Human beings are wired to compare themselves to others. They can fall into the trap of valuing themselves based upon their perception of others’ strengths and weaknesses.
In this technological world, not only can the lives of others be seen through social media, but people often compare themselves to the manipulated reality that these platforms are known to portray.
“You’re constantly comparing yourself to the best version of everybody else,” CHS sophomore Cindy Combs said. “You’re comparing the self that you know, the self that not a lot of other people know, to what everybody else wants the world to see, so something that’s probably not so great, to something that’s really great, and that usually makes you feel horrible.”
For Combs, social media usage has had a generally negative impact on her life. Interfaces such as Facebook and Instagram provide a medium on which her insecurities have been able to find a foothold.
Yet, according to Facebook, their intent was solely to give a place for connections to foster. “Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them,” according to the Facebook website.
Similarly, CHS senior Robert Hollocher sees the positive effects that social media can have on its users.
“I think the original purpose of social media was to connect with friends and keep in contact with people and also to share what you’re doing and really cool experiences,” Hollocher said. “I feel like a big part of social media, because there are likes and comments and things like that, part of it is people showing their support or appreciation of what you’re sharing.”
Social media has proved to have complex impacts on its users, both negative and positive, that have very real implications on everyday life.
According to a survey given to 115 CHS students, 94.7 percent have social media accounts. With the vast majority of students on services such as Facebook and Instagram, these technology platforms can play a large part in their lives and connections with other people.
“My social media accounts are important to me because when I meet new people, I can friend them. Just recently I met some new people and when we friended each other on Facebook, it solidified the friendship,” CHS senior Jolena Pang said. “Even when I’m not with them, I can be part of the group chats and it connects me to friend groups that I wouldn’t be part of otherwise.”
Although constant connection can have a positive impact in terms of building relationships, users are often surrounded by information regarding the actions of their peers — which can bring its own slew of negative effects.
Hollocher thinks that his social media accounts have had unfavorable effects on his well-being.
“I honestly believe that I would be happier and my mental health would be better without social media accounts. But because they’re such a big part of our generation and my life, I don’t think I’d have enough strength to delete it,” he said. “So they are important to me, but I do wish I didn’t place so much importance in them.”
Even though social media was intended solely as a means for casual connection, for some people it has become something of an addiction. Of the CHS students surveyed, 59.1 percent reported spending over an hour a day on their various technology, scrolling through apps such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
“Well, when I was 13 I was going through a rough time and I was just like, ‘Maybe social media is, like, all I need,’” CHS sophomore Meghan Stransky said. “I just kind of stayed on Instagram for hours at a time and I would just go through so much so it just sucked me out of everything, and I was like a social media zombie, I was constantly scrolling through my phone.”
Likewise, CHS sophomore Liz Szabo, similar to many, uses her online accounts to pass time, something which can be regarded as unproductive.
“It just ends up sucking so much time out of my day,” Szabo said. “I feel like social media has really taken over our lives, in all aspects and has really gone beyond its purposes [that it was] created for, and I think it’d be a lot better if we only spent 15 minutes on it in a day instead of the amount we really spend.”
For some, constant social media usage may be rooted in the desire to stay up to date with the lives of others, but being plugged into social media can often cause users to overlook other elements of their lives.
“When you keep looking at pictures of other people on social media, you start to feel like you’re missing out on the things that they’re doing,” CHS junior Grace Monshausen said. “But in reality, you’re missing out on things by looking at your phone all the time.”
Additionally, the usage of social media has resulted in a smaller amount of face-to-face communication and given users the ability to use the interface of technology as a means of interaction. CHS Assistant Principal Ryan Luhning recognizes the downfalls of this.
“Us old people are certainly concerned about the lack of human to human contact, interactions and talking. You used to have to talk problems out more whereas now you can get on a text message or Twitter or Snapchat and say whatever you want to say,” Luhning said. “I always say it is like hiding behind a keyboard instead of trying to work your problems out.”
In this new age of online social interaction, more and more adolescents are coming onto the scene. WMS Assistant Principal Matt Balossi views social media as being an unnecessary impediment to the development of young people.
