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)

Marketing Your Message Through All “The Noise”

The central component for a start-up business, small business, independent contractor, or solo practitioner to be able to master to succeed is marketing your unique message. This is much easier stated than actually executed because of all “the noise” that is present today.

The social media alerts, the networking updates from LinkedIn, texts, “tweets”, and Instagram feeds make it very difficult to differentiate your message from the sea of posts popping up literally every second.

The past five years, while working on messaging as a freelance writer and then in the past 14 months as a Certified Professional Coach, I have learned in a “trial by fire” type of way about messaging. It takes time, patience, constant energy and true thoughtfulness to make it all work.

The best way to build and share that message is to connect in an honest and authentic way. It starts by networking within small groups on social media in a very organic way. That communication and sharing could lead you to start an email list with a newsletter or a link to your blog, or YouTube/ Facebook Live type of posts.

The interaction on social media has shifted from text based to video based messaging, especially over the past six months, which can make your unique central message stand out or get overlooked by an audience that seeks something else.

The most important aspect for the individual business owner or independent contractor to keep in mind is that you are not going to reach everyone. You are not going to be “all things to all people”, and a quick fact here: you do not want to be. The objective should be to have an idea of your target audience: who do you want to reach?

The next step is obviously: how are you going to reach them? You are not going to join a Facebook group for middle aged men if your target audience is 22 – 25-year-old new entrants into the workforce. The key is to find direct avenues to where that audience spends time: Instagram, a YouTube channel, or hosting a Facebook Live event.

The communication that you have with your target audience should be more about teaching than selling. A good general rule of thumb is that people are skeptical of everything and do not like being “sold something”. The more viable pathway is to provide a message that teaches, helps, or inspires your target audience.

The goal of clear communication of your message should provide direct and concrete ways that the other party can benefit from the interaction or from your business services.

In this age of social media updates when somebody eats a cheeseburger, or publishes a book, or takes a vacation. It has invariably become very self-focused, very individualized.
It is in this light that this next point is very important: beware of self-promotion. The social media/online profile of some people I have worked with in the past has had tendencies to go toward the self-promotion route. It is a dangerous point to which there is no going back.

The end result once you get labeled as a self-promoter is very detrimental to your business or your practice, or whatever you are trying to achieve. That does not “play well” with people. It can alienate you from developing a base of followers or a target audience of potential clients.

It is far more positive to share news about your business or your practice by remaining humble and coming from a place of gratitude. This is not only the right way to conduct yourself, but it also helps to foster better and more genuine connections to others in your network.

That ties into my final point on this topic, and that is to build trust and rapport with your target audience. This is done over a period of time. It is done through direct and authentic communication. The old principle that we all learned in Kindergarten: be yourself.

In my experience, going into an interaction with a group of potential clients/customers I have had far more success when I “showed up” as myself. In the instances when I felt like I was not going to get a contract or a writing assignment unless I had different experience, those situations never worked out well.

I have had interactions with people where I went years without asking them for anything. In this way, I built a true relationship and trust with them, and they were far more willing to help me in those situations.

I have learned from those experiences and I resist that sometimes natural human instinct to “go for it” by returning to the person that I am, and presenting my talents and skills: what I can “bring to the table”. In the event that is not enough, well it was not meant to be, and the focus shifts to who I can help and who I can work with in a positive way.

In summary, the best way to communicate a marketing message through “the noise” is to find out where your target audience spends their time to reach them effectively, being okay with the fact that you cannot be “all things to all people”, be clear by getting to the point, teach versus selling something, and build trust with your target audience. I hope that this advice helps you to build your own personal brand and market your message accordingly to reach people in a positive way.

United Airlines: An Exercise in Public Relations Futility

The disastrous handling of an overbooked flight on United Airlines has made national headlines and has devolved into a social media siege against everything having to do with the world’s third largest airline. United sold too many seats for a plane bound for Louisville, and they needed to get four crew members on that plane so that another flight departing from Louisville could proceed as scheduled.

The airline offered money ($800) to any passenger willing to leave on a later flight. The passengers were not motivated by that incentive, and one man, a doctor in Louisville who had patient appointments the next morning refused to leave the back of the plane.

The crew called in the police and the man was “re-accommodated” as United later termed it. The mainstream news reports from witnesses allege that the man was physically dragged from the plane and was seen with blood coming from his face. The reports state that several children aboard became very frightened. The situation is totally inexcusable, and the actions of the airline crew were totally out of line.

