Social media use has become a hot topic in recent years as the amount of profiles across platforms have skyrocketed globally.
The debate here is whether or not this indicates an unhealthy level of addiction. Many younger users in particular (who either do not remember life before social media or literally were not even born when it was introduced) defend it as simply both a modern equivalent of leisure time like television or radio and also a phenomenal tool to communicate and exchange knowledge.
The clear advantages and benefits of social media aside, let’s take a look at how addicted we are and how it’s impacted us as a global society.
Are We Addicted?
While this question is mostly answered through opinion rather than objective fact, there are definitely statistics that could help provide insight.
One way we can determine the level of reliance and addiction is through the age of exposure. In other words, how young are children being exposed to social media nowadays?
According to a report by Influence Central, the average child acquires a smartphone by the age of 10 and opens their first social media account by 11. By the age of 12, a shocking 50% of children have an account on at least one social media platform.
These statistics show that social media isn’t simply a platform for teenagers and adults to interact with each other and exchange information, but also a tool that children often use by the time they reach middle school.
The second way that we can determine this is through the amount of exposure. Of course, everyone is different (some people will be on constantly throughout the day while others aren’t even particularly interested), but the average can speak volumes.
As of April 2019, the number of active users on the top social media platforms are as follows:
- Facebook: 2.32 billion
- YouTube: 1.9 billion
- Instagram: 1 billion
- Twitter: 330 million
- LinkedIn: 303 million
- Snapchat: 287 million
This is just a broad look at social media usage since there are still many other platforms (and, of course, many users overlap), but considering the fact that the current world population is just under 7.4 billion, the numbers become much more startling as percentages:
- Facebook: 31.6%
- YouTube: 25.9%
- Instagram: 13.6%
- Twitter: 4.5%
- LinkedIn: 4.1%
- Snapchat: 3.9%
As a reminder, these statistics are for monthly users, meaning this is the amount of the world (including rural areas who may not even have access) who actively uses these platforms.
What Does This Mean Socially and Culturally?
Though humankind has always had means of distraction (books, newspapers, etc.) that they could turn to as a way to temporarily isolate or entertain themselves, social media has really brought this to a whole new level.
On the positive side of things, the boom of social media has made it insanely easier to experience other worldviews by connecting people from all walks of life in one place. Prior to this technology, many people would fail to ever interact with people from vastly different cultures and life experiences, making it harder to understand different perspectives.
However, that is the “ideal” more than the reality. Many platforms analyze the information that users use and share, providing them with similar content that they know they will enjoy. This seems simple, but it also leads to a problem of echo chambers since people will be receiving viewpoints from the circles and groups they are already a part of, diminishing the benefit of cultural and political exchange.
Additionally, social media has given people a chance to hide behind their screens and even behind fake profiles, opening up an entirely new problem for things like cyberbullying, scamming and general attitudes that they would never exhibit offline.
Social media has also made unhealthy shifts in societal standards since “perfection” is at everyone’s fingertips. People tend to exhibit their highlights on social media, making it seem like everyone is succeeding and thriving except for you. This on top of a constant barrage of social media models, advertisements and other influences can cause a massive hit to self-esteem.
Lastly, you may already realize that social media also threatens real-time interactions. Many people will find themselves distracted by their phones when they are at events or spending time with loved ones rather than living in the moment. Many people will even busy themselves with filming events like concerts to post to their social media stories rather than enjoying it in the moment itself.
This has caused a boost in things like social anxiety and isolation as well as a decline in physical interaction and expertise in things like body language, social cues and even patience.
What Does This Mean Economically?
Any shift throughout history eventually has an impact on the economy, sometimes even completely shifting jobs to new sectors.
For social media, one of the many areas that is deeply impacted by the prevalent use of social media is marketing. With technology and social media making everything exponentially more accessible at your fingertips, everything is consumed much more quickly and superficially, so both goods and their respective marketing strategies are pressured to be more quickly digestible.
Digital marketing is becoming increasingly necessary, and ad campaigns are feeling more and more pressure to focus on things like promo models, internet trends, data mining and quick, quirky sound bites and images/video to catch consumers’ attention.
Lastly, social media addiction is hugely responsible for the spike in online shopping. Companies like Amazon (or any company’s website and delivery features) are able to thrive by advertising on social media platforms (either directly or through influencers) since a simple click can drive consumers to their website.
This is a huge contrast to the way that prior marketing (TV, radio, newspaper, etc.) functioned because even if consumers are successfully influenced, they still actually have to follow through and travel to the business to receive the good or service, leaving room for them to either change their mind or decide against the effort if they are too preoccupied with other responsibilities.
The overall convenience of social media has prompted this shift in the marketplace and in marketing strategies for businesses across industries.
The addiction to social media that has developed over recent years is alarming due to its massive reach and influence on social, cultural and economic factors in our society.
Not only is this something that impacts our day to day lives, it affects us on a bigger scale. Currently, the companies who most dominate society are social media tycoons like Facebook, technology providers like Apple or online shopping platforms like Amazon.
Of course, there is good and bad that comes with such a shift. But at what point does progress turn into addiction, and what are we giving up in the process?
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