The Social Media Fog
Lately, I’ve experienced a fog clouding my vision and consuming my motivation. Unable to shake this cloud of despair, I return to the culprit of my troubles: social media. Social media is often regarded as a form of mindless entertainment, but it can very easily turn into an addiction.
Our mind and body can experience psychological and physiological changes as a result of excessive technology use. This is due to our brain’s neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to alter itself after new experiences. People who spend too much time on social media can develop similar brain chemistry to those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Similar to these substances, social networking sites can trigger a rush of dopamine in our system. It can feel good to scroll through content, express ourselves creatively and communicate with our friends and family. If we frequently overuse technology and participate in media multitasking, however, we can leave feeling empty and overwhelmed. Media multitasking is the act of using multiple social networking sites at once, such as scrolling through Instagram while watching Netflix. After a late night of scrolling, my ears often ring with notifications and TikTok sounds. The next day, I find it difficult to set my phone down during Zoom classes, and I feel trapped in the familiar fog.
According to a study in 2013 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United Kingdom, social media has led to a drastic decrease in attention span. The average human attention span dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2013. Cognitive scientist Herbert Simon once said that “information… consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
In 2021, we take in five times more information than we did in 1986. The overwhelming presence of information on the internet can lead to emotional processing issues. A 2010 University of Michigan study confirmed that college students were 40% less empathetic than they were in the late 70s and early 80s.
My past attempts to escape the fog often resulted in a social media cleanse. Back in June of 2021, I deleted every form of social media off of my phone for a whole month, desperate to live like it was 1986. I found myself reading more, and on a good day, my screen time had dropped to just below two hours. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to feel disconnected from the world around me. I realized that the social media cleanse is almost entirely unsustainable in modern society. We need to push for balance rather than cutting out technology altogether. My recommendation is to shift your focus towards healthy habits that improve your physical and emotional wellbeing outside of technology.
Meditation is an excellent way of training your attention, allowing your mind to absorb more information. A University of California at Santa Barbara study found that undergraduate students who meditated for 10-20 minutes four times a week for two weeks performed better on memory tests than those who switched to a more nutritious diet. In addition, exercise, hydration and screen-free hobbies can also mitigate the negative impact of excessive social media use.
If you feel the familiar fog and a lack of motivation, it might be time to regain some balance in your life. Social media is inescapable, and we need to be mindful of when our technology use becomes out of hand. Moving forward, we must consider what this balance looks like in our everyday lives. Can we ever truly exist in tandem with the digital world?
Art by Alex Moon