When was the last time you have seen a group of teenagers chatting lively with each other on their way to or from school? Chances are, that not too often when compared to seeing them walk by individually, with a hunch on their backs, eyes focused on the glowing screen in their hands. The technological revolution of the 21st century brought about a surge in interpersonal communications through the use of computers, smartphones, and the Internet. People became capable of connecting with one another thousands of miles away at nearly any given time. Children born in Generation Z and raised with hyperawareness in the use of gadgets became the primary recipients of social media and communications technology.
The effects of widespread communication on youth is a matter of debate, however. The popular stereotypes claim that smartphones and online communication lack the same level of connection between individuals, resulting in the atomization of society and the shrinking of social circles for young people. However, there are more positive and negative sides to the debate. The use of social media suggests a higher interconnectedness with peers, greater political and social involvement with events happening in the country and the world while at the same time opening the doors towards cyberbullying, anxiety, and RL (real-life) isolation from friends and family. Social media can be a useful tool in improving one’s life and social relationships, but its overuse can easily become a frivolity leading to degradation of social skills and mental stability.
Background of the Issue
Social media as a type of communication first appeared in the 1980s-1990s, with the popularization of the first personal computers produced by IBM. The first social media outlets were the Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), which were typically used by hobbyists and reclusive individuals with access to the telephone-wire Internet (Campbell et al. 22). Because such access was very limited and restricted by financial barriers (a personal computer could cost up to 2,000 dollars at the time), the phenomenon of social media usage was not very widespread, with the communities being very tight-knit and small in number.
The first boom of social media came in the late 1990s-early 2000s, where the production of computers was made cheaper and more widespread with the rise of Microsoft, Windows, and associated services (Campbell et al. 24). The appearance of greater numbers of users surfing the Internet increased the demand for interconnection. One of the first new-wave social media sites was Classmates.com, a site that allowed many former classmates to find one another (Campbell et al. 25). The service became popular and acquired hundreds of thousands of subscribers. However, the reach of social media, while expanding significantly, was still limited by the fact that users could not take their computers with them. In order to surf the media, one had to remain at home, stationary. Future giants of social media, such as Facebook, Friendster, and others, appeared around the same time period but were facing the same restrictions as their competitors.
The true expansion of social media happened after 2007 when the personal computer market reached saturation, and the new developments in the area of smartphones and the mobile Internet revealed the untapped potential of dual users (Campbell et al. 28). The number of applicants for platforms such as Facebook, Tweeter, and Instagram, all of which provided the capability to quickly share thoughts, pictures, and emotions to large groups of people, claimed millions of users. The Chinese segment of the internet developed its analogous platforms, such as WeChat, which has an audience comparable to any of the western social media supergiant. In 2019, over 2.71 billion people on Earth owned and actively used their social media accounts (Campbell et al. 30). These numbers are growing, meaning that the influence of the media on human communication is only going to grow.
The Effects of Social Media: Different Opinions
The opinion that social media is overused and possibly dangerous from a socio-psychological perspective is largely sustained by parents, teachers, and a good portion of the scientific community. The emphasis is on the overuse of social media by spending numerous hours a day browsing pages and sending meaningless messages to one another. Cookingham and Ginny have found that the overuse of the Internet and social media in particular results in low self-esteem and risky behaviors (5). These behaviors include overindulgence in alcohol, the predisposition towards drugs, peer pressure, and susceptibility to cyberbullying. Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that social media, if unsupervised, can lead to significant psychological issues for teenagers and adolescents (Cookingham & Ginny 5).
Teenagers often lack self-control about their impulses and actions, and the compulsive use of social media further exacerbates these negative qualities. A study by Hou et al. shows the mechanisms of such developments (4). The use of social media platforms like WeChat externalizes locus of control outside of a student’s reach, thus increasing the use of online interactions for self-gratification, which reduces the amount of time available for social activities. As a result, the student feels isolated and is encouraged to use social media even more. It creates a cycle, which places the teenager’s independence on online social interaction (Hou et al. 5).
The emphasis on a lack of actual physical interactions between people is made in connection with mental and emotional stability. Twenge et al. found a relationship between the increased use of social media, loneliness, and depression (1893). According to their findings, the prolonged reliance on social media slowly pushes out regular contacts due to the fact online messaging requires less effort and is more readily available – one does not need to travel in order to meet up with others (Twenge et al. 1894). However, the human psyche intrinsically requires a source of human contact, an absence of which can result in depression and touch-starvation. Therefore, the line of development goes as follows: Overuse of social media leads to physical loneliness, which in turn causes depression.
There is a contradictory view in that regard, stating that social media is a vessel that enhances social interaction and promotes cooperation between different individuals. Research by Bae found that social media is an excellent tool for enhancing social capital among teenagers (94). This premise makes sense, as the Internet allows people to meet and talk to one another even when they are not within the vicinity of one another. This ability makes it possible for adolescents to find friends in different parts of the country and even the world while relying on their network to improve social, economic, and employment opportunities.
