This article is the first one in a series of articles about social media and technology. I think we need to think about how technology is affecting us and how we can still be in charge of our lives in a world that is increasingly more distracting and habit-forming. See all articles here.
Technology is shaping our lives every day in ways we don’t even understand. But we have to be aware of the negative effects technology can have on our lives and we need to learn how to limit them.
According to some estimates, the number of people connected to the internet in 2016 was 3.4 billion people.1 That number may have risen to 4.3 billion people in March 2019.2 And this number will continue to rise in the future.
Many of us use the internet on a daily basis. We use our computers to browse the web and watch Netflix. We use our cell phones to scroll down on Instagram and post on stories. And many of us spend hours on these devices every single day.
That’s why we need to talk about technology – mostly about social media. Like almost anything – social media are tools that we can use in different ways. We can use them for good and in a way that improves our lives. We can also use it for more nefarious reasons and in ways that make us more miserable.
Let’s talk about the good and the bad of social media. In order to put things in perspective, we need to understand in what ways social media can make our lives better – or worse. I will share a list of positive and negative effects of social media. This list is definitely not exhaustive, but it is enough to help you realize the power social media can have. And then, it’s up to you to decide if you want to change the way you use this platforms or not.
Why social media can make the world a better place
1. You can use social media to connect with people from all over the world
If you use facebook or Instagram, you can easily keep in touch with family and friends who live in different places around the world. Maybe your parents live in a different city and your brothers are in different countries. If you follow each other on social media, you will still be connected to their lives (if they constantly share their lives online).
2. You can use social media to connect with people that are otherwise unreachable
In the past, you would only learn about the lives of celebrities from newspapers and TV. Now, many celebrities have their own social media accounts. Public figures such as presidents, actors, singers and authors have accounts on some platforms. Some of them may create content regularly and share their lives with their followers.
This way, you can be more informed about what is happening in the life of a celebrity you admire. You can leave comments on their posts and there is a (small) chance that one day they may reply. Normally, the bigger the account is, the less likely it is that you can actually connect with them. But you can at least follow their lives – if they share it online.
3. You can find people with similar values on social media
This is pretty great about social media – you can find people who share your passions, interests, goals or worldview. If you are interested in books, fitness, travel or photography, you can find thousands of people who share your interest.
This gives you the chance to learn from them, exchange ideas with them and be inspired by them! And I think this makes social media very powerful and valuable. After all, we all want to be understood and encouraged by people who care about the same things we care about.
4. You can be inspired by people on social media
Social media is also a good place to find inspiration and encouragement. You can search for motivational quotes when you feel down. You can check on your role model when you need some inspiration.
And seeing other people sharing their success stories online may be the push you need to start working on your own goals. Learning about their struggles and seeing their current success may help you believe in yourself and prove to you that success is possible. We all need a little nudge sometimes and social media can inspire you to do more and become a better person.
5. You can learn more using social media
Sometimes, social media can be a good source of information. For example, I use it to find good books to read in the future. You can also use it to learn photography tips, plan your next trip, find great vegan recipes and so on. The information you find on social media isn’t always verified or true, but you can find useful information on it too!
6. Anyone can create content on social media
If you have access to internet, you can sign up on any social media platform and start creating content. You can share your thoughts on Twitter or your memories on Facebook. You can post pictures from your vacations on Instagram or recommend a books or movies on your stories. You can make a video of your day and post it on YouTube. You can ask complicated questions and start interesting conversations on all these platforms. Basically, you can start to create content for any of these platforms right now and anyone else can interact with it.
7. Social media can help you make money or start a business
Social media can be a great tool for your business. Whether you are a freelancer, the founder of a start-up or the CEO of a big company, social media can help you reach more people. You can connect with your clients and increase customer loyalty. You can also reach more potential clients and increase your company revenue.
But social media can also help you start a career. If you have a skill that people are willing to pay for, you can use your social media accounts to connect with the people who would hire you. I definitely think social media helped many people find creative ways to make money while doing something they enjoy.
Why social media can make the world a terrible place
1. Social media make you waste time
I think that this may be the biggest problem with social media (and other types of technology). Many apps or websites are designed to be habit-forming.3 This means that the designers and developers use certain techniques to get you to spend more and more time on these platforms.
It may be true that most of us are not addicted, but it is probably equally true that most of us spend more time on social media than we wish we would.
Social media are built in a way that makes us want to go back, view more content and share more content. We obsessively check our phones more often than we should.
Have you ever said to yourself “I’ll just check social media for a minute” just to find yourself still scrolling and watching 45 minutes later? Then you know what I’m talking about…
Spending time on social media when you want to for as long as you want to in a way that you enjoy is normal. But finding yourself sucked in and spend your time mindlessly consuming something you never searched for is definitely not good for you.
If you want to see how much time you are wasting on social media, download my free tracker. It will help you realize the effect that social media is having on your life – and how to spend less time on it (if you want to)!
2. Social media are spying on you
I don’t know if you know this, but everything you do on social media is recorded. Every page you like, every post you share, every message you send, every profile you check – everything is being gathered on servers.
Why? Well, because these social media need this data to optimize their feed to make you engage with it more and to make money through advertising.
But the spying could extend to more than what you are doing on social media. Many people reported that facebook stored other information on them, such as phone numbers and text messages from their cellphones or even pictures that they never uploaded or shared on facebook.4
It appears that facebook wants to get access to more and more information. According to some sources, they may even get access to your bank account information, should you use a facebook feature to check your balance.5 Even though this is an opt-in feature, once you use it, you cannot know how much data they will store about your bank accounts or how they will use it.
