Are Smartphones and Social Media Affecting our Mental Health?

Are Smartphones and Social Media Affecting our Mental Health?

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.

Have We become a Commodity?  A Look at Data Privacy on Social Media

Have We become a Commodity? A Look at Data Privacy on Social Media

There’s an age-old saying that goes; if the product is free, then you are the product. With a never-ending list of free products and applications that regularly rule our lives, from games to social media applications, these apps may not bring a loss to your wallet but they will certainly cost you nonetheless. The only charge associated with it: Your privacy.

In March of 2019, co-founder and CEO of Facebook Inc., Mark Zuckerberg, published a three thousand word essay outlining Facebook’s new plan to prioritize user data and improve the safety of this data in the future. Zuckerberg’s post is likely an attempt at damage control following several scandals of data breaching and instances of data misuse. As a result, Facebook has been at the forefront of controversy for many months but even while Facebook’s stock may have dropped, which also includes the Facebook-owned applications Instagram and WhatsApp, the company remains popular. However, what happens when a major company like this, one that owns more than half the market share of social media and digital communication, violates basic privacy ethics? And, how do we hold them accountable?

These issues may not even come as a surprise to frequent social media users, because the use of our private data is part of what shapes our personal social experiences on these platforms. Social media platforms gather your data to understand your unique consumer behavior, in order to create effective targeted advertising. With this data, social media companies can properly provide advertisers with quantifiable data about consumers for businesses to capitalize upon. Therefore, each and every advertisement that appears in your social media feeds are out there using the very data that you gave over to the company. Factors like this include, your geographical location, your education history, occupation, your likes, beliefs, and even your face.

Picture this scenario: You just finished uploading photos from your recent exciting holiday party and immediately upon uploading these photos of you and your friends, Facebook has already identified the faces in the photos and asks if you’d like to tag your friends in those photos. Meaning that Facebook’s facial recognition adds to the fact that the company knows everything about you, from your worst time-wasting habits to your own unique face (which gets more disconcerting when you consider that there’s a large database that stores and recognizes your face and can identify it as such whenever it appears in a photo or video.) Perhaps you become concerned by a major conglomerate’s ability to recognize you and quickly rush to Facebook to delete all the photos and videos of yourself from the platform. That may seem effective at first, until you consider the March 2018 report by New York Magazine, which claimed that the company hadn’t deleted any of the videos after users tried to delete old videos and other content that was still living on the company’s servers. This led to the company apologizing for this practice and promised to truly delete them upon user request. Despite everything, by using Facebook’s platform and agreeing to its Terms of Service, you provide the company with the license to use any pictures and videos that you publish to the platform for their own purposes. In other words, while the copyright to the photo may be your own intellectual property, Facebook reserves the right to re-publish your picture on one of their pages or use your likeness in a television commercial without paying you a dime.

Taking this all into account makes recent scandals surrounding the company even more troublesome, including last years infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica was a political consulting firm that leveraged data mining and data analysis to create communication strategies for political campaigns. During the 2016 election cycle, eighty seven million users had their personal data breached by the consulting firm through the two hundred seven thousand users who provided data for an app called “This is Your Digital Life”. Facebook gave permission to this third-party app to collect data of users who consented to answer surveys about their digital usage habits for monetary compensation. Violating their agreement with Facebook’s terms of service, the Cambridge Analytica application instead also gathered the information of the “friend network” of each user, which breached not only the users themselves but the entirety of each of their friends on the platform and beyond. With this data, the firm set about creating strategies to help boost its political client during that election cycle, the now-president Donald J. Trump, which led to Russian interference in the U.S. election using Facebook as a primary tool to spread false information through targeted advertising.

Aside from Facebook’s very disconcerting issues surrounding their ability to combat false information (all the while profiting the very same advertising), a far more personal question that we ought to ask ourselves is: How do we want these conglomerates to handle our private data and information? Ultimately, it comes down to how we legally view the service and the company as a whole. When testifying before the United States Supreme Court last year, Zuckerberg stated that he views Facebook Inc. as a “technology company” rather than a media company. The issue that lies here is that we don’t yet have guidelines to how we hold social platforms accountable with the law. Should Facebook be deemed a media or publishing company, it would be held accountable to laws and restrictions set in place for several decades, enforcing transparency from the electoral candidates themselves. In the meantime, United States lawmakers have scrambled to decide just how to regulate Facebook, and just what that regulation might even be.