“The way that I talk to middle schoolers and parents, most middle schoolers are having a hard enough time with figuring out how to be a good friend and how to relate to their peers in person. If you put a device in between that, it just complicates things,” Balossi said. “For the vast majority of middle schoolers, social media isn’t a good thing for them and it’s not something they should be on.”
Although he has noticed a large increase in technology usage in his time at CHS, Luhning has observed that the usage of social media in Clayton is, for the most part, positive. He credits part of this to the dedication the Clayton School District has put into educating its students about Internet usage.
“I know our parents and our District really try to talk about the dangers, whether it be personal conversations or [an] overarching conversation, we try to talk about the dangers and the proper way to use the wonderful technology that we have,” Luhning said. “The wonderful social media areas that we have, that you guys have access to, I think, for the most part, our kids do a pretty good job of [using it well].”
As society becomes more invested in technological interaction, the way that humanity approaches the increasing effect it has on life becomes more important.
“Social media is here to stay, you know?” Dr. Ryia Ross-Peterson of Clayton Pediatric Associates said. “We’ve got to find a way to deal with it because it’s not going away.”
In the virtual world, people have the ability to choose which parts of their lives they share. This often involves showing perfect shots of the beautiful vacations people go on, the parties they attend and exciting moments in their lives. A person scrolling through a profile which has pictures such as these may correlate the impressiveness of the self they portray on social media with whom they really are. This perception, though, is incomplete. The self that someone chooses to portray often glosses over or even disregards any shortcomings or imperfections that person has.
This manipulated representation can come across as a means by which a person boasts about their seemingly fascinating life when, oftentimes, it is not reality.
“I feel like some of it is almost bragging or putting up a front that may not be true,” Hollocher said. “I used to get really upset when people would post pictures of parties that I didn’t go to or wasn’t invited to. That was really upsetting. When I do go to those kind of parties and I see that stuff, they’re posing to make it look fun when it’s really not fun at all. On Facebook, it looks like the time of their lives. It was really just the picture that made it this way. That’s why it can be destructive.”
In addition to exaggerating and staging certain situations that may inspire jealousy in others, one may also alter the self they project on social media in the attempt to improve their own self-image.
“People want to portray how they look on social media, which is very different from the way they look in real life,” Pang said. “So if you’re not happy with your life, you can construct an external image of it on social media. You can basically fool people’s perceptions of who you are or even what you look like.”
Humans hope to find approval in altering themselves — approval which they translate into societal acceptance.
“A like or a comment on social media means way too much. The amount of likes you get can make it seem like you have a lot of friends or people think you’re really pretty or really cool when it doesn’t really measure anything,” Monshausen said. “That’s not something that’s real.”
Recently, Hollocher posted a video on Facebook which he soon became embarrassed by because it did not receive the amount of likes that he considered to be “acceptable.”
“That was upsetting because I really liked it, but felt like I couldn’t post it because I feel like if I’m not getting enough likes, I’m not good enough,” Hollocher said.
Tim Bono, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, specializes in positive psychology and studies self-esteem.
“[A person with low self-esteem] does not think very highly of himself, they don’t like themselves, they don’t like what they do, they don’t feel that they have much to be proud of, they don’t really feel they are a person of worth,” Bono said.
Connie Jones, a licensed professional counselor, believes that social media use may have negative impacts on a person with low self-esteem or even lead to a person’s development of a lower self-esteem.
“If you have a low self-esteem, you’re more vulnerable to what happens on social media,” Jones said. “If there wasn’t a vulnerability there, [social media] could create one.”
Contrastly, Luhning does not think that social media use results in a lower self-esteem, rather technology gives people an additional platform to talk about their varying emotions.
“I think self-esteem is not any worse than before social media,” Luhning said. “I think it is more publicized now. If someone is feeling low or not very good, they might post something, text someone, they might put something out there.”
Similarly, Balossi has not noticed a decrease in self-esteem of social media users versus nonusers at the middle school level.
“We have a ton of kids who aren’t on social media at all, and I think that if we took that pocket of kids that were on social media versus the pocket of kids that aren’t on social media, I’d wager to guess that we’d see the same bell curve of self-esteem,” Balossi said.
But, the reality of the situation is that there is no definite answer.
