Imagine that you’re sitting at home all alone on a gloomy November evening, doing nothing significant or exciting. Boredom makes you check your social media accounts to find out what is going on in the “real” world. It turns out that an acquaintance from primary school who’s always been plump is showing off her bikini-ready body, that skinny bitch. A friend from college has just become a father, congrats! Somebody is posting images directly from a beach in Thailand, yay! Another friend of yours has just finished a marathon.
All that happened while you were just sitting at home with your tablet, sipping tea and relaxing. You have realized you have nothing worth sharing with the world. A couple of minutes before you actually were enjoying your evening. Now you’re feeling your life really sucks, whereas everybody else is having a great time, making lots of money, and visiting exotic destinations… Sounds familiar?
Before I became a blogger, as an introvert raised in a social-media-free environment, I didn’t feel the urge to use many social media. I only had a Facebook account, where I would share or post interesting articles found on the web, mostly psychology, sociology, politics, and humor. I am writing this today because I have just set up a Tumblr account and got upset because no one wanted to follow me or like my stuff. I am also posting things on Twitter, but my tweets seem to pass completely unnoticed… What am I doing wrong? Nobody likes my tweets, nobody shares my stuff, nobody follows my account.
Humans as social animals have the need to belong to some community. Social media give an illusion of acceptance, recognition of one’s achievements, belonging to a group. The superficiality of human interaction in social media may be truly depressing. To me, it is.
After a day spent between Facebook and Twitter I am just like this sad pug…
Can Social Media Cause Depression?
Even though there is no clear answer to this question, overuse of social media certainly does affect people’s moods in a rather negative way. Here is what I find most depressive about social media.
After a whole day of jumping from one tab to another, you feel tired and guilty at the same time. It’s now what you would call a day well spent. Pretending to be doing something and engaging in meaningless activities to postpone what you actually should be doing instead only increases the sense of guilt and worthlessness. Social media are like drugs. They may give a moment of relief making us forget about the unpleasant things pending, but afterwards, when the unended tasks pile up, life gets even more stressful.
Social media will never be able to substitute normal human interaction because the only sense involved is sight. You don’t have access to other facial expressions, voice pitch, intonation, and so on. How do I know what the person thinks if I have no access to the information that speech and body language convey? How do I know if somebody means what he says? Emoticons will never express the variety of human emotions, so it is very difficult to read one’s intentions between the lines. It’s okay to use social media to stay in touch, but even calling on the phone or Skype is better than just writing on the Facebook chat.
The fact that your new profile photo got only 3 likes may not be enough to wish you were dead if you’re not a teenager anymore, but for those with low self-esteem it may actually ruin a day. Facebook and Instagram are filled with stunningly beautiful girls and handsome men who show off their successful lives. Have you ever seen any of those people upload a more realistic selfie of a girl crying her eyes out? I doubt it. By comparing your miserable existence to the apparently satisfying and exciting lives of your so-called friends you make your self-esteem plummet.
Intimacy no longer exists on social media. There is no place for deep conversations, authentic emotions, or more spontaneous thoughts. All you see is fake smiles of purposely crafted personas who share only the good things for others to be envious. Also, upon elaborating and re-editing of our thoughts or “statuses” we lose authenticity as human beings. The possibility to rethink and delete posts prevents us from showing our vulnerable side, which is substantial for bonding and emotional closeness. In real life what was said cannot be “unsaid”. Allowing someone to see you embarrassed makes you more human. Here is the great Internet paradox: in a world in which communication is easier than ever before, people feel terribly lonely.
Some Final Thoughts & My Advice
Relation of the social media use to depression and anxiety is not so straightforward. Can social media cause depression? A recent study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh shows that there is a visible relationship, but it isn’t clear whether social media cause depression, or whether depressed people tend to use social media as a kind of a reliever, or a way to avoid direct contact and fill in the void. Or both, which makes it a vicious circle. The scientists found out that young adults who spent more time using social media were more likely to develop depression, or had “higher indicators of depression”.
I think it works both ways. Social media cause depression, but also provide to those suffering from social anxiety a chance to communicate their feelings to the world and find people who think alike.
Choose wisely whom to follow. You can always unfollow those who make you feel worse, or at leas make them disappear from your wall. I did that to my annoying Facebook friends, and suddenly Facebook became the most dull place on the web with nothing interesting going on. It doesn’t make me feel bad. Frankly speaking, I very seldom use it because the feed provides little exciting stuff.
Give preference to inspiring things over the depressive ones. It is you who chooses the content you want to see on your wall. Inspiring quotes will make you feel much better than black and white images of self-harm posted by a depressed teenager.
Remember that social media are not reality. Facebook is but a life marketing, and reality is what you have outside your window. Everybody’s life is a sequence of ups and downs, but people share on social media mostly the moments worth remembering. One may still have an interesting social life and not be informing half a world about it.
Value direct contact over virtual contact. It’s natural to be curious about lives of others, but remember that Facebook has nothing to do with reality. It’s a just a cautiously crafted vision of an ideal life. Whenever you can, propose a face-to-face meeting, or talk on the phone, which is still much better than chatting on Facebook.