As a twenty-year-old adolescent, I have a higher demand for socialisation than any other age group. Only recently, when the COVID-19 pandemic has intervened in almost all areas of our daily lives and eventually transformed our social interactions, I have noticed a dark reality of social media. Arguably, social media could be credited for building stronger friendships by changing a shy personality trait into more open by creating a base of loyal audiences online. It could present a valuable opportunity for those who find it challenging to interact freely with their peers; however, my experience is less optimistic. While I spent a lot of time with family and friends in real-life, my average screen time raises the question of concern. Time is the most valuable resource for human beings, and prioritising online connections over real-life ones could create merely an illusion of a fulfilling life. For instance, I spend more than 5 hours on my screen per day; in 5 hours, I could be running the whole marathon or reading a book which will add a new layer to my sociology knowledge.
Ironically social media is made to feel adolescents connected; it enhances the feeling of loneliness by creating a danger of replacing real-life encounters with cliques. Critically, nearly all indicators of loneliness reported in the survey are of the highest incidence among young adults aged 18-34.
Does social media cause loneliness, or is it just that already lonely people are more likely to spend longer on social media networks?
The numerous instances of research indicate that compared with non-lonely adolescents, lonely adolescents are more likely to experiment with their identities online, leveraging the relative anonymity of the internet to learn how to interact with others. Due to the design of anonymity, social media helps lonely adolescents to practise relationship formation skills (eg group chats) and battle shyness by examining how people react to them online.
The motivation for using social media has prominence in group identification, teen’s online behaviour is important as they seek to compensate for the feeling of belonging. In social psychology, the need to belong refers to the motivation to be associated with others and to be accepted by them. A survey of college students indicated a positive relationship between the need to belong and attitude towards social media sites. Arguably, social media can benefit adolescents who are shy, and can assist to come across differently as an online persona. Overcoming the timidity by making connections with peers from school could be appealing to a sense of belonging to the same class community (online via group chats), however it might not always translate into the classroom in real-life. If adolescents are not able to express themselves in real-life context, they will remote to their social media community as a comfort zone. Consequently, social media leads to social isolation by giving out a wrong sense of group participation.
FOMO 'fear of missing out' effect
The collective behaviour plays a vital role in teenagers’ perception of themselves. The peers’ acceptance often determines the social enthusiasm of an individual. The FOMO effect is part of adolescents’ thinking about their role in a social group, it could be defined as a ‘physiological state in which people become anxious that others within their social spheres are living much more interesting and socially desirable lives.’ Adolescents are the most sensitive group to the tendency of feeling rejection than any other age group. The phenomenon of peer rejection is well known to educators, who often regard it as a part of normal social relations.
Social media such as Instagram is designed to post highlights of your virtual life, which is easily accessible to your group of friends and acquaintances. The convenient way to follow your friend’s ‘interesting’ life makes you unconsciously exposed to constantly making comparisons with your social dynamic. Unexceptionally, such comparisons will be at the advantage of the online exposure, because online lives are based around the idea of self-promotion via editing and updating only the positive content on their profiles.
Based on my own experience: the InstaStory is a prime example of how the FOMO effect functions. When my friends post something that showcases them having fun, it provokes a feeling of misery inside me. This feeling is particularly acute when I find myself alone, triggering the thoughts that my life is less ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’. This behaviour is generalised to the wider population among adolescents: increased levels of FOMO were indicative of decreased levels of life satisfaction and general mood. Individuals are at risk of entering the cycle of behaviour in which they seek to reaffirm their self-esteem by spending an increasing amount of time online. It makes adolescents believe that they spend time with benefits in terms of an increased capacity for friendly behaviour.
It appears that asking if we are socially lonely is comparable to asking if eating makes us gain weight. The answer is, of course, it does, but not necessarily. It depends on how much you use it and with what purpose. Excessive social media intake could damage your mental health simultaneously, like too much sugar could cause diabetes. Just as people need education around nutrition, it is essential to introduce education around technology.