Weaning off the screen

Modern consumption of media is harmful


Anya Panday

Social media has become a norm in our lives for a while now — following the pandemic, social media use spiked. With more than 59% of the world using social media, it’s become an integral part of our lives. Social media provides a multitude of benefits, such as making it easier to meet new people and form connections and giving people a way to keep up with each other’s lives. However, social media has also had a large negative impact on screen-addicted teens. 

One noticeable impact social media have had on teens is a newfound lack of attention span. In the beginning, media largely consisted of YouTube videos and podcasts, or other kinds of long-form content. However, in recent years TikTok has surged in popularity and normalized the existence of 60-second videos. With this shift, YouTube and podcasts have almost become a kind of “background content,” as people struggle to focus on 10+ minute videos. Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts were created to keep up with the demand for shorter and shorter content. While TikTok has recently expanded into longer videos, the truth is most content that people consume on TikTok every day is short-form content. With the constant scrolling, I’ve found myself swiping away from videos that are over 60 seconds because I can’t focus long enough to finish them. Studies show that exposure to media at a young age is linked to attention span issues, so it’s clear that media has an impact on our ability to focus. 

Furthermore, the constant scrolling has conditioned us to crave quick, instant gratification. Because of social media, endless possibilities are at our fingertips and we’re used to the vibrant colors and instant information from social media. When we scroll on social media, we release dopamine, the chemical in the brain that creates feelings of happiness or pleasure. When we get used to quick dopamine hits at our fingertips, it’s hard to get off of social media and it’s hard to feel fulfilled with the dopamine we get from “regular life.” Our addiction to dopamine from social media is even more clear when considering the new trend of turning phones into “grayscale mode.” The idea behind this trend is that if one’s phone is black and white, their brain will find it less satisfying and produce less dopamine, and therefore help them feel less addicted to their phone.

Speaking of addiction, social media can have detrimental effects on mental health. Feeling dependent on one’s phone is hard, and the conditioning social media has done to our brains makes it harder to feel satisfied with our day-to-day lives. It’s become a norm these days to reach for one’s phone as soon as waking up or whenever bored. It’s also easy to feel isolated when on one’s phone. 43% of smartphone users say they use their phones to avoid social interaction. When glued to a screen all day, it’s easy to stop having meaningful, in-person conversations, which often leads to increased feelings of anxiety. 

Social media also pushes unrealistic beauty standards and paints an unrealistic image of what day-to-day life should look like. It’s no secret that most models online use some form of photoshop to alter their appearance. When everyone online starts to have perfectly smooth skin and the “ideal” body, it’s hard to not feel insecure for looking like a normal person. Additionally, “hustle culture” has started to cultivate toxic mindsets about everyday life. Trends such as “my 5–9 before my 9–5” paint an unrealistic idea that people should get up at 5 a.m. every day and essentially live a whole day before their workday. While being productive is a good thing, these standards are simply unrealistic and often lead to people feeling unproductive and dissatisfied with themselves because they’re not living up to an impossible standard. This leads people to feel more stressed and unfulfilled.

While social media has many benefits and practical uses, it’s important to consider how one interacts with media on a day-to-day basis, and how one’s consumption of media is affecting them long-term. In this day and age, it’s hard to do a “social media cleanse” or give up phones in general. However, there are some small, sustainable changes that can be made in daily lives to foster a healthier relationship with social media. Firstly, spend the first hour or so of your day without your phone. Stop training your brain to want your phone as soon as you wake up, and allow yourself time to wake up without constant stimuli. You can also turn off your phone ringer to avoid the temptation to pick up your phone every time you get a notification. Lastly, turn off unnecessary notifications. For example, no one actually needs to have their Instagram or TikTok notifications off. If you try turning off notifications for just a few of your social media apps, you might be surprised by how less inclined you are to pick up the phone.