“There have been some scientists that are trying to tease this apart, so we don’t know if it’s that people who have low self-esteem are more likely to spend time on social media or if the act of spending time on social media actually decreases your self-esteem; that’s something we are still trying to figure out,” Bono said. “There are some who have made the case, and pretty convincingly, that spending time on social media actually does diminish your psychological health and well-being, but the jury’s still out.”
It may even be the case that each of these factors plays a role in the other and that there is no definite cause and effect, but rather that each is affected, to some degree, by the other.
60.7 percent of surveyed students said that they compare themselves to others they see on social media. This may play a pivotal role in the potentially negative effects social media has on users.
“Before social media, before you look at what someone else is doing with their life, you feel good about yourself. You might look in the mirror and be like, ‘You know what? I have made progress from a point where I used to be.’ And then you look at what somebody else is doing and suddenly all that progress, all that work that you may have put in, it’s totally irrelevant because you’re not them,” Combs said. “And so suddenly it doesn’t matter if you were happy with who you were five minutes ago, because now you want to be them. And you’re never going to be them. So you fall into an existential crisis and then you’re stuck because you’re never going to reach that goal.”
One of the more substantial areas of comparison is of the body. Since a majority of communication and self-portrayal on social platforms is through pictures, comparison of physical features is inevitable for some.
Dr. Patricia Speier, a practicing psychiatrist and professor at University of California, San Francisco is currently studying social media use among adolescents.
“There’s evidence of [a correlation between social media and self-esteem], especially for young women, there’s a study where they clock how many hours people are on social media and if they are on it past a certain number of hours, it’s bad for their body image,” Speier said.
With the popularization of hashtags coining the term “body goals,” a definition of the “ideal” is developed. When one realizes that they do not meet these ideals, they may feel inadequate or undesirable and, consequently, attempt to alter their lives in attempt to do so.
“A lot of my peers are like, ‘Oh my gosh, this person is so perfect I wish I could be them!’ and then they freak out,” Stransky said. “[I have] a friend that was trying to cut down on the amount of food she was eating because she’s like, ‘Look at this person, they look so nice! Look at their waist, it’s so tiny!’ and I was like ‘Dude, that’s not healthy.’”
Courtney*, a senior who recently struggled with an eating disorder, believes that the way she compared her body to the ones she saw on social media lowered her confidence.
“When I would be feeling really badly about my body image and then look at what other people are posting, especially during the summer, and everyone looks beautiful, and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I wish I could look like that or be confident enough to post that,’” Courtney said. “Not even just that, but if you look at fitness models on Instagram, you start feeling like you’re not enough if you don’t look like that. So that would hurt my self-esteem.”
The growth of technology usage in our society has altered human interaction. When given the choice of communicating via text message, social media or some other electronic platform, the face-to-face contact and real life interaction that is crucial to one’s well-being is lost.
“I think what I’ve seen progress is just the over reliance on technology to supposedly connect,” Jones said. “There’s a whole field now called Interpersonal Neurobiology, it’s basically psychobabble for how important it is for human beings to have face-to-face supportive interactions with each other, like how important that is for our minds, our bodies, our spirits; social media does not take the place of that.”
Speier also believes that this mode of communication, specifically the popular texting culture, can change our brain chemistry in unprecedented ways.
“Texting and social media sort of interrupt the capacity for people to have real alone time, have real time where they don’t have to give automatic, [oh my gosh] kinds of responses to things, and there’s the potential to lose all the good neurochemicals that come with face-to-face contact,” Speier said. “Eye contact is really good for humans and laughter, real laughter, shared, is one of the best antidepressants around. If you’re doing all these connections virtually, you’re not talking to people.”
Similar to Jones’ views, Ross-Peterson sees the effect this impersonal connection has on relationships, especially for those held in adolescence.
“I think more often people say things on social media that they wouldn’t say to somebody’s face, you don’t get the emotion when you talk to people on social media that you would [by] talking to them in person,” Ross-Peterson said. “So it’s a little difficult to interpret, it can lead to distance between people, or superficial relationships. I think teenagers are happier when they have a really close-knit small group of friends in which they can really confide and have deep relationships. And that is what I find that causes the most happiness. But social media doesn’t foster this kind of relationship.”
