Overload: The Impact of Social Media & The Internet On The Emotional Health Of American Society

The concept is not necessarily new or groundbreaking, but the rise in social media use, also known as “screen time” has demonstrated a definite impact on the mental and emotional health of Americans. The scientific study data is mounting to confirm this daunting trend.

The harmful effects of screen time in excess are being documented as the underlying cause of insomnia, anxiety, and depression. The blue light given off by screens causes eye strain, neck strain, and sleep deprivation. A recent medical study also concluded that the prolonged use of devices and tablets that give off this blue light causes damage to the retina.

The messaging that an average person is bombarded with daily is becoming increasingly obtrusive. The other common emotion is that people feel like they are going to “miss out” on something if they are not constantly on Twitter or Instagram.

The commonly misunderstood aspect of social media overall is that most of the communication being done is idealized, it is “stage hand” so people present the “best” version of themselves – being happy or without a worry in the world or that they have “perfect families or the perfect life”. This version eventually gets other people making constant comparisons to their own lives.
Many people then question why their lives are not “perfect” or “fun” like their contacts on social media present to the world. This leads to depression and anxiety. This leads to many people being further consumed by social media, like the fuel to the fire, as the saying goes.

The unfortunate component to social media overload is that very often those who are impacted do not realize it until it is too late. The fact that so many of our jobs or our side jobs require a presence on social media to carry out obligations of those occupations sets up a slippery slope for many people.

The expectation by a supervisor, manager, or director that we support the work of the company or organization through promotion on social media has blurred the lines of the boundaries even further. This can also be an issue with volunteer work, which in the past was a safe haven from the pressures of your “real job” and now very often these organizations are asking volunteers to “follow”, “like”, and “retweet” their social media marketing to improve their reach/frequency numbers.

The side job or main job being a freelance or independent contractor type situation is also becoming more prevalent, furthering the social media overload. The current percentage of the U.S. workforce that identifies as a freelancer is 30% of the total domestic workforce.

In a recent study on the American workforce, the Department of Labor predicted that 50% of all jobs in the U.S. by the year 2030 will be freelance/independent businesses. That increase is generated by the relative ease that the technology behind creating a website and social media profile has provided to the average person with no tech background.

The emergence of dedicated social media pages as “business pages” or “business profiles” has furthered the reliance on people being attached to their phones or devices. This increased screen time has an impact on parent/child relationships, marital relationships, and sibling interaction.

The heavy usage of social media can be, and has been, determined as an addiction for some Americans. It can cause emotional mood swings because of the constant human tendency to measure ourselves against how others are portraying themselves on social media, leading to constant feelings of inadequacy or unfulfillment.

This overuse of social media has stemmed a trend of “device free” dinner times for families, or the trend of “device free” time for couples when they get home from work or plan an evening out together. That is an indication of how far out of control this situation has become.

The recent studies by several reputable animal health journals and universities centered on the impact of social media use and pets, most specifically dogs. The pets in the studies were impacted, but dogs were found to be the most severely negatively impacted by their owner’s use of social media.

The studies found that when the pet owner spent several uninterrupted hours of social media “screen time” instead of playing with the dog, this was linked to increased rates of depression in dogs. Dogs, more than other pets, are reliant on time with their owner or human family members for play, love, and emotional support. Dogs have been scientifically proven to provide unconditional love to their human family. This loss of interactive time with their owner or family causes the dog to take on the same traits of a depressed human, which can lead to severe health problems for the dog.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania shows a direct link between the use of social media and an increase in loneliness and depression in Americans. The more time the subjects spent on the various forms of social media, their loneliness increased. That increased screen time has also damaged whatever friendships or close relationships that they had prior to the study.

In fact, there is a post going throughout social media that goes along the lines of social media being great for keeping up with people you have not seen in years, yet farther apart from the people closest to you. That great conundrum inherent in social media overload is a trend that will have increased societal implications in the years ahead.

Some countries have pushed back against the grain by banning the use of devices during school hours. Moreover, some countries have banned access to social media outlets completely. This debate will be fueled for many years to come.

The United States has seen the screen time changes play out in school districts and in a piece for the New York Times, the explanation was clarified that in many cases it was easier for the students to adapt to the “all or nothing approach”. It was better for the student to have zero screen time than an abbreviated amount of screen time. It also made the policy easier to enforce.

The impact of cyber-bullying is also of increased concern when it comes to social media use and increased screen time. The widespread nature of bullying going from the classroom to the internet is a tremendous problem for many students from grammar school through college.

Additionally, there is the threat of fake profiles that strangers put up on social media sites to meet people and the many dangers that are associated with those types of interactions. The countless news stories are evidence of this alarming pattern of activity where people have caused harm to another person or kidnapped a child through a “relationship” developed on social media.

In conclusion, the effects of excessive screen time in front of a smart phone, tablet, or other device are being documented as increasingly harmful to an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health. The amount of neck, shoulder and back injuries as well as the eye problems that increased time staring at these devices can cause is also being documented.

The extreme attachment that people have to their smart phones and other devices today has become an epidemic. It causes increased amounts of anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy in children and adults alike. This increased reliance on screen time has become detrimental to family relationships, friendships, pets, and others.

It is time to put some restrictions on this overload of screen time by putting down your phone or device and spending time with those around you, by meeting up with a friend, or playing with your dog. Your outlook will improve and your life will be more fulfilled if you can successfully implement this “device free” time into daily routine.

(Some background and statistics courtesy of University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, New York Times, Washington Post, and New England Journal of Medicine)

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