Then, United bumbled the whole public relations response to the situation and made a bad incident, worse for themselves. The airline tried to deny the incident, then tried to distort the facts by saying that the passenger “fell” when struggling with police and crew members. They finally, “came clean”, and issued an apology for their role in the incident.

United Airlines, became the source of all types of jokes and negative reactions on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The stock shares of the company have sunk in trading activity on Tuesday, as the public backlash continues and seems to be gaining strength.
There is a public petition signed by over fifty thousand people so far, the petition seeks to launch a federal investigation into what transpired on the Louisville bound plane. The prospect of a federal investigation is never a good thing for a publicly traded company, especially one with a public safety obligation such as a major airline.

United handled this situation and the aftermath of the situation just about as badly as a company could possibly have dealt with such a terrible scenario. The public image of their brand has definitely taken a setback and it is significant enough that it could damage their business outlook for the year.

The other seemingly obvious by product of this debacle is that a lawsuit for damages is most certainly forthcoming by the passenger involved. The financial settlement from the one legal action will not be enough to harm United Airlines, but the negative media coverage of an ongoing, protracted case will hurt their business from a brand image perspective.

The company has been destroyed on social media, with people from all sides taking shots at United and their terrible handling of the situation. In my days of media relations and communications work for companies, the first rule is to get out ahead of the situation before it becomes a story. The best policy is to be honest, admit mistakes were made, and move forward.

The general public, especially Americans, are “second chance” people and they are very willing to give a person or a company another opportunity if something goes wrong and the mistake was admitted. Conversely, they are far less likely to provide that same forgiveness or latitude if the perception is that someone is lying, or trying to cover up the real situation.

This is where United really compromised themselves, they should have just all come clean. They should have been honest, and the police involved are culpable too because that was an outrageous reaction to a situation with a passenger who had not violated any rules and was doing nothing wrong. The passenger was sitting in the spot he paid for, and was removed from the plane, that is huge problem for a consumer based transportation company.

The root of the issue is greed, which is why many people are so upset. In this case, the passengers stated that United could have provided more incentive for them to give up their seats for a later flight. United could have provided a complementary meal or two, or provided a hotel room for the night to lessen the inconvenience caused by the greed driven activity that got them into this mess in the first place: an overbooked plane.

United sold more tickets than they had seats available, which can be a somewhat common practice for airlines, so they are not left with a less than full capacity flight on that particular route. They underestimated the demand, and did little to try to help the passengers that had paid for seats. The four people they asked to move, also held the cheapest tickets on the plane, which many people have now taken issue with that part of the scenario.

United was moving these people to get their own employees on the flight, and in no way could they come out of this situation looking good. They should have issued an immediate apology for the actions taken on that flight and offered to compensate every passenger involved in some way. They did none of those things and are now in a media and social media barrage, and their corporate image is going to be damaged badly.

In the fast paced world of today with everyone having a forum on social media for their opinions, social media relations is a huge component of corporate branding strategy, and an area where United failed in this situation. Their response was not above board and their protocols and procedures for handling oversold planes must be evaluated.

In the end, United Airlines could have made alternative arrangements for getting those four crew members to Louisville. The airlines should reevaluate that component of this situation. The cost of the potential legal settlement coupled with the negative news and consumer perception backlash far exceeds the cost of the solution I had in mind. United should have chartered a private plane to get those employees to Louisville, in the end that would have been far more cost effective, and would not have involved a national media incident.

The United Airlines public relations response in this situation has become a case study: in what not to do when running one of the largest airlines in the world. United will now learn the hard way that honesty is the best policy, and greed never wins.

Collapsing Net: Verizon Swallows Up Yahoo

The news that media/telecom giant Verizon has obtained the core businesses of Yahoo for over $4 billion comes as no surprise. The deal had been in the works and the Verizon executive leadership had been interested and stated that interest for months regarding the potential acquisition of Yahoo.

The component that I think myself and others in the general public have with this deal is two-fold: the huge companies seem to just get even larger, and one of the last big names from the glory days of “the Net” has gone by the wayside.

This news is just further evidence that the world is changing and that the technologies and methods of communicating are shifting away from the traditional ways we had once utilized the internet (email, news sites, blogging) to an even faster paced use of social media sites, instant messaging applications, Instagram, and Snapchat.

