Warning Signs

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Warning Signs

Mar 15, 2024

Demographic cohorts seem to be increasingly more confusing to keep track of, but Generation Z categorizes anyone with birth years between 1997 and 2012.  Though many of the people that comprise this generation were not born into a world of social media, their later and more formative years were spent on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  Generation Alpha on the other hand, consists of anyone with a birth year between 2012 and 2024.  This demographic cohort was born into it and may never know a world without social media.  Upon its conception, “social” media was originally intended to bring people together and increase communication.  Unfortunately, recent studies have linked platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to increased levels of social anxiety and depression.  Are such disorders simply the toll that must be paid in order to sustain the luxury of social media?  Or does a simple solution exist to this increasingly prevalent issue within society?  I believe the latter should be the ultimate aim, but by no means consider the solution simple.

One way to solve the issue of anxiety and depression caused by social media is for a person to do away with the platforms all together.  I am aware that, for some, this would be a rather tall order.  There are many individuals out there whose livelihood depends on the success of social media.  Therefore, I am by no means calling for the complete downfall of these platforms.  I am simply asking people to have enough self-awareness to be able to recognize a problem within their lives.  If someone believes they are experiencing certain disorders due to social media, the most immediate and direct solution would be to eradicate the platforms from their daily activities.  In fact, I have personally experienced the benefits and relief that comes from such implementations.  I was in the Navy for five years and underwent multiple deployments throughout that time.  This allowed me to go numerous months without my phone or social media.  Though difficult at first, the experience progressively became easier and ended up being rather freeing in a multitude of ways.  I had no need for my phone; therefore, I stopped carrying it with me everywhere.  It was liberating to be without a device that I had developed so much dependency on.  The circumstances of my life were somewhat unique at this time, but I have maintained a life without social media ever since.

Another possible solution for these issues would be to increase the spread of awareness.  Though many people are now conscious to the dangers of social media, these platforms continue to grow in popularity.  I have had people tell me about the severity of their depression, and then proceed to scroll through Instagram for an hour.  Such people are not fools, and they know that social media is an attributing factor to their negative emotions.  This will by no means be a shocking revelation, but a good portion of the population is addicted to social media.  The warning signs are all there, but people continue to use these products despite the side effects.  In an interesting comparison, warning labels were first put on cigarettes in 1965, but people are still smoking.  Cigarette smoking has, however, significantly decreased since the 1960’s.  The numerous health campaigns warning people about the dangers of tobacco certainly helped, but there were also many additional factors that lead to the decline.  For example, people eventually became such advocates against Big Tobacco that smokers became ostracized within society.  I may be somewhat off-topic bringing up cigarettes, but it did force me to ask myself a question.  Is it truly a great stretch comparing Big Tobacco with a major media conglomerate such as Facebook?  Social media platforms are fully aware of the numerous studies showcasing the negative effects avid users experience.  Despite these studies, however, sites such as Facebook continue to push their product and frequently research ways to make their users even more addicted.  Unfortunately, social media has become such a significant part of modern society that such practices are accepted, encouraged, and extremely lucrative.  Therefore, the platforms themselves need to take accountability and do a better job of looking after the well-being of their billions of users.  

Generation Z has had the interesting experience of witnessing the growth and development of social media.  Some of the people that find themselves in this demographic cohort may even remember a time when their lives were not impacted by such sites.  Future generations, however, will not be so fortunate.  TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and ensuing sites will simply be a part of their world.  Hopefully, more studies will be conducted that allow these future generation to have a greater sense of awareness about the negative effects of social media.   Personally, I am a Millennial and have always considered myself fortunate to have had a childhood that did not revolve around technology.  I have, however, witnessed the power of such sites and consider myself to be a part of the generation that first became addicted to them.  Therefore, perhaps future generations will turn out to be better off than their predecessors.  Maybe they will grow up knowing the dangers of social media and choose to live a life without it.  This may seem overly optimistic, but I believe society will someday become so fed up with social media that they give rise to a healthier form of mass communication.  People are already addressing these issues, but true change will only come when society develops a sense of urgency around such matters.

Samuel Miller, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "Many experts say that a big problem with social media is social anxiety and depression. Have you or any of your friends experienced those problems? If not, how were they avoided? If so, what can be done to address the problem?" Sam is an Integrated Marketing Communications major.

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