By Hannah Newman
On an average day, it has become normal to walk through campus without seeing a single face: everyone is looking down. Some students often unknowingly escape a collision while crossing the street and not paying attention to their surroundings. Others barely miss brushing elbows with the people walking near them. This constant distraction is the product of a new standard in today’s society: social media and cell phone addiction. Civilization is held hostage to its personal devices as a result of the endless reliance on them for everyday necessities.
Although it is the fastest way to communicate and reach those that need to be contacted as soon as possible, personal devices are a distraction that people face each and every day. Social media in particular has fabricated reality into an idealistic lie that encourages people to produce content that confuses expectation with reality. For instance, the Kardashians’ use social media as a way to advertise their daily lives, marketing them as somewhat normal. They eat lunch, take care of their kids and work like the majority of society; however, the features of their pictures speak louder than the actions being demonstrated within them. For example, on Oct. 23, Kim Kardashian posted a selfie of herself without a filter eating lunch. This photo is unrealistic because her makeup is professionally done, which contributes immensely to her overall appearance in the picture. This gives society, particularly the youth, a false perception of what an average person looks like as they eat lunch and perform other everyday activities.
With this constant falsified illustration of what real life looks like, digitally native societies, or societies that are introduced to electronics at a young age, are raised watching the world revolve around electronics. People raised in this society tend to pressure themselves with convenience and trends that are encouraged through social media and the advancement of technology. For example, if two groups of friends run into each other somewhere and take a photo and post it, signifying that they ran into each other at the store without stating it, it can give viewers the impression that those people were together the whole time. This can be followed by a negative reaction from other friends who may feel excluded from either party.
This constant fear of missing out has made people reliant on their phones and the specific function of having a first-hand view of people’s lives. The ability to see what others are doing at any given moment, including who people are with, what they are doing and a scale of how much fun they may or may not be having, can be debilitating. Similar to Kim Kardashian’s post, if a group of people are hanging out and post pictures of themselves smiling for a photo on social media, it is typical to assume they are all having a good time together even if, in reality, there was a massive fight or someone got hurt, but how would anybody know the truth unless it was documented? People do not expect anything to be wrong unless it is documented as such on social media, thus manipulating people’s perspectives of reality and lowering their self-esteem, motivation and human interaction. This has resulted in an increasing rate in mental illnesses among the youth.
Two highly-used social media platforms among college students are Instagram, which came out in 2010, and Snapchat, which came out in 2011. In the past decade, the rate of mental illness in the United States has spiked by nearly 4 million, starting at roughly 46 million in 2010 and reaching 50 million in 2022 according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and Mental Health America. Although this may not seem like a significant increase, many signs of poor mental health include avoidance, a loss of engagement and a shift in behavior, all of which can be found across campus as people walk from class to class unable to make eye contact with those they pass. The dining hall is filled with people sitting across from one another as they study their phone screens, not exchanging a single word.
The concept of being disengaged in the moment is what drives people toward poor mental health and depressive behaviors. How is it that a device that is supposed to make staying in contact with people the easiest it has ever been in history is the reason that everyone has grown so far apart from one another? A similar question should be asked each day as people pick up their cell phones: Am I looking at a better version of myself as I search for different jobs and make plans with my friends for the week, or am I belittling myself by overanalyzing the content? Am I reminding myself of all that I do not have and berating myself for being someone that I can never be?