The majority of teens spend more than nine hours per day staring at screens. Are they making friends around the world—or blowing off IRL relationships?
Through social media, we can make thousands of connections with people each day. There’s just one problem: These communications are usually one dimensional and ephemeral. Take two of the most popular forms of social media: Instagram, with 77 million monthly users, and Snapchat, with 52 million. Do you really feel like you’re making a lasting connection with someone when you like their photo or open a snap?
Social media allows people from every place and background to interact with thousands of people they never would have met otherwise. The problem is, that access can give us the sense that those interactions are somehow on par with real-world contact—which isn’t true. In fact, a study at the University of Glasgow in Scotland linked time on social media with lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression. At the end of the day, you can have thousands of Instagram followers and still feel friendless.
For the most part, the image of yourself that you promote online is aspirational—it’s carefully crafted to garner certain kinds of attention. With our Instagram feeds, snaps, YouTube channels, blogs, and more, we’re really just trying to convince others—and ourselves—that our lives are perfect and worth following. When we hide behind this facade, we can’t genuinely connect with others. No matter how many people we talk to online, the mask we’ve created ensures that communication will almost always feel shallow.
These platforms also play into our fear of missing out: You can instantly see what happened at every event and party that you weren’t invited to. Even if you were invited to an event and chose not to go, you may feel left out as you watch other partygoers interact on Snapchat and Instagram.
On the surface, it may seem like modern technology leads to more social involvement. Social media apps promise to “connect” us with others, when in fact they just foster shallow relationships. Clearly, those kinds of connections just isolate us from others in the real world.
No, technology isn’t making us lonely—it’s bringing us closer to each other. Don’t get me wrong: Face-to-face interaction is great. But for the first time in history, our generation has the advanced tools and resources to virtually connect with friends and family from all over the world in real time. Armed with social media platforms and the newest gadgets and gizmos, we can easily catch up with old friends and meet new people, all while being able to express our inner selves, creativity, and passions.
A Time magazine article stated that “technology like texting and social media has made it easier to avoid forming substantive relationships in the flesh and blood.” But shouldn’t we look at how social media has allowed us to not only stay in touch with the people we’ve known all our lives, but also to communicate with new people? In a world full of advocacy groups and bloggers, technology offers a pathway to expression and connection. Whether you’re a feminist, LGBTQ advocate, civil rights activist, or simply a person with passionate views, millions of like-minded individuals can hear and share your voice.
In fact, according to a Common Sense Media report, nearly 28 percent of teenagers agree that social media has allowed them to become more outgoing, communicating messages and ideas that they otherwise would not have had the confidence to express. This new and profound confidence, in turn, allows them to connect with others, and it can even foster lifelong friendships around the globe.
Everyone is different. While some people might prefer face-to-face interaction, others, especially introverts, may prefer to beat loneliness by interacting online. We are all unique individuals, and it simply isn’t fair to blame technology for some people feeling isolated. In fact, technology can be a part of the solution.
Like what you see? Then you'll love Choices, our health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12