Social media has clearly become an omnipresent part of social life in these times, to the point that most people may not even be able to any longer imagine what life was like before these technologies were invented. Social media use, however, has a well-documented dark side by now: people can become addicted to social media, and suffer from a wide range of psychological afflictions as a result. The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to delve into this issue in greater depth.
The essay will begin with a description of metrics regarding the breadth of social media usage. Then, in the fashion of an evidence-based research paper, it will proceed to consider three of the main psychological problems that can emerge from the use of social media: these are addiction, anxiety, and depression. Finally, the essay will reflect on what could perhaps be done in order to help people address these psychological problems that emerge as a result of the regular and prolonged use of social media.
Whether or not you are interested in buying an MLA sample essay on social media, this is a succinct and relevant look at a serious issue in our technological society.
Social media usage metrics
To start with, it is worth noting the fact that worldwide usage of social media has grown truly immense. As Dewey has put the matter:
If Facebook were a country, its population would rival the single most populous country on earth. . . . The site announced that its monthly active users cleared 1.35 billion—roughly equal the population of China, and 9 percent larger than that of India. (paragraph 2)
In other words, about one-fifth of the global population engages with the social media platform Facebook on a regular basis. It would thus not be an exaggeration to say that social media has become a dominant and ubiquitous part of social life within many parts of the contemporary world.
Twitter is another popular social media platform, and this platform reports a total of 232 million regular users. This is admittedly not as impressive as the numbers posted by Facebook, especially if one bears in mind the ratio between Twitter’s total active users and its total registered users:
Twopcharts, a company that has been monitoring Twitter registrations for years tells us that the total number of registered Twitter accounts is currently 883 million. That means 651 million accounts—about four times the number of active Twitter users—have been registered and then been abandoned by their owners” (Edwards, paragraphs 5-6).
Nevertheless, the reported 232 million is still a very large number; and when one considers this in light of Facebook’s numbers as well as the users reported by a wide range of other social media platforms, it becomes clear that social media is a fully integrated part of modern social life, to the point that most people would feel very lost if these media were to suddenly disappear from their lives. This fact, however, opens the doors to the development of potentially serious psychological problems.
Social media and addiction
Sometimes, when one talks about social media use in these times, it is almost easy to forget that one is not talking about a drug, due to the fact that the language used when talking about one is often similar to the language used when talking about the other. There is the problem of addiction, for example. As Elgan has put the matter, for example:
Social networks are massively addictive. Most people I know check and interact with the social sites constantly throughout the day. And they have no idea how much actual time they spend on social media. If you’re a social media addict, and your addiction is getting worse, there’s a reason for that:” namely, that social media companies actively try to make their products and services as addictive as possible. (paragraphs 1-2)
In short, people get hooked on social media, and then they just keep increasingly coming back for more.
Comparing this kind of social media to usage is something more than just a metaphor. As David Foster Wallace has made clear through his novel Infinite Jest, addiction in the modern world can take many forms: there can be addiction to literal drugs, addiction to professional success, and especially addiction to entertainment. That novel was written before the advent of social media, and it is a shame that Wallace is no longer around to provide a commentary on this new social and cultural phenomenon.
What is clear, though, is that an addiction is conceptually when: one becomes so fixated or hooked on a particular activity or substance that it ends up causing real harm to oneself and to one’s general emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. In this context, it is clear that one can, and that many people do, get addicted to social media. It is now worth turning to the connections between social media use and the psychological phenomena of anxiety and depression.
Social media and anxiety
Social media essentially provide platforms through which people look at and comment on each other lives, often at all times and often without any of the social responsibility that one might exert within one’s own physical, everyday life. This is an inherently anxiety-generating situation, insofar as one of the main causes of anxiety is the realization that is one being seen as an object by others, and that one must take care to make the right impression at all times. Of course, this is a dynamic that is a natural part of social interactions in general. However, the dynamic is heightened exponentially on social media platforms, due to the fact not only that one is never entirely sure who is watching one’s performance, but also that it is so easy to make a serious faux pas at any time, and often due to simply technical reasons.
Anxiety.org has also had the following to say about this matter:
Another social anxiety triggered by online media is the fear of missing out; pictures of a party where the user was not invited, or yet another wedding they weren’t able to attend thanks to their grueling work schedule can take a toll on self-esteem, say mental health specialists. (paragraph 4)
Of course, part of the irony here is that the more time that one spends on social media watching other people live, the less time one has to actually generate one’s own new and valuable experiences within the real world. The anxiety produced by the fear of missing out is thus a kind of self-perpetuating snare, since the more time one spends on social media cultivating this fear, the more likely one actually is to be missing out on actual life. This kind of downward spiral is also characteristic of all forms of addiction; and this kind of anxiety thus provides good evidence that it is legitimate to speak about fixation to social media as a very real form of addiction.