Despite Facebook’s somewhat unethical practices, it’s certain that even with user dissatisfaction, its practices aren’t going to change anytime soon. This is because Facebook isn’t as interested in creating a positive user experience than it is interested in mining your data to sell to other corporate advertisers. Perhaps the biggest selling point of Facebook’s multiple major brands is that all of your co-workers, friends, and family members are omnisciently present on the platform, which makes it an integral part of how we communicate. In fact, it would be even more of an inconvenience to quit the platform entirely seeing as how our lives have become so integrated with it. It’s important that we remain careful about how much of our data we choose to share with these companies. The more that we surrender our privacy to the product, the more that we ourselves become the product worth re-selling.

How Streaming Platform Battles May Affect Your Entertainment Consumption

How Streaming Platform Battles May Affect Your Entertainment Consumption

Streaming platforms, such as Netflix, have forever changed the way that we consume entertainment. From television shows to movies, Netflix is a massive game-changer in broadcast media, causing the industry to scramble to profit off of various mediums. From changing the types of stories audiences see in theatrical entertainment, to creating exclusive material for streaming platforms, Netflix is reigning supreme. While they may have forever disrupted the entertainment industry, the ever-growing media giant is beginning to see its own product become disrupted by a continuously changing landscape in digital media, as more studios scramble to build their own platforms with their own exclusive content. This massive “digital arms” race is causing an unprecedented issue in the industry that may forever change the way that we consume our entertainment.

Since the very beginning, Netflix has seen its platform as an outlet for an expression of filmmaking experimentation. At first, it seemed that Netflix’s strategy was to simply invest in as many ideas as possible, in order to find concepts that would stick with audiences and offer users a wide variety of selection on the platform. Netflix’s tremendous growth has cemented their role in the entertainment industry as a serious contender to traditional media, whether that be television or even classic theatrical filmmaking. The major data measurement corporation, Nielsen, has reported that the number of consumers ditching traditional cable (or, “cord-cutting” as it’s referred to in the industry) has grown by forty-eight percent in just eight years, resulting in the loss of over sixteen million cable subscriptions in homes in favor of streaming platforms. Netflix has sought to position itself as a serious disrupter in the world of entertainment and with an estimated 138 million users worldwide, it’s evident that they’ve done just that.

Inspired by the success of Netflix, other corporations have scrambled to position themselves in what the industry believes to be the “future of entertainment.” The years since Netflix’s major popularity has seen the launch of Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access, and HBO Go, to name a few. Additionally, there’s the forthcoming ‘Disney+’ platform launching this year, positioning The Walt Disney Company into the top of the streaming world, and the still-developing-platform on the way from WarnerMedia, from its parent company AT&T, sometime in the near future. It seems that almost every company wants to have its own platform these days, making it difficult for you, the consumer, to have access to all your favorite shows simultaneously, without breaking the bank each month.

While these changes may mean more cost for consumers, it has lead to the encouragement of experimental cinema and unparalleled quality. Netflix, after years of unsuccessful attempts, finally earned themselves an Academy Award for their release of “Roma,” finally positioning themselves as a serious player in the industry. The same could be said for Amazon Instant Video, which has seen nominations of their own, for their original releases Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick; Turning streaming platforms into their own digital art houses. Netflix has significantly invested in serialized dramas, resulting in hits like Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black, and Amazon quickly did the same with its own recent hits like the Jack Ryan series or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Unlike a traditional movie or TV series, these series’ don’t present an immediate return to the production studios, but they serve as a long-term investment for the growth of the corporations behind their creation. Netflix still somehow finds itself with over $20 billion dollars in debt, but their strong lineup of original feature films and television series’ guarantees its longevity, even long after other studios have pulled their content from the platform in favor of their own streaming services.

Perhaps the largest disruptor that is certain to send a ripple effect throughout the industry is Disney’s $71 billion dollar purchase of 21st Century Fox, which is largely leveraged for its vast intellectual properties and its strong presence in the world of streaming. Along with Disney+, the company is entering the streaming industry in full-force as this new purchase of Fox gives Disney a 60% majority stake in Hulu, gaining ownership of Fox’s 30% stake, along with Disney’s previous 30%. With their significant standing in the digital world and its endless library of valuable content, Disney will invest money in creative content and maintaining large ownership of one of the strongest elements of the streaming arms race. Due to the purchase, Disney gains ownership of all 20th Century Fox, Fox Television, and National Geographic properties, and it has announced it will pull all of its properties from Netflix with the launch of Disney+, which is due this year, with the ownership of Hulu, once the Fox deal clears Federal Trade Commission approval. Similarly, WarnerMedia intends to pull its content from Netflix and other services when their currently-unnamed platform launches, which will be another detrimental blow to Netflix, who recently paid $100 million just to secure the rights to the television series Friends for a single year. Foreseeing that its platform couldn’t be sustained simply by the rights granted by other studios, Netflix fully turned their attention to creating exclusive original content, a.k.a. “Netflix Originals.”