In fact, part of the Yahoo business portfolio which was very attractive to Verizon in this transaction was the social media platform called Tumblr (which I have a blog site called “The Write Path”) which will be folded in to the stable of other Verizon owned websites with targeted advertising planned for that millennial demographic which frequents the platform.

Verizon, which purchased AOL previously, will most likely merge Yahoo with AOL in a combination of two former internet powerhouses to compete against Google and Facebook. That being stated, the expectation from Verizon and everyone else with knowledge of that industry is not that Verizon anticipates surpassing those two behemoths, it is the fact that being in that top tier with the amount of advertising dollars floating around is still a great spot to land in.
It is estimated that about one billion users a day visit some portion of the Yahoo family of websites. In my own experience, having written several contributing pieces for Yahoo through their freelance news division, the sites have a network of really devoted users. That was the main driver behind this deal for Verizon: the ability to get that many users looking at their mobile advertising. The number of loyal users for Yahoo properties enabled them to leverage a better deal from Verizon than was initially anticipated.

The other winner out of this deal is the NFL and football fans because Verizon streams games on Sundays and they can expand their reach with Yahoo as the NFL looks to sell streaming rights to their other live game packages. That is going to be an interesting development to watch closely in the coming months.

The demise of Yahoo is sad to me on a personal note because I have been a loyal user on their site since the beginning and have worked for them as a contract writer for a period of time as well. The concept for the company and the brand was very well thought out at one point, for many of us, Yahoo was our introduction to the wide world of the internet and to search engines.

It has now gone the way of so many other companies or brands in America, it has been consolidated by a bigger company. The company changed the way we all did things and it changed our collective lifestyles. It will now evolve into something else as the internet and social media makes a new turn into a new area of which is still yet to be determined. It is the nature of things, but it is still sad to see another iconic brand go away.

The internet has shaped how we get information: news, restaurant reviews, recipes, and stock market reports. It evolved into social media and the next step will probably be one of further customization and networking of people together in a unique platform. It will be interesting to see how Verizon reinvents Yahoo to adjust to those changes in the terrain.

Fear Factor: The Depressing Nature of the News Cycle

The mainstream news media has motivated viewership through fear for a long time now. Those who took any communications courses in college like I did could tell you that the fear driven news cycle is mass media 101 methodology. However, lately I have observed that it is getting worse, the constant litany of news stories consisting of nothing but tragedy, war, violence, murder, and disasters of all types is becoming increasingly common.


The once tried and true strategy of using fear as the motivator for the viewership ratings of news broadcasts and on-line “click counts” may be backfiring. In my own experience I have overheard others discussing the “depressing” nature of the news cycle. I have also been told directly by friends, colleagues, family members, and other associates that the news is “too sad or too upsetting” to watch with regularity.


The fast paced nature of our social media driven society and the plethora of entertainment options as well as the numerous methods we can obtain news related information has a direct correlation to this change in perception of the traditional news media.


The mainstream news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have continued to function in the format habit of drilling the same few stories into the minds of the viewer. Several people have commented to me that they are actually depressed or anxious because of the way those outlets have covered stories such as ISIS, Ebola, and the state of the global economy.


In a world that is seemingly coming apart at the seams, the average person is seeking some comfort and hope. In a world where they get news alerts buzzing into their cell phone or flashing on the screens of their laptop or tablet, they do not need to be reminded that there are some evil people, horrible diseases, or discouraging economic data gripping the international community. They are aware of it, and most average people are seeking an escape from it in larger numbers.


Mass Migration


It is this functional imperative to escape the incessant drone of the negative news cycle that has given rise to the phenomenon of viewership ratings spikes for some other trends in television and media such as reality television, competition shows, and sports related programming.


I know people in my own circles that would not fit the mold of the traditional sports viewer, people who at one point in time watched news programs such as 60 Minutes, 20/20, or Dateline but because of the negative and depressing aspects of the news coverage they no longer watch those programs. Instead, they watch only sports on television particularly live sporting events such as the NFL or the NBA games.


It is no wonder why the ratings for live sporting events are off the charts, some of this viewership activity is a direct result from the news media driving the viewer to find other more uplifting programming choices. Most people are seeking a distraction from the problems and drudgery of everyday life, and the news cycle is only serving to be a constant reminder of the harshness and cruelty of our society.


