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Being connected online does not equate to connection in the real world. An aspect of social media I find interesting is how even though we are all digitally communicating, spending more time online can lead to symptoms of depression and isolation. In a study from the University of Pennsylvania on symptoms associated with social media, “...students who limited their use of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to 30 minutes a day for three weeks had significant reductions in loneliness and depression as compared to a control group that made no changes to their social media diet” (Nobel, Harvard Health Publishing).
Social media has the ability to leave one feeling both included and excluded, as well as virtually engaged and mentally distanced from the material they’re viewing. Watching highlight reels of other peoples’ lives is bound to leave one feeling empty and left out, and in these cases, the phrase ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ could not ring more true.
I have always found connections with people in the real world stronger than any virtual avenues of communication. I don’t feel as connected online as I do speaking to someone in person - if anything, spending time on my phone makes me feel drained of all energy. I don’t feel as motivated to do things if I’ve been staring at a screen for long periods of time. True connection comes from tangible relationships. For me, this lies outside the digital world.
While I do feel that connections and networking on social media are important, there is something to say about the superficial nature of it all. Does being friends on Facebook equate to being friends in real life? Are your followers actually people that you are close to or engage with outside of Instagram? Even though we follow other peoples’ updates, are we keeping up with them in person? Laughing at the good times, crying through the bad? If someone loses a loved one, there’s a difference between posting “Praying for you, sorry for your loss!” in a comment versus crying with that person as they go through hard times. Knowing someone’s life does not mean we know who someone is. We must remember that knowing someone online does not mean we know them.
It is in this that I see social media serving as a way for feelings of isolation to come forward. Because media is an ongoing, constant form of communication with no real beginning or end, it can leave a user feeling drained and detached from their surroundings. Being separated from the real world can make us feel isolated and alone, and we must not forget that the digital world should not be our primary source of support and encouragement. Relying on our phones to bring us fulfillment and happiness will leave us drained and void of real energy.
Tangible interactions within the real world will bring us true fulfillment, and until we recognize this, we will never escape from potential feelings of isolation. That is why I see social media as preventing us from fulfilling our true purpose in life, as it distracts from what is truly important.
Savannah Welch is a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: Does social media make you feel more connected or more isolated? The class covers copyright and social media. Savannah is a Media Production major.
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