Although it feels like it’s been around forever, social media is a very new thing, relatively speaking. Facebook has only been around for about 15 years and it’s pretty much the grand daddy. Students in school right now are the first generation to grow up with exposure to social media for their entire lives. This, coupled with the 24-hour news cycle–by which we are all inundated constantly–has created a world where it is very difficult to find peace. It can’t be a coincidence that our colleges are reporting that anxiety and depression are becoming an epidemic.
My daughter is a high school senior, just months away from entering college. Unfortunately, the members of her generation are, for lack of a better term, statistical guinea pigs. We’ve never had a large sample group from which to observe the effects of a lifetime of exposure to both the endless inundation of news–both legitimate and fake–and complete immersion into the world of social media. The jury may still be out, but the early returns are rather gloomy. I can speak from personal experience, since we’ve been going through it with my daughter, that a regular feature of college orientation is making incoming Freshmen very familiar with the pitfalls of depression and acquainting them–before day 1–with the network of counselors and therapists now on staff at all universities.
Social media has its advantages and charms. For instance, I have remained in touch with many old friends whom, without our connection on Facebook, would have long since become faded memories. At times, I’ve run into some of them at some function and the meeting was quite comfortable from the start because we’ve remained attuned to what has been happening with each other and our families all along. Actually, because of social media, I feel I know many of them better now than I did when I was around them a lot. That is really pretty neat. That’s a great reason to use social media
But that’s not the way most of the younger generation uses social media. For one thing, Most of them don’t even use Facebook much. They are much more into Instagram, Snap Chat, and lots of others I probably don’t even know about. What goes on with those other social media platforms is something akin to the Wild West. The main issue with social media on our younger generations is that they are so influenced by it. There are hundreds of young people who have become wealthy celebrities simply because they found a huge audience on social media. They are known as “influencers”. They can charge an exorbitant amount of money simply for mentioning on social media that they use a certain product or frequent certain establishment. They have become so popular that lots of kids today think that’s their only path to success and happiness. Find a unique twist and gain a huge following. But, in reality of course, very few have any success at that game. Consequently, they come to feel like failures because their profiles don’t get enough followers or their posts don’t get enough likes. This leads many down a path of trying ever more risky–and risqué–things to get attention. At that point, the door has been kicked wide open for depression to walk in.
As a teacher, I can also tell you that the 24-hour news bombardment takes its toll on kids. It certainly takes its toll on us in our more mature years. We all know that it’s a new era with the political division we now have. We’ve always been divided, but social media and the endless news cycle exposes us to that fact much more now–you simply can’t get away from it. It’s a toxic cesspool. It certainly causes anxiety and depression in many of us who’ve been around the block a few times. I’m sorry to report that it’s doing the same–probably more so–to our youth. I hear my 8th graders talk about the state of the nation and world and they are quite disturbed by it all. They all seem, I believe, to be walking around in a sort of doomsday fog. They don’t see a lot of hope in the future and it’s easy to see why.
Today’s young generations are much less comfortable with intimate, face-to-face connection with other people. They feel much more comfortable having relationships through cyberspace. The intimacy and natural connection of spending quality time with other people and having warm, calm experiences without a smart phone in their hands is awkward–even stressful–to them. This could actually be a major turning point in the evolution of our species. You hear more and more talk about a future run by artificial intelligence and, perhaps, this is the first major step in the natural selection process needed to clear the way for just that.
It may not be too late to stop or slow down this phenomenon. But it’s going to take a lot of work by parents to make a dent in it. The problem is, too many parents are looking at their smart phones, too.
I know, because I am one of them.