-from-home for the narcissistic and self-absorbed of the world. Look at all the selfies shot at deceptive angles to make average looking people appear super-attractive as they project an idealised version of themselves into cyberspace. Or the Facebook feeds showing people seeming to have more fun than they really are, at the same time competing against each other for followers, likes, retweets or favourites.
In psychology, Narcissism is a person in love with an idealised, grandiose picture of themselves. This allows them to avoid their deep feelings of insecurity by developing various dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours. Narcissists are extremely resistant to changing their behaviour, tending to blame others for their problems. They react badly to the slightest criticism as they see it as a personal attack. Once you know how to spot a narcissist, you can protect yourself from their power plays.
Feelings of inadequacy over your appearance (Body Dysmorphia)
Even when you’ve worked out that many of the images of other people on your social media feeds have been airbrushed to perfection, or carefully curated to project happiness and success, endlessly viewing them can still make you feel envious and dissatisfied.
Viewing those images, it’s sometimes easy to forget there’s more to being a human than just the way someone looks or dresses. After all, a person’s looks are inherited at birth and even if a person is fortunate enough to have been born beautiful, one day that beauty will fade.
But what remains until a person draws their last breath is their inner beauty, consisting of their behaviour, attitudes, and kindness. These are very rarely visible in just a picture of someone, but it’s something we can all develop – but only if we’re around other people in person.
Depression, anxiety and isolation
A 2018 study by the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania found that teens who use social media heavily are three times as likely to feel socially isolated as those who don’t. This can cause a teen to feel even more alone than before, leading to lower self-confidence and the motivation to engage in real social interactions.
Meanwhile a University of Pennsylvania study strongly suggests that limiting a person’s exposure to social media to about 30 minutes a day may lead to significant improvement to their wellbeing.
In the same study, self-reported Facebook and Instagram usage have been found to correlate positively with symptoms of depression, both directly and indirectly. Higher Facebook usage has been found to be associated with lower self-esteem cross- sectionally, as well as greater loneliness. And a higher use of Instagram is correlated with body image issues.
In a large population-based study referenced in the same University of Pennsylvania study, renowned US psychologist and author Jean Twenge and colleagues found that time spent on screen activities was signiﬁcantly correlated with more depressive symptoms, and even risk of suicide-related outcomes, especially in girls.
According to Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Dr Ray Kotwicki, “Edited and photoshopped posts paint pictures of perfect lives of people who are imperfect. It’s tempting to begin comparing oneself to these ideals, establishing a sense of unworthiness or failure. In this way, immersion in the scrubbed virtual world of social media can lead people to feeling inadequate, depressed, and anxious that they are not as fabulous as their peers.”
Here are the key cyberbullying statistics from the US courtesy of dataprot.net:
• 90% of teens in the US believe cyber harassment is a problem
• 15% of young cyberbullying victims would prefer to keep the issue a secret
• Students are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide if they have been cyberbullied
• 80% of teens say that others cyberbully because they think it is funny
• 37% of bullying victims develop social anxiety
• 59% of US teenagers have experienced bullying or harassment online
• 14.5% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been cyberbullied
• 66.3% of tweens tried to help the victim of cyberbullying
In the UK, 27% of those who experience bullying specified that the type they experienced was Cyber bullying, according to anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label. The charity acts as an older sibling to any young person struggling with issues from bullying, mental health, depression, online abuse, and anxiety. When the charity asked about loneliness, a quarter of the young people they surveyed reported that they feel lonely all the time. A sad irony in a society that is apparently “more connected than ever before”.
Across the UK, almost 1 in every 5 children aged 10-15 experience cyber bullying, equating to around 764,000 children. Furthermore, the most common method of online bullying was nasty messaging, being sworn at and being called names, with 10% of all children in the UK experiencing this.
Social media and social delusion
Haliz Rahman, is the Founder of internet advisory company Everys.com. He says the more time people spend on social media, the more time they spend alone. He goes on to say, “people can think they have real-life fans but what’s really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame”.
On social media many people, especially young people, can fool themselves into thinking they have thousands of friends or followers. They can believe this because of the amount of comments, likes, or favourites they collect. They can block those they dislike, ‘poke’ others and generally inflate their self-esteem. If they post something on social media, it’s easy for the young to believe they are somehow changing the world. For a brief while they can feel pleased with themselves as they briefly become the centre of attention. But sooner or later reality returns and the bubble bursts.
Certainty and Homophily
In Charles Darwin’s book The Descent of Man he writes “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.
Homophily is the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others, as in the proverb “birds of a feather flock together.”
Human beings are naturally tribal. We are loyal to those we identify with, and they become our ‘in-group’. There’s a serious downside to groups of people with similar opinions deliberating an issue, especially online. In the words of Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School, it appears to “move them toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own pre-deliberation judgments”. In other words, when people hear their own opinions reflected back at them, it reinforces and causes a belief in the universal acceptance of those opinions. The result is an echo chamber – and social media has become a battleground of echo chambers.
While social media succeeds in connecting us to like-minded people, it fails dismally when it comes to connecting us to people with a different view.
And then of course, what you see and read on social media isn’t always true or even real.
Distraction, addiction and the inability to cope
Social media is extremely engaging, which makes it distracting too. In social psychologist Kenneth Gergen’s 1991 book, The Saturated Self, he warned of an Orwellian world where technology might saturate human beings to the point where they are pulled in so many directions that they become lost. “I am linked therefore I am,” he famously said, playing on Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” Little did Gergen know how dead-on his prediction would be.
30 years later we might wonder whether our followers on Facebook really are friends, or whether the unproductive hours we spend on social media looking at other people’s profiles would not have been better spent in getting to know ourselves better – or in developing genuine new friendships.
Social networks are extremely engaging and both psychologically and physically addicting. This is because, as we saw earlier, they are driven by FOMO (the fear of missing out) and Dopamine (the hormone associated with pleasurable sensations).
Addiction to social media looks much like any other substance addiction. The sufferer’s mood is modified favourably when on social media and their need to be on it increases over time. They suffer withdrawal symptoms when access is prevented or stopped. They get into conflict in the form of interpersonal problems with family and friends, and they relapse after abstinences. Neuroscientists have compared interaction with social media to a shot of dopamine being injected straight into the user’s system. In fact, social networking sites light up the same part of the brain that ignites when taking an addictive substance, so users feel pleasure as they receive likes, retweets, and favourable emoticons.
Social media use becomes problematic when a person views it as an important coping mechanism to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression. Indeed, these networking sites provide the person with the continuous small rewards they’re not receiving in real life.
Continuous and excessive use eventually leads to interpersonal problems as the sufferer ignores real life relationships and work or school responsibilities.
You don’t have to give up your smartphone or stop using social media altogether, but there are all kinds of things you can do to prevent or improve the issues described above. To find out more please Click Here