Do Facebook and Twitter make us happier? The answer it would seem is: no. A recent survey found as many as one in five people say they feel depressed as a result of using social media. That might come as a surprise to the generation under 30; social media is part of their DNA and teenagers are rapidly losing the ability to communicate if not through their smartphones. But the stress of constantly monitoring our statuses and endlessly documenting every aspect of our lives via networks like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram is taking its toll.
Employers claim many school leavers are unprepared for the world of work, where they will have to interact with people outside their peer group and actually speak face-to-face with total strangers.
Meanwhile, there have been countless academic studies since 2015 on the negative impacts of social media, showing that its regular use leads to feelings of anxiety, isolation and low self-esteem, not to mention poor sleep. We use these outlets to present a false picture of our lives to the online community; with flattering selfies and faux-glamorous images of holidays, parties and meals. It’s as if we’re starring in a movie of the life we’d like to lead, not the humdrum one we actually inhabit. An underwhelming number lack of shares or ‘likes’ can lead to debilitating feelings of inadequacy.
We post intimate fragments of our lives to total strangers, falsely believing that a ‘friend’ online is a real friend whose opinions matter. As for Twitter, it is a vehicle for screaming, nothing more and nothing less. Best not to read tweets if you are of a vulnerable disposition.
Recently, I dared to write that cycling was being prioritised over walking in London. Cyclists, like Scottish Nationalists, are the thugs of the new era. Immediately, my words were distorted, and amplified via Twitter. I was accused of hate crimes against cycling even though I carefully said that I actually enjoyed it. I received 1,000 vile and abusive messages – and they’re still coming. Twitter has an effect on one’s disposition; augmenting anger and upset. Many of the women I know have come off Twitter because of the constant abuse that waits every time they pick up their phone or log in to their computer.
The latest fashion among hipsters is to have a ‘digital-free’ home. That could be a good move. Arianna Huffington has just written a book (The Sleep Revolution) citing experts who say there should be no screens in the bedroom and we shouldn’t use social media in the hour before lights-out. How many times have we read a message on our phones and then spent hours in turmoil? Social media never switches off: someone, somewhere, is posting pictures, comments or messages, asking you to join a chat or wade in with an opinion. No wonder many teenagers suffer from what shrinks call “decision paralysis”. The options are simply too enormous for any human brain to deal with.
For many people (not just teenagers), it seems the only way we can validate ourselves is though a screen, a habit which is just as bad for our health as over-indulging in drink or drugs. And just as addictive.