Teenagers are biologically more susceptible to many factors as their brains have yet to fully develop. The rise in social technology further complicates this time of development.
“We know that a young person’s brain is more plastic so it is not fully formed just yet and so teens and young adults are more impressionable for that reason,” Bono said. “It’s the same reason why bullying can affect young kids more than it would in adults. That’s not to say that adults wouldn’t be affected by it, but it can be really traumatizing for a young [person] because they don’t yet fully have a developed sense of self just yet and, for that reason, yes, the things that people see on social media are going to be much more impactful for a young person relative to a middle-aged or older person.”
Moreover, Speier finds that social media can begin to affect other parts of the life of an adolescent as well.
“You are constantly distracting yourself with thoughts about social things or other people and other issues at a time where learning how to focus on your own agenda is really vital,” Speier said. “This is creating fragmentations in people’s capacity to be mindful. And, in that way, it works against healthy normative development. That’s a major downside.”
As the usage of social media becomes more habitual, humans become prone to wanting to be on their devices, checking their social media accounts.
According to Speier, high definition screens may cause our brains to release dopamine. With increased usage, a social media user’s desire to check their accounts grows as they experience both positive and negative reinforcements from their online interactions. This may be because they wish to reaffirm their self worth, which creates an overdependence on social media in their daily life.
“With any time there’s variable reinforcement — and social media is a perfect example of that kind of variable reinforcement — you’re going to get more tendency towards addictive behavior,” Speier said.
All one has to do is refresh the page on their Facebook account to receive new information. With social media constantly updating, the lure of staying online may be rooted in the desire to stay up to date as well as in the entertainment offered by the barrage of things to look at.
“Any time there’s not set frameworks for something, people go on Facebook. [Kids and adults] expect to be on [social media] for half an hour, and they’re on it for an hour and a half. It’s a real time thing,” Speier said.
Even though the effects of social media aren’t exclusively negative, it’s better to limit the amount of exposure to it.
“I would have teenagers ask themselves when they’re on social media, ‘Is this really making me happy, is this really what I want to be doing right now?’ The answer is probably no,” Ross-Peterson said.
The reasons why a person may spend time on social media differs widely. For some, it may be a way to fill time, a way to find more friends or maybe to boost their self esteem. Bono believes that, regardless of the reason, spending a lot of time on social media is an unhealthy use of time as it can have harmful effects.
“Try to find out if there is a more productive way to address that. If it’s because you’re bored, maybe you play a video game, maybe you go for a walk because that has a whole bunch of health benefits, maybe you help a neighbor, get a head start on your homework or something,” Bono said. “Maybe it’s just because you need a simple bout of procrastination, which we all need every once in awhile, but there are other ways that you can procrastinate that don’t have those psychologically harmful effects that we’ve been finding with social media.”
Cutting social media out of one’s life completely may be unrealistic, so Bono advises merely limiting the amount of time that one spends on technology.
“It’s hard to avoid it, so if you can’t get off of it completely, at least pay attention to how much time you are spending on it, because another thing that we know about behavior modification is that one of the most effective ways to modify behaviors is simply to observe it,” Bono said. “The simple act of paying attention to how often you engage in those behaviors will end up modifying the behavior in the direction of the desired outcome.”
Speier agrees with Bono in that one must control their usage so as to not lose themselves and their sense of time in their technology.
“You want to have certain times when you’re available [to be on social media] and other times when you’re not available. If you want to do well academically, stay away from social media while you’re studying,” Dr. Speier said. “Don’t go back and forth and check in and check out, because that will make it hard. A lot people will, last thing before they go to bed, check their social media. That’s not a good idea. You want to basically have 45 minutes or more from the last check-in so that you have time to emotionally process it if you need to. You can reset yourself towards bed and allow yourself to sleep. Try to resist that frequent check-in because it’s really hard on you psychologically.”
The progression of social media and societal pressures encourages humans to spend large amounts of time on social media and makes them feel like it is acceptable to do so when, in reality, those who do are only experiencing life through a screen.
“[Spending excessive amounts of time on social media] is the tendency everybody has, and then the rest of the world goes by,” Speier said.