It’s quite possible, and even probable, that sometime in the near future, Netflix will solely be dedicated to original content, similar to the works of Stranger Things or House of Cards, and Netflix is hoping this content will encourage users to stick with the platform, even after it loses the rights to your other favorite shows, and will spend $2 billion just this year on content alone. Over the next few years, other studios will also spend a significant amount of money on creating original content for their streaming platforms. CBS All Access hopes to still generate revenue from those cord-cutters who would otherwise lose access to CBS, with exclusive programming with shows like Star Trek Discovery or the highly-anticipated reboot of The Twilight Zone from Jordan Peele. Amazon reportedly paid $250 million to secure the rights to a Lord of the Rings series to continue bringing interest to their platform. Elsewhere, Disney+ will debut a plethora of brand new series’ and films, all the while, leveraging their highly-popular Star Wars and Marvel properties, with a handful of other new offerings. At the same time, Hulu will serve as a home for series’ based on properties owned by Disney but exist outside of the Disney brand, much like the 21st Century Fox purchase will include. With every major studio quickly joining the industry in a rebuttal to a changing market, it’s clear that the disrupted have finally become the disruptors, forcing Netflix to once again evolve the industry into something entirely new.

Consumers should be prepared for an exciting few years of quality entertainment and innovation from each of these powerhouse studios, but that will ultimately come at a cost. Leaders like Netflix have already announced price hikes, and the scattering of properties may leave fans of various properties forced to buy several subscriptions, resulting in a far more expensive cost than the average one subscription today. If there’s one thing for sure, the battle over streaming rights, and the rush to create high-quality content is well-underway, and entertainment may never be the same as a result of it.

Want to Ace the Interview to Your Next Job? Remember to Showcase These Personality Traits

Want to Ace the Interview to Your Next Job? Remember to Showcase These Personality Traits

During our attempt to overcome the ever-daunting conquest of job-searching, we are always striving to showcase our workplace abilities, such as the valuable skills we acquired during our time in school or perhaps in previous positions. We often forget to display some of the most important personality traits that can make all the difference in helping us land our dream job, or make us truly stand out in the workplace. While the economy may change significantly over time, these skills are almost guaranteed to never become outdated, regularly being the most important part that job seekers look for. As technology and communication continue to adapt with time, recruiters are increasingly looking for employees willing to adapt along with it.

These aforementioned skills range from a wide variety of interpersonal skills that showcase one’s ability to work with team members, communicate, as well as their willingness to try new things. These personality traits remain the most important part of transferable skills that employers are looking for in new employees. So, want to land your dream job? Be sure to keep these valuable skills in mind and at their best during your next job search!

Communication: Regardless of the role or industry of your career path, effective communication is essential. The ability to communicate strategies or plans with other employees, customers, or managers, is perhaps the most important skill to help ensure one’s success in the workforce. Fortunately, there have been many tools to help employees effectively communicate with one another. For example, some great softwares include Google or Slack (a team communication software.) However, the most important part to this is remembering to communicate and to not be lazy!

Ability to Work in a Team: Like communication, the ability to work with large groups on a collaborative project is an important skill set to improve upon. It is likely that most positions will require you to communicate and collaborate with the other employees that make up your department. Your ability to work in a team will greatly depend on your willingness to listen to feedback/criticism, support the ideas and the work of others, as well as your ability to take initiative in your role. Teamwork requires great communication and positive encouragement, regardless of your role, and that includes sharing the success of your work with your team. Being a key team player is essential to being an integral part of the workplace.

Willingness to Continue Learning: This may not sound valuable, but it’s important for prospective employees to show their willingness to learn and try new things, showing that despite any change that may come to your role or the corporation, you are always willing to adapt to change and new challenges. Technology may change, your management leadership may be restructured, or perhaps your position will be altered, but employers want to see that they can have someone to rely on to advance their skills and adapt to new challenges.Show That You’re Flexible: With the change in the way that we work and communicate, employers are also looking for employees that are flexible in their time, their adaptability, and their ability to take feedback. It’s important to be able to provide your flexibility when it comes to taking evaluation from peers and managers and allowing yourself to be flexible to the needs of your organization. This includes your ability to work with a team and work with feedback, and your flexibility and willingness to try new ideas will be the most important part of mastering these skills.

Always Be Positive: Negativity in the workplace is never a good idea. Show that you’re positive about new ideas, projects, and change, and also always be positive about your previous work experiences and employers, as negativity will always shine through and create a disadvantage for you in your job search. Plus, no one wants to work with Mr. or Mrs. Negative Nelly.

Searching for jobs can be challenging, but when the time comes to showcase your personality, don’t forget to prominently showcase yourself through these traits. Most importantly, be transparent and allow yourself to shine through your work!

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