Smartphones are the center of everything that defines our modern daily lives and the way that we communicate with one another. Whether it be through communication, our consumption of entertainment, or the new ways we gain information; our lives have been forever changed by the unique qualities that smartphones provide us with. In fact, smartphones, and social media by extension have become so synonymous with our lives that many of us can no longer imagine living without these devices in the palm of our hands at all times. This has led to some concern with some researchers claiming that overuse in smartphones has caused a severe uptick in depression and anxiety. With it being such a major part of our life, could our reliance on smartphones be having a negative effect on our mental health and causing us to be the victim of an addiction that is beyond our control?

According to researcher Dr. Jean Twenge, smartphones have been the single largest contributor to a rising rate of depression amongst teens and young adults. Twenge published her findings in the aptly-titled, ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?’ in the September 2017 edition of The Atlantic magazine. In the article, Twenge claims that social media, and its easy access through smartphones, have been the largest contributors to anxiety amongst teens, which leads to loneliness and insecurity. In some serious cases, Twenge believes that teens who use social media for more than three hours a day were more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, making children born between 1995-2012 the most at-risk generation yet. Twenge believes that the biggest cause of this is due to the perception of unreality that social media feeds to its users.

Sad young girl
The affects of social media usage.

Living in the age in which we document each of our activities online, browsing through social media can have its implications on our mental health. Twenge claims that because the nature of social media encourages users to broadcast the most fascinating and exciting elements of one’s activities, these postings create an unrealistic perspective of the lives of those we are connected with. While falling into the trap of looking at someone else’s far more exciting life, we begin to feel unsatisfied about our own. We become increasingly unaware that what we perceive are far from reality. In other words, the view seen through social media becomes unrealistic and is causing a negative implication on our mental health as a result.

When it came time to take upon a topic for my Integration Project, a project that is required of TAV College students completing the Arts, Letters, and Communication program, I decided to dedicate it to uncovering the effects that these devices, as well as social media platforms are having on our long-term health. Of course, I couldn’t approach the subject without reflecting upon myself and so I set out to document the ways that social media was influencing my life, my mental health state and, not to mention, my productivity. Needless to say, it was difficult to get through one single project without picking up my phone to answer messages or scroll through Instagram. Altogether, I noted that I spent over two and a half hours on social media each day, between checking my phone to view messages and comments or even just to scroll through my feed. Not only was this a detrimental blow to my productivity but it was evident that an overabundance of social media was negatively impacting the viewpoint of my own life and that something needed to be done about it. It was at this time that I decided to pursue a challenge that would see me quitting social media altogether, for as long as possible. The only problem? I was just as addicted to my device as Dr. Jean Twenge suggested in her findings.

It was evident that staying off my device was going to be a challenge and it was one I failed at miserably. It would be difficult to make it through the day without scrolling through my Instagram feed to check what I’ve missed out on in the world, since I last checked. However, I began to pay closer attention to how I perceived the world that was showcased through Instagram or Facebook, which almost always exclusively shows the positive, exciting aspects of my friend networks’ lives; As if to show that their life is increasingly more exciting than my own. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t maintain social media as a haven of positivity and connection but many of us find ourselves using social platforms as an effort to gloat about our own exciting activities in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. When we find ourselves on the receiving end of such a message, it dissuades us from being happy about our own lives and accomplishments, in comparison to the brightly-contrasted photos or fake-laughter photos of our friends making it seem like they were caught reacting to the world’s funniest joke on camera.

Even if it remains difficult to assume the challenge of disconnecting from these devices, this approach shined a bright light on how social media truly influences our lives. While it’s easy to suggest and more difficult to take action upon, it’s important to find ways to disconnect from our devices that connect us to the ones around us. More importantly, it’s important to remember that while our devices may offer the ability to connect us closer to our friends and family, the perception and the reality is never quite the same.

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