In some of my own journalism work I have received positive feedback for telling stories that raise awareness of an issue, yet provide hope that our society is capable of better behavior. This is lacking in the coverage of the news in the current cycle format utilized by the major outlets. It is no surprise that the cable networks set up for 24 hour news have seen their overall ratings decline. The lone exception to this rule, Fox News, has seen ratings growth, but it should be noted that it is in demographics where people still watch the news. The younger demographics tend to use the internet or social media to find the news that is of interest to them.


Some of those networks, such as CNN, are embracing a trend in television by announcing the introduction of more original series programming than traditional news broadcasts or talk show format programs. The new concept called “The Wonder List” with veteran newscaster Bill Weir is the latest project approved by CNN in a reorganization of the formatting of the network.


Even the major networks (NBC, ABC, and CBS) have seen changes in the ratings for their news broadcasts and news related programming in primetime. It is all about adaptation and what these networks are learning is that in a time where everything is about customization, the mainstream news broadcast lacks the impact it once had over the viewer.


The advent of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites as outlets for gathering customized news feeds that are relevant to the individual user have phased out the traditional news broadcast. The networks have to figure out a way to relate to the average viewer, particularly the younger viewer, without losing their “bread and butter” demographic: the viewer over the age of 55.


Custom Fit


The customization of “news feeds” tailored to the unique interests of the individual user have become the new standard for the way we gather information via the internet and social media platforms. This custom fit approach allows for the user also to gain insight into non-mainstream issues or news pieces that feature something that is rare in the mass market news: hope.


Our society needs hope now more than ever before, but the mainstream media seems to have disconnected from that entirely and continues to follow the drumbeat of fear and panic in the stories they cover. The constant reminders of the tyrannical and barbaric behaviors of ISIS or the next potential Ebola case in a big metropolitan area such as New York City, are all too upsetting for most viewers at this point.


In fairness, the major networks do feature human interest stories and other pieces which cover more benign topics. They also lend coverage to stories of empowerment or hope in various segments, but these are the exception and not the rule. The ABC evening news broadcast will achieve this by their “Person of the Week” segment and they deliver in a mass appeal piece called “Made in America” a series about American products manufacturing. The CBS evening news broadcast has uplifting features such as “On the Road” where they highlight the contribution of regular Americans doing extraordinary actions.


In addition, I would be remiss if I did not include the success of NBC Nightly News which is the only evening newscast to grow their audience. It is the most watched news broadcast in the U.S. for the past 10 years, according to Nielsen, and NBC averages 9.3 million viewers which is approximately 1 million more than the second place ABC newscast with David Muir. They obviously have determined a way to connect with some key viewer demographics, but the younger generations still gravitate toward other outlets to find the news that matters to them on an individual basis.


The NBC podcast is a good example of taking a traditional format and placing it into a modern technological delivery system. It has helped NBC connect with segments of the public who are non-traditional TV news viewers. I believe those types of innovations will continue in order for the mainstream news media to keep pace with the fast pace of the internet new feeds, providing information available to the public across several platforms.


Next Page


Even the internet news sources are not immune to this backlash by the public over the fear inciting news coverage on their sites. I have overheard people while in waiting rooms at the doctor, while getting my haircut, or waiting in line at a grocery store checkout line express upset feelings over what appears on the internet news.


However, the internet news coverage is different than a traditional live TV newscast for the obvious reason that the user on the internet can just click onto another link and not read a full news story on the Middle East, Korean tensions, or ISIS violence. I call it the “next page” phenomenon, others have different names for it, but the concept is the same: freedom of choice.


I wrote at one point for a large internet based news platform until they disbanded their freelance news contribution area. This organization used to measure not only the “click count” for a respective news story, but also the amount of time the average reader spent on the page. The goal being to avoid the “next page” scenario with the reader. I was fascinated when I would get the monthly reports to find out which stories held the attention of the reader and which pieces did not.


In the end, the executives in charge of media companies have to understand that the American public is generally tired of the continuous stream of upsetting news flooding our televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones. I understand that they have to report on what is happening in the world, and that at some points those stories are not easy to see or to read. They would provide themselves and the public some welcome relief if they started to intersperse some stories of hope and perseverance. Those stories are out there, and they are easier to find than it may seem.



(Statistics and ratings courtesy of Nielsen, demographic data courtesy of TVWire, and some background information courtesy of the Associated Press)