Technology has become an integral part of our social, professional and personal lives, one may wonder how much the human psyche is susceptible to its effects.
It appears it depends on the individual.
Kelly Humber Kelly, the mental health coordinator at St. Thomas University, believes poor self-esteem and social media may have a connection.
“I can see [social media] creating a distorted disconnect between reality and the way you’d like to be perceived,” she said.
Humber Kelly has noticed common self-esteem issues are present in many students. She’s concerned this disconnect between reality and the idealized life we promote on our social media feeds may lead people to feel unworthy in the face of other’s supposed perfection — especially when it’s our close friends who seem to be perfect.
“Previously, you’d see photos of people in magazines or in media that were doctored. In this day and age it could be someone you know.”
Spencer Folkins, a second-year student at STU, is one of many people who decided to participate in a “social media cleanse.” He decided to quit Facebook and Snapchat when he realized they were adding nothing to his life and instead, were perpetuating negative headlines and distracting him from dedicating more time to his passions.
“What was once used to connect ourselves to each other [is] now presenting us with the bad in the world … and has really isolated us,” he said.
Folkins has returned to social media, as most do, but he now feels he can appreciate his time and real life accomplishments without the validation of others.
STU human rights professor Christina Szurlej sees social media’s potential for an unhealthy source of validation.
“Social media causes users to seek approval from external sources, usually for superficial reasons, rather than recognizing their own intrinsic value,” she said in an email.
Szurlej believes social media validation, such as receiving likes or followers, can be fleeting and doesn’t offer a lasting and strong sense of self-esteem.
Rather than looking to social media for a self-esteem boost, Szurlej suggests using social media as a communication tool. It can start revolutions, but can also diminish constructive time working on one’s mental health.
However, Emma Walsh, a third-year student, sees social media as a way to connect herself to her friends while also fashioning an online “mosaic” that helps her escape her studies.
She likes having her friends always with her and having a creative voice in the world.
“It’s just [nice] having someone to talk to, to get outside of your mind.”
But she can also see the downsides, especially for the new generation of children.
She’s concerned technology will prevent children from learning to be creative without social media’s criticism. She hopes future generations will not mistake the two realities for the same.
“It’s not bad that people want to [have an] idealistic version online … but just knowing when to create that line between the art form and the reality is important.”
Angela Wisniewski, a science, technology and society professor at STU, believes unhealthy comparison isn’t worsened by the aspect of social media because people already compare themselves to others without the help of online glimpses.
From the research she’s done, she finds the dangerous part of social media is authenticity — or the lack thereof.
“The feeling that you have to be excessively positive and what you’re presenting online is really a carefully depicted version of your life because you’re aware of this huge audience.”
People may feel that they are constricted by these norms of having to put on a happy face.
Social media brings different experiences for different people, whether it’s personality, income or social circles.
Experts like Wisniewski continue to research the impacts it can have upon society, the user and the viewer.
“We can get very interested in just looking at the negatives or just looking at the positives, but the reality of interaction is that it’s not that easy to categorize into negative or positive. And social media is all about interaction.”