Hey, You There … Look UP!
Social media has turned us into a society that looks down. We are captivated by life on a screen and missing out on the life right in front of us. But, is this all-consuming social media causing more damage than simply missing special moments? Is it changing us for the worse?
There are families enjoying a day spent in togetherness, business men and women walking to and from their places of employment, and college students making their way back to cramped loft apartments.
The city is bustling with culture and sights to see. There are street performers, restaurants, billboards, other people with stories so contrary to their own, all ready to be seen if the people would only look up.
If the people would only look up from their phones imagine what all they could experience.
The city would come alive with opportunity and adventure, but instead they are watching others experience their own adventure … on a screen.
The young mother is missing her child’s thoughts on the newness of the city as she reads a mom blogging about her own children.
A girl is missing eye contact with a man walking by as she is focused on pictures of a happy couple on her phone.
A man is missing a chance to reach out to another man stuck in poverty as he reads proposed solutions for homelessness from politicians on a news app.
This is the irony of social media.
A 2015 article from the Pew Research Center said that 65 percent of American adults are now using social media compared to only 7 percent in 2005.
In this percentage, an article from Statista says the average amount of time Americans are spending on social media is 1.7 hours a day as of 2015 and only continues to grow.
The number rises even higher in the young adult demographic. Of those people between the ages of 18 and 29 in the United States, 90 percent are social media users.
The dramatic leap in users piqued the curiosity of researchers about the effect this social media usage has on society as a whole.
The article from the Pew Research Center states that social media affects nearly every aspect of life. This includes politics, home life, business, consumption of the news media, the lives of teens and adolescents, and even so much as the stress level of users.
Another article by Brian Jung from Chron, a small business website, describes these effects in greater detail, focusing on a false sense of connection through social media.
Today there is a greater stress on forming relationships through social media than there is on pursuing and growing relationships in the world outside of the screen.
This can be evident in how people react in face-to-face conversations or one-on-one time with other individuals. It is normal today to look around and see people exchanging intimate moments for living life through a screen.
For example, families enjoying a nice meal filled with conversation and laughter has been replaced with each family member staring at their own electronic device.
Friends are walking through a park or sitting at a coffee shop and they are looking through their phones until something worthy of posting on Snapchat causes them to pay attention.
Even couples on dates are more concerned with getting the perfect Instagram-worthy picture than they are on hearing the thoughts and feelings of their significant other.
Jung says in his article that this focus on false connections through social media is feeding superficial relationships while weakening the ability to build and maintain more meaningful relationships.
Jung also writes about how social media decrease privacy among the average citizen. Social media give each user a platform to share their lives to any extent they desire in a completely public way. The amazing thing is, people are taking advantage of this.
Behind a screen people are becoming willing to share virtually any information, even topics they would not speak of face-to-face.
While this can promote vulnerability, it can also stifle real life meaningful relationships. Why talk about a topic with someone when you can hop online and easily read their thoughts?
Why ask when you already know?
This loss of privacy can also be harmful in the professional community. Today, there is less of a separation between private life and professional life. Everything is out in the open.
An employer can easily see an employee’s online profile and check what they did with their weekend, their thoughts on their job, or their views and beliefs.
This can cause trouble when one’s actions do not display the level of professionalism the company desires. One post can change the way the employer views the employee. One post can even affect the status of one’s job.
Individuals have to be more careful than ever before because their life is open for scrutiny and criticism due to social media usage, unless they fight against the temptation to share.
An article by Jacob Amedie from Santa Clara University discusses the rise in psychological issues among social media users. A study conducted at Michigan State University found a 70 percent rise in depressive attitudes among social media users and a 42 percent rise in social anxiety.
Amedie states the constant search for validation found in social media is not being fulfilled and is causing depression among users.
One can never get enough likes, never enough comments to satisfy the human desire of acceptance because acceptance is not found through a screen.
Problems in society such as equality or body image are being talked about and argued about constantly on social media with little push toward a solution.
For example, girls are being reminded every day of the standards of beauty the world places on them with little push toward real self-acceptance outside of the internet community.
Along with the constant reminder of these problems, social media is becoming the main platform to speak about these issues. Years ago, individuals would talk to one another about these problems and how they affect them individually. However, now we talk about problems online and often forget how to address the issues in real life.
This excuse to not talk about problems, or even life in general, is causing people to avoid learning how to communicate out from behind a screen at all and, when they are forced to do so, they can often experience social anxiety.
This generation is beginning to forget how to communicate. Meaningful conversations that are not interrupted by the dings of notifications are becoming more and more scarce.
The days of living in the moment and soaking in an experience are becoming less normal. We are forgetting to look up and it is destroying our society socially.
It is time to turn off the phone and live in the moment.
It is time for the mother to be more focused on her child rather than the parenting styles of a blogger.
It is time for the girl to make eye contact with the man passing by, and make a real connection.
It is time for the man to stop and hear the story of the homeless man he passes every day.
Now is the moment to begin looking up and seeing what life has to offer.
Emily Morton is a staff journalist for MBU Timeline, majoring in public relations. She helps run Spartan Wall and works in the Special Events Department. She is originally from St. Louis. Morton enjoys traveling, working with children and hopes one day to work with orphans outside of the United States.