Is social media a positive or negative influence?

Anyone familiar with the current age of technology would likely not consider using social media as often as humanly possible to be particularly bizarre. On the contrary, this appears to be a growing norm. It would be much more bizarre for one to have never used it at all. This may apply to a lot, but in high school the odds are even more in favor of its incessant usage. Between classes, after class and perhaps even in class, it remains triumphant as a center of attention.

Social media is at its core extremely addictive. A short session of casual mindless scrolling may unconsciously become an hour long trance of obsessively checking for likes, frantic messaging and even more scrolling. This is generally a universal experience, but not an inexplicable phenomenon. So, why does it happen?

In effect, social media is engineered to keep the user consuming for as long as possible. As apparent with the countless instances of trance-like usage, but the truth is many popular features were not intended to be as addictive as they are. Developers are constantly looking for ways to make their platforms more engaging. Elements such as the “like button” and “infinite scroll” (more posts/pages load in as the user scrolls down) were simply innovations, but the novel aspect and the uninterrupted stream of information to the user has formed a basis for major social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and even YouTube. 

Yet, when are these platforms ever reserved? When do they cut back on the addictive features and encourage its users to take a break? Not with autoplay. Not with refreshing and reloading timelines. Not at all. We must infer that social media was meant to be this way, that the developers in control, have never ceased to be in control. Social media is meant to be addictive.

There is a concept known as attention economy. Attention economy is the notion of human attention being a valuable and limited commodity: you can only do so much, you can only consume so much and you can only give the attention you have to one thing at a time. Companies, precisely social media, aim to be that one thing. The longer it can keep you scrolling (or watching) then the more chances it has to sneak in ads. The more you post, the more followers you get, the more likes you get and the more instant gratification you receive. But what does this cost you? Who benefits from your time; who gets the most out of your valuable attention? Do you get the value of your time or do you leave unsatisfied like there is something more you are missing, something more you might get with just some more scrolling?

In spite of all this, social media does not have to be all bad. With moderation, it can be a valuable tool and a great way to stay social during the pandemic. However, that does not make it entitled to anyone’s attention. Its addictive features and widespread usage have concocted an atmosphere filled with conflicting psychological and social pressures, a universal fear of missing out and, not to mention, all the other negative effects it can have on an individual. It doesn’t have to be this way. Putting the phone down is not bizarre; it’s totally reasonable.