Social media and depression
Extended use of social media is also known to cause depression in users. To a large extent, this is because people on social media have a tendency to compare the images of other people’s lives—almost always positive, due to the natural dynamics of self-presentation—to the messy, often less-than-perfect nature of their own realities. This comparison produces depression, since social media users begin to believe that everyone else is much happier and having much more fun than they are (see Konnikova). Of course, there is a deep fallacy present here: namely, that everyone else is doing the same thing, which results in a mutually perpetuating delusion of false happiness and fun.
It is an epistemological mistake to compare images to realities; rather, it is obvious that images should be compared to images, and realities to realities. However, this is exactly the kind of cognitive delusion that social media is exceptionally good at promoting. And insofar as one is immersed in social media at all times, one will become increasingly incapable of keeping a frame of reference that enables one to view reality in a more objective way.
This leads into the more general sociological and phenomenological point that social media often degenerates into a dance of images and words within the context of a purely abstracted space—a space that becomes increasingly dissociated from the actual world in which people live and act within their bodies. As Agbisit has pointed out, this raises serious questions about what real and meaningful action may consist of within the context of the contemporary world.
This is related to the problem of depression, insofar as one of the key features of depression is the sense that it is impossible to act to change or improve one’s life—that due to either psychological or emotional or sociological factors, one is trapped within one’s situation, and that nothing can be done about this state of affairs. Insofar as social media has a tendency to catalyze this kind of passive and abstracted state of consciousness, it is easy to see how it can be implicated as a serious cause of depression among users.
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Reflection on solutions
Thus far, the point has been made that the way that many people use social media is reflective of the phenomenon of addiction in not just a metaphorical but rather in a fully literal way. That is, people use social media in a pattern that is marked by them becoming increasingly hooked to the platforms, to the point that they check the platforms almost perpetually over the course of their days; and this use can produce negative psychological consequences, including anxiety and depression. In this context, the obvious recommendation that could be made is that people should cut back on their social media use, or at the very least become more mindful of their usage of social media and monitor the distinction between social media interactions on the one hand and real life interactions on the other.
Of course, this is easier said than done, given the very nature of addiction: one can intellectually or conceptually know what needs to be done, while nevertheless lacking the will or desire to actually make the solution happen (see Wallace). Among other things, the fact that people are becoming increasingly invested in social media would seem to be indicative of the growing poverty of actual social experiences within the real, physical world. That is, if people felt a greater sense of community or belongingness over the course of their everyday lives, then they would perhaps be less likely to addictively look to social media for their “fix” in this regard.
Moreover, it is worth pointing out that the kinds of virtual interactions that characterize social media are strongly antithetical to human nature from an evolutionary biological perspective: people have always interacted with each other through the media of their bodies, within the context of small groups and communities. Seen from this angle, it is not surprising that social media usage can produce a host of negative psychological consequences: perhaps this is simply because the human brain is not really wired for this kind of interaction to become the foremost way of people socially relating to each other.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of social media addictions and afflictions. After describing the prevalence of social media usage within the modern world, the essay proceeded to consider the relationship between social media and the psychological problems of addiction, anxiety, and depression. A key point that has been made here is that it is fair to speak about addiction to social media in a literal and not just merely metaphorical sense. Like all addictions, this specific addiction would seem to exist because it fills some kind of emotional void in the people who have it; and in this case, that void may well consist of a sense of genuine belongingness and community. As a new and fascinating direction for society, this entire issue is well suited to advanced study and would be an excellent choice for a thesis project.
Agbisit, Gian Carla D. “Baudrillard’s Vision of the Postmodern Society and the Hope for Human Action.” Student Pulse 6.3 (2014): 1-4. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. .
Anxiety.org. “Is Your Online Addiction Making You Anxious?” 23 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2016. .
Dewey, Caitlin. “Almost as Many People Use Facebook as Live in the Entire Country of China.” Washington Post. 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 May 2016. entire-country-of-china/>.
Edwards, Jim. “Twitter’s ‘Dark Pool’: IPO Doesn’t Mention 651 Million Users who Abandoned Twitter.” Business Insider. 6 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 May 2016. .
Elgan, Mike. “Social Media Addiction Is a Bigger Problem than You Think.” Computer World. 14 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 May 2016. .
Konnikova, Maria. “How Facebook Makes People Unhappy.” New Yorker. 10 Sep. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. .
Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York: Back Bay Books, 2016. Print.