The Psychological Cost Of Using Social Media

A lot of us are working, or have worked, from home during quarantine and the lockdowns enforced by governments all over the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. Apart from working remotely and having much more time to ourselves, a lot of us have also increased our use of social media. As evident from online behaviour, people are hopping from one app to the next while displaying their creative skills through posts and statuses, or simply idling. The rise in the use of apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter makes one wonder about this increase's psychological impact on us and how it alters our online behaviour.

While scrolling down my own Facebook newsfeed, I realised that it is not the same as it once used to be like. I remember when I made my Facebook account in 2009, checking Facebook was the last thing I did at night and also the first thing in the morning. However, as new features were introduced with time, I felt that most of the Facebook users tried to vie for the coveted spot of having the most active and "happening" social life. This was displayed through check-ins whilst dining at eateries, travelling to different places and uploading photo albums with family and friends.

We, human beings are social creatures living in a capitalist society. Our sociological conditions inculcate the desire in us to increase and to display our possessions to uplift our self-esteem. This has been made easier in this age of social media. Normally, as an introvert, I don’t like receiving attention, even if it's impersonal. But to compete in this race of proving that I also have a social life, I also often end up posting check-ins and uploading photo albums.

Facebook initially provided a useful forum to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. However, it also spurred waves of being extremely status-conscious: the clothes one’s Facebook friends wear, their vacation diaries, the reputed universities they graduate from and the fancy job titles they hold in big companies directly or indirectly affect one’s conscious or unconscious self. Achievements of people around us make us happy for them but, at the same time, we become extremely cognisant of our own deprivations and failures which leads to the upheaval of our hidden insecurities in life.

When I initially discovered Instagram, I saw no real use or need for it since Facebook already provided the platform to post life updates and share opinions about different things with friends. However, Instagram is a diametrically different ball-game. It is about documenting your life in a more pictorial way, taking less help from words to express ourselves.

Instagram introduced us to the new-age social media nomenclature such as hashtags, stories, filters, boomerangs and influencers. We can find on Instagram a lot of bloggers having their specialties in various fields like lifestyle, beauty, technology and food etc. These bloggers and influencers have thousands of followers and fans who look up to them. Owing to these followers, they have gained a celebrity-like status in today's time which was previously only granted to people performing on screens or off-screen. Instagram influencers and bloggers also perform on screens but today, the kinds of screens are different. The new “screens” are smartphone screens, laptop screens and tablet screens. Today, blogging has opened up a novel income stream for many as well, as plenty of bloggers and influencers earn through their accounts. While there is a lot of free valuable information as a result of this, it also has its repercussions on our psychological selves, leading gradually towards a disenchantment from these bloggers and influencers.

Alongside this new wave of ingenuity in terms of professions and means of earning, there emerged another wave which is the emergence of neo-influential figures on social media. These influencers promote consumerism through paid partnerships with brands that they don’t have to pay for most of the time. Instead, they get remunerated for marketing the utility of products and services by referring to them as 'must-haves'. They make the procurement of products and services look easy and inexpensive, even though they are usually not. Maybe the projection of an “easy-to-grab goods and services” scenario is an important marketing tactic for brands to stay in competition. However, people who are unable to afford these marketed products, even after working hard hours, begin to develop an inferiority complex and low self-esteem due to the hammering of the implicit messages in these advertisements.

We go through a lot of emotions and feelings in our day-to-day lives. Even if people do not fully agree with what we are going through, we still need to let out the lava of thoughts simmering inside us, hoping someone will hear, acknowledge and validate it. This is where Twitter comes into the scene. The fact is that my mind speaks louder and with much more clarity than my mouth and there was a need to put that mind's speech into words which was fulfilled by Twitter.

I observed massive contrast in people’s representation of themselves on Facebook and Instagram, on the one hand, and Twitter, on the other. I have seen people being their genuine, real selves, ranting about very personal stuff on Twitter, but simultaneously being their happy, contented selves on Facebook and Instagram. That's because Facebook and Instagram are somewhat more pictorial, less hinging on words whereas Twitter is all about words and we can express our darker phases better with words than pictures. Or maybe, it's due to the fact that fewer acquaintances are added on Twitter than the other two apps so that there are fewer judgments passed.

On Twitter, nobody unnecessarily shows off about himself or herself. If anything, people actually put their unspoken and undiscussable selves out there. The candidness gives many of us heart that we too can overcome the same problems in our lives which someone else has overcome in his or hers.

Everything on social media is about goals now – hashtags abound, of couple goals, friendship goals, parenting goals, travel goals and career goals, among others. The first cognitive reaction while seeing these kinds of posts from our acquaintances is comparison – we start comparing their life situations with ours without knowing much of their history. There is an implicit, yet nagging, pressure to flaunt one’s worth and social relevance through, say, the number of birthday surprises one gets, funky bridal showers arranged by girls for brides-to-be, and the idealness of one’s family and workplace. What if a person does not reach the standards spelled out in these so-called goals? What if someone’s life isn’t that perfect? Will this social media pressure unknowingly and inadvertently make a person believe in the tyranny of prized possessions which would consequently put that person in depression? Most probably, yes.

It isn’t a secret that people’s reality is not truly reflected on their social media. Very often, behind happy pictures and success stories posted by many people, there are a lot of rejections, a lot of persistence and surely a lot of hard work that one knows nothing about. People mostly see a flower blossoming but don’t see how the roots of that flower developed by enduring so much pain and going through many struggles. It is the pain and struggles which caused that flower to bloom, not the glamour at the end, that one may call success or aspire to as one's goals.

Letting social media pressure affect you psychologically insofar as what you post or do not post – it is a vicious cycle and pushes you far down the rabbit hole. We need only remember that there are no shortcuts. One has to go through a fair share of ordeals to be where one aspires to be. Nobody’s life is perfect; challenges whether big or small exist in everybody’s life that they have to deal with on a daily basis or occasionally. The only difference is that some people choose to share their trials and failures while most of them only paint a rosy picture. It is upon us to perceive and interpret it in a way that it doesn’t overpower us by creating an impasse in the way of living a peaceful life.