By Raeanne Mullet
You use it as a distraction when you should be writing that five-page paper that’s due tomorrow. You use it to avoid awkward situations. You use it to feel connected to everyone else, and if you aren’t using it you might be experiencing Fear of Missing Out. Social media consumes a lot of our time, and we would feel lost without it. But did you know that it could actually have negative psychological effects?
Social media is “any media that facilitates interaction via an electronic channel from one to one, or one to many,” according to Kyle Moody, a Communications professor at Fitchburg State University. “Something like Facebook, something like Twitter, something like YouTube, something like Reddit, any one of those facilitates socialization via mediated communication that involves interaction with another person or number of people.”
Social media can have psychological effects on us the more that we use it. “It makes people believe that they might be missing out,” Moody said. “I’m sure you’ve heard of FoMO (Fear of Missing Out). So that fear of missing out is exacerbated by the presentation of the ideal self that most people engage with on social media. Most of us engage in an over-selection of positivity and positive traits to reflect an ideal mediated self. If you don’t have that in your life, and if you don’t feel like you are engaging with society or with yourself in a positive way, this overexposure to possibly fake hyperbolic positivity will make you feel inversely awful and will make you feel like you’re not accomplishing as much. Fear of missing out isn’t just because you see people doing a cool thing, it’s because it’s directly related to this idea of that we’re social creatures and if other people are being more social than us, why are we not necessarily engaged? So it can lead to negative self-reflection in that sense.”
Although obsessive social media usage can have negative side effects, Moody doesn’t suggest a social media detox. “It’s about time management,” Moody said. “It’s just that social media, for many people, are easy channels to access. It’s not about you needing to detox so much as you saying ‘Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time on these sites’ and should really, again, have a purpose behind it, which is not easy at 18, 20, 30.” Moderation and being aware of your social media usage can help you with not being too caught up with what’s happening online. “Something that might be better is surfing with a purpose, or communicating with a purpose, which is always hard to do,” Moody said. “I like it as an exploratory medium, but I think that people can get lost in the exploratory stage and not necessarily have a reason for surfing.”
Believe it or not, social media actually contributes to society. “I think that it contributes to our lexicon,” Moody said. “It contributes to our understanding of humanity and it’s flattened our world in a unique way so that anybody with access can now reach out across communities and talk to people they wouldn’t have spoken to before. We are maybe a more open society thanks to social media and social networks. Those are places that we can engage in uncomfortable discussion and we’re seeing significant changes too. Would we have seen the confederate flag be taken down from state houses without an influx of social media? I’m not necessarily sure, but I do believe that it contributes in some ways.”