The speed with which social media has overtaken our lives is phenomenal. It is in fact probably the most significant invention since cavemen found out the uses of a wheel. From looking for a place to eat, to finding the date of a festival; from showcasing a family member’s success to simply dating… the list of activities on social media is endless. In the race for one-upmanship, the service providers have also outdone themselves, and in the bargain literally made today’s youth a bonded labour to their IT tools.
On an average, a teenager spends 27-30 hours per week on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Viber, Telegram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Hangouts amongst hundreds of others. Gaming sites and apps provide additional avenues and previous famous/infamous obsession for games like Temple Run and Pokémon GO are still fresh in our minds. Social media has become an inseparable part of life for majority of young people today. The issue was still manageable till it was restricted to desktops or laptops. However, proliferation of smartphones has increased it in geometric progression. More than 50% teens (12-17 years) and 76% young adults (18-25 years) own a smartphone. While it has its share of positive effects, it is the negative fallout which is causing concern all around.
- Social media provides excellent platform for sharing knowledge. Educational institutes are exploiting it to optimum to collaborate and communicate with students and one another. Students have easy, free access to resources online and can discuss topics and assignments.
- Social media facilitates change – social, cultural, political. Online networks give social movements a speedy method of disseminating information and mobilizing people at almost no cost. Uprising in Egypt and Middle East a couple of years back are prime examples of youth achieving spectacular results by exploiting the reach of social media.
- People increasingly communicate with friends on social media platforms, which strengthen relationships. 88% of teens found staying in touch with friends they don’t see regularly possible, due to social media. People make new friends online and 57% teens reported making new friends online in 2015.
- Social media Networking platforms are excellent outlets for professionals for marketing, connecting, finding employment, and finding business opportunities and new avenues of income.
- The biggest fall out has been over dependence- to an extent that we are today literally handcuffed to our phones and have become walking RFID tags who can be traced at any time, any place. Loss of privacy is not even being realised by the young ones who are often too open and public with personal information, when online. Most people don’t read privacy policies and may be unaware that their personal information may be used by third parties, such as advertisers. Social profiles and personal information can be used/misused against you by prospective employers/marriage partners/educational institutes.
- The positive effect on academics is offset by the excessive time spent online. While grades did improve for light users, the grades of students who are heavy users of social media tend to suffer. Productivity at work drops due to distractions and the urge to check one’s social accounts every two minutes or on receipt of any notification.
- Cybercrimes, cyber-bullying and security attacks like hacking/phishing et al, are another set of negative fallout of the social media mania. Young ones are easy preys to online predators as well as enforcement agencies. Examples of child pornography and victimization under IT Act of 2000 are far too many to quote.
- Excessive online engagement is also linked with personality and brain disorders like poor social skills, narcissistic tendencies, need for instant gratification, addictive behaviours and emotional issues like depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Online friendships and relationships are causing irrevocable damage to real life relations and social norms are the biggest casualty.
The Way Forward
Judicious exploitation of technology, rather than becoming subservient to the unending maze of 0 and 1 is the need of the hour. This holds true for children, young adults, and adults. Young ones need to be guided and monitored on usage of social media for their advantage without harming them and the fabric of social relations. One must ensure that children are not permitted to use the social media without them being ready for it. Appropriate age and mental/emotional maturity is a pre-requisite. Adequate counselling and training on safe usage of on line apps is a must before a child goes online. Finally, proper discreet monitoring is mandatory which could be supported by direct communication about the sites and content of online usage by the young ones. In addition to this, adults too need to set a good example. Don’t become a slave to the technological world, for you will only fall deeper and deeper into the dark abyss. Self- control, balanced usage of gadgets, and a strong sense of your priorities will bring to you the balance your life requires. One last word- Be Safe. Be Happy.