We’ve entered an era where virtual notifications generate more excitement than physical interactions. The online world fills in emotional gaps, consumes our days and conditions our behaviour. Social media is known for its ability to create and maintain entirely new forms of relationships, while also educating, entertaining and relaxing us.
However, every blooming flower wilts; as with everything in life, the internet is not immune to heavy criticism.
The rise of social media is observable at every turn, whether our faces are buried in newsfeeds, or the latest update of Candy Crush. However, statistics are the concrete proof behind this. In the past three years, the App Store has grown by 230 per cent, from 650,000 apps, to 1,500,000 apps.
This parallels an increase in smartphone purchases, but also an increased interest towards social media from a wider range of people in society. The popularity of social media, however, does not necessarily equal effectiveness, specifically when considering its ability to raise the bar of social standards.
Our days are becoming consumed with the online world more than ever. According to a survey conducted by Ofcom, UK citizens spend approximately eight hours and 41 minutes online per day (more than an average night’s sleep).
The internet is a bittersweet network; it has the potential of educating us, but also risks dumbing us down. This can be demonstrated through its obsessive tendencies of focusing on meaningless life events – mostly related to celebrities. Kylie Jenner trended on Facebook for making a public appearance in shorts. Surely world hunger, Middle Eastern war conflicts and animal cruelty deserve more attention than an 18-year-old girl’s dress code?
Elevated beauty standards are also a danger to impressionable young girls. Photoshopped and filtered images are no longer limited to magazines; they now exist on social media accounts such as Instagram, making the likelihood of body comparison and dissatisfaction higher.
Furthermore, many individuals will end up feeling frustrated in the media and its focus on trivial subjects. Such distractions take our life purposes on a tangent, away from a direction that could have benefited our evaluation of self purpose in a more holistic notion.
During the summer, I was in desperate need for a detox from all forms of social media; therefore my phone and laptop Wi-Fi got turned off along with deactivating my Facebook profile. I would only go online at night to check my emails and Skype with family and friends.
Many were confused as to why I chose to isolate myself from such an informative, educational and sociable forum. However, the internet is so much more than a worldwide encyclopedia, or an immeasurably large friendship group that anyone can check into.
Removing myself from social media made me realise that I was often left without much to do during the day. During the break, I allowed myself to choose what I felt was important in life, as opposed to having the widespread media doing the job for me. In an attempt to detox myself from all the negative energy I was unwillingly absorbing online, I ended up enjoying my surroundings more, but was also able to interact and bond better with my family.
Coming back home for the holidays was a demonstration of how dependent today’s youth – and even adults – have become on the virtual world. One of my biggest concerns, however, is for children. It shocked me how easily bored my cousins would get once the TV was turned off, or the iPad taken away. We are raising the next generation – tomorrow’s society – without the tools to engage with the physical world. Adults who are distracted and disconnected.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that going online can enrich life beyond it. At university, the internet is not only the most progressive provider of information, but also a fantastic platform for career opportunities. Most workplaces and universities require internet usage for email communications. Furthermore, module outlines, university calendars, and essay submissions are all done through an online forum at most universities.
This makes the whole process of going to university more accessible, but what happened to the regular way of making notes and reading articles? Even Kindles and emails are replacing traditional forms of reading and, notably, books and letters. Technology risks their extinction, yet is this for better or worse? Initially, I dismissed my own love of handwritten notes as clinging onto the past. This was until I read that our immediate memory tracks handwritten information better than typed. Does technology therefore harm our education?
The internet world does not provide you with a user manual or any guidelines that should be followed; therefore its crucial that we have the ability to control the way we allow ourselves to be influences by what we read on our screens. Online can do more good than harm, as long as the public uses it effectively and productively. We shouldn’t prohibit ourselves from engaging in online entertainment such as movies and games but there’s no need to give it the power to consume you. Similarly, internet conveniences should be used to benefit our time management, not turn us into couch potatoes.
If we draw out the positive aspects of the internet, whilst being mindful of the negative, we can ensure that the online world does not control our own.