So remember that every time you use social media, your every move is being recorded and used for their own benefit.
3. Social media are manipulating you
The most obvious way that social media are attempting to influence your behaviour is through ads. Basically, they collect information about you and then they show you ads for products to convince you to buy them. They show you ads for the products the algorithms think you are more likely to buy.
The more data they can collect about you, the better they know you and the more they can make you buy. That’s because these social media are making their money through advertising. And no company would pay for advertising if they couldn’t guarantee that most people would react to those ads.
But the extent of their manipulation is unknown. They aren’t trying just to persuade you to buy certain products. They can persuade you to vote for a certain candidate or not to vote at all.6 And when social media have the power to influence us in ways we cannot see or understand, it is clear that we are like puppets on strings.
4. Social media make you compare yourself to others
Whenever you check social media, you will inevitable see someone who seems to live a better life than you do. They share a picture with their partner and seem like the perfect couple. They go on lavish vacations on exotic islands. They announce that they just got promoted or started their own company.
Basically, almost everyone seems to be living a better life than you. The key word here is “seems”. Let’s be honest, people only go on social media to share the highlight of their lives. They talk about their successes, their vacations and the great moments – but they never talk about their struggles, challenges or failures.
But you don’t know this, so you compare your real life to other people’s fake/perfect life. Of course you end up feeling like a total loser who is failing at life.
So this problem is two-fold. On one hand, it makes you constantly compare yourself to others and this can have terrible effects on your mental health and happiness. On the other hand, you begin to set unrealistic and unreasonable standards for yourself.
I think it’s easy to see how constantly comparing yourself to an imaginary high standard can make you feel inadequate, dissatisfied with yourself and simply unhappy.
5. Social media distort reality
When you go on social media, you may think that what you find there is good information. After all, you see many news, articles and other types of content that many people share. So you tend to believe in the power of numbers – if many people share them, surely they must be true, right? Not necessarily.
You see, when we seek to find the truth and accurate information, we should not turn to social media. Many people share fake news on social media and, unfortunately, many people believe them to be true. This can have devastating effects on a big scale.
Facebook is known to be a platform where fake news is often shared.7 And even though they have tried to fix this problem, sometimes their attempts had the opposite effect and increased the reach of fake news articles.8
But the problem obviously goes beyond facebook. You can find information that is misleading or downright false on all social media platforms – even on Google. And the average person may never know how to tell what is true from what isn’t. As you can imagine, this means that many people in our society can be fed many stories that have nothing to do with reality. What we get is a society where people aren’t aware of the reality they live in. And this can have catastrophic effects.
6. Social media are meant to be habit-forming or addictive
Some people are addicted to social media. Many people are not necessarily addicted, but they aren’t far off. If you constantly need to check your devices to make sure you don’t miss an important notification, then you have a problem. If you spend hours every day consuming content on several platforms, you have a problem.
But this is not just your fault. You may think that you spend too much time on social media because you don’t have enough willpower or discipline. That’s not necessarily true – or, not entirely.
The reason why you are drawn to social media is because it was engineered to have this effect on you. The more time you spend on these platforms, the more money they can make. The more you use it, the more data they can collect on you and the more profit they can generate. So these platforms were created to be habit-forming3 or maybe even addictive9.
These platforms are using your psychology and basic instincts against you. So naturally, you end up hooked on them. You spend more and more time browsing, scrolling and sharing. And you probably don’t do this because you are constantly learning or growing while you’re liking random posts.
You’re just being distracted from your life. Surely, sometimes you enjoy spending time on social media. Of course, that’s also part of the design. Otherwise, you would never return. But this doesn’t mean that social media isn’t trying to get you hooked.
Think about all the time you could devote to something else if you stopped using social media all the time. You could learn a new language, read more books, write your own book, get in shape, work on your relationship, start a business and so on. Do you really want to just spend all that time on social media? I doubt it.
What should you do now?
I definitely think that social media can have positive and negative effects at the same time. I do think it also depends on how we use these platforms.
But I also think that it’s often hard to see how social media are affecting us. It’s hard to understand how they work and how much power they have over us. So what can you do?
Step 1: Track the time you spend on social media
Maybe you think that social media doesn’t have a negative impact on your life. Or maybe you think that you aren’t wasting a lot of time online. Well, the first step is keeping track of your online habits for a few days. If you do this, you’ll finally know how much time you are spending online and how you feel about this.
You may be shocked to see how much time you are wasting every day! I know I was when I first checked this.
Maybe you’re not excited about tracking this and want to put it off. I get it. But if you want to see how you are spending your life and you want to be in control of it, you need to do this.
And to make this process more enjoyable, I created a tracker you can use! You can get it for free by signing up to my email list!
Step 2: Learn more about social media
I started learning more about social media and technology because I realized that it probably has a negative impact on my life. And I realized that I don’t even understand how these platforms work and how they can affect me without my knowledge.
So I have decided to take the time to learn about this. And I’m going to share what I learn with you. I want to help you understand enough about social media to make an educated and aware decision about how you will use them. I want to help you use the internet in a way that adds value to your life without taking away from it. I want to help you stay in control of your life in a world full of notifications and distractions.
If you want that for yourself, sign up for my newsletter. I will keep you up to date with what I’m learning and give you advice about what to do to take back control over your time and your life.