The social battery is dead

The recent shutdown of social media apps like Instagram has exposed how reliant society is on it, and the effects are detrimental.

Everyone went into panic-mode, constantly closing in and out of apps and reloading the screen although it gets them nowhere. A bit of fight or flight response. People couldn’t inhibit the urge to check, over and over and over again. It was like they didn’t know what to do with themselves. For nearly six hours, people from across the globe were forced to take a break from Facebook and its family of apps, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, when the whole network suddenly shut down and was inaccessible to users. Clearly, in this day and age, social media is a big part of our everyday lives, but this unexpected halt brings up a bigger question: Are we too dependent on these apps? 

After watching my classmates vigorously attempt to reload their Instagram feeds to check out the newest Homecoming posts from their friends, I couldn’t help but think about how dependent my peers were on these apps, social comments and “likes.” My immediate thought was, “Wow, these people seem so brainwashed by social media.” But not even three minutes later, I found myself, almost unconsciously, trying to reload Instagram.  With the same picture glaring back at me after a couple minutes, I realized that I am just as brainwashed as everyone else.

As the day progressed, I noticed something different walking around campus. Without the use of Instagram, my peers were more interactive with one another, actually talking, making eye-contact, laughing, smiling and gesturing to each other rather than their screens. Oftentimes, social media takes up lunch time; I mean literally, people are “talking” to each other over the phone when they are just a few feet away from each other. When social media platforms were no longer an option, we turned to other ways to communicate with one another.  It’s clear that social media creates opportunities for connection, but by default it also creates a society where too much reliance and dependence on these apps drives us to constantly wonder what is going on in every other life instead of our own. 

 Social media gives us immediate feedback in likes and comments on photos.  This feedback is addictive.  Research by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes has shown that when you get a “like,” your brain sends a chemical messenger called dopamine along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. You can almost orchestrate a feel-good moment or “pick me up” anytime you need it.   These apps give permission for anyone to comment and share on just about every topic at any time.   But when it gets taken away, would you just drop everything  and start talking to a random person crossing the street? Would you broadcast your opinion on a topic or controversy to everybody and their mother? 

Individuals who have created a special identity for themselves via these apps felt the absence the most.  Their image or “brand” is completely dependent on others following their every move, and if it weren’t for social media apps, we would be more dependent on our in-person, social interactions as a means to influence others in our circle.  However, it cannot be denied that there is no going back.  Social media apps provide a much wider, global reach that unites us in great ways, but it  can also be divisive, hurtful and exhausting.  This led me to think, how does a break from social media apps help us be better humans?   In my opinion, it gives us a much needed gift: time to re-connect, re-charge, and re-set ourselves as individuals in our “real” social world.   

According to The American Press Institute, 88% of millennials get their news and information from social media. The social media halt showed us that having the world at our fingertips led to a reliance we didn’t even know we had.  The impact of almost six hours without social media apps was felt by many—businesses looking to make a profit, people looking for their daily news and friends looking to connect.  It also gave us a sneak-peak into what we are missing. So folks, let’s learn a lesson here. Look out the window, have meaningful face-to-face conversations, or laugh during lunch with a friend, because our current reliance and hyper-connectedness to social media is absolutely draining our social battery.