Another important point is made in terms of building confidence and credibility through the use of social media. Essentially, it is a manner of self-publicizing, which can be used not only to create a familiarity with self-presentation but also to find new friends and share one’s views with the outside world (Metzler and Scheithauer 12). Thus, it makes even an unsocial person capable of communicating with others online, which is a mode of communication increasingly frequent in the modern global economy, which connects its employees through chats and videoconferences. The main push behind this idea is that in a world of increased online usage, the “overuse” of social media may become the new norm.
The last pro-social media point is its increased use in social engagement, news, and politics. Park reports that modern teenagers feel more connected with the rest of the world and the environment (978). Social media is used to propagate positive messages, bringing attention to poverty, social inequality, and ecological issues (Lee and Horsley 128). The recent popularity of internet idols and bloggers motivates modern teenagers to participate in the usage and sharing of information, creating a notion of citizen journalism. Since multimillion user platforms such as Facebook can be used to share videos, photos, and other materials much quicker than online newspapers or the TV would, modern teenagers can hold governments, institutions, and other figures of authority to a much greater standard of credibility (Lee and Horsley 130).
Analysis and Conclusions
Typically, in an argument, some opinions and have a stronger footing than others, whereas certain notions are born of ignorance and disinformation. In these cases, however, all three opinions have substantial academic support. What is interesting is that they do not contradict one another. The negative effects of social media were largely attributed to its overuse rather than the existence of sites like Facebook and Twitter in general. Similar arguments of reality-warping inventions were made about the use of smartphones, computers, and the Internet in general, claiming that overuse of either of these or replacement of actual social interactions with surrogate online relationships would lead to long-term neurosis, loneliness, depression, and degradation of social skills. At the same time, nobody refutes the power of mass media to move, modulate, and unite thousands of people, allowing for complex democratic processes in society to take place.
Whenever you see a teenager staring into the screen of his or her smartphone, you should not be so quick to judge the person in question, but instead, inquire what are they doing with the advantages bestowed upon them. Smartphones could be used for reading, learning the news, and efficient communication. At the same time, they could be used to idly procrastinate and waste precious moments on pointless picture-sharing. In many cases, teenagers do not know how to use social media to the maximum extent of the system’s capabilities. It can be a powerful tool for self-improvement, interaction, and propelling one’s standing up the social ladder.
To summarize the points made by different sides of the argument regarding social media:
- Is it evil and inherently harmful to teenagers minds? No. In moderation, its harmful psychological effects could be avoided.
- Is it useful in daily lives and long-term development? Yes. A person with no knowledge of how to use social media is arguably more impaired than the one overusing it.
- Should something be done about it? Absolutely. Parents and teachers need to become proactive and teach teenagers not only about the dangers of social media addiction but also about the proper use of them as tools for interaction and information gathering. My concluding remark about the topic is the following: A little bit of poison can be used as a medicine, too much medicine becomes poison.
Bae, Sung-Man. “The Relationship between Smartphone Use for Communication, Social Capital, and Subjective Well-Being in Korean Adolescents: Verification Using Multiple Latent Growth Modeling.” Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 96, 2019, pp. 93-99. Web.
Campbell, Richard, et al. Media Essentials: A Brief Introduction. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018.
Cookingham, Lisa M., and Ginny L. Ryan. “The Impact of Social Media on the Sexual and Social Wellness of Adolescents.” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, vol. 28, no. 1, 2015, pp. 2–5., Web.
Hou, Juan, et al. “Excessive Use of WeChat, Social Interaction, and Locus of Control among College Students in China.” PLoS ONE, vol. 12, no. 8, 2017, pp. 1-18. Web.
Lee, Ah-Ram, and J. Suzanne Horsley. “The Role of Social Media on Positive Youth Development: An Analysis of 4-H Facebook Page and 4-Hers Positive Development.” Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 77, 2017, pp. 127–138., Web.
Metzler, Anna, and Herbert Scheithauer. “The Long-Term Benefits of Positive Self-Presentation via Profile Pictures, Number of Friends and the Initiation of Relationships on Facebook for Adolescents’ Self-Esteem and the Initiation of Offline Relationships.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 2017, pp. 1-15. Web.
Park, Yong Jin. “My Whole World’s in My Palm! The Second-Level Divide of Teenagers’ Mobile Use and Skill.” New Media & Society, vol. 17, no. 6, 2014, pp. 977-995. Web.
Twenge, Jean M., et al. “Less in-Person Social Interaction with Peers among U.S. Adolescents in the 21st Century and Links to Loneliness.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 36, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1892-1913. Web.