In the future, they will probably define 21 century as the era when all people in the world became interconnected, ending the tale about “6 degrees of separation”. If you do not remember, this was an idea by Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy (circa 1929) stating that every person in the world could be linked to any living human being through 6 other people, somehow knowing each other, as a chain.
With the invention of social networks, this is no longer applicable: All people are connected directly and immediately. You can find out what @GigiHadid eat for breakfast by simply becoming one of her followers.
The Birth of Social Networks
The world as a community is in the very beginning of the cycle where “we are all one”, as the famous saying holds.
- It was August 2003 when MySpace was launched as a platform for self-expression online, accessible to anyone.
- Facebook came about a few months later in February 2004.
- Twitter made its entrance on the Internet stage in March 2006.
- Instagram became available in October 2010.
Yes, it was that recent, yet we cannot imagine the world without these mediums today—except for MySpace, which was peacefully forgotten.
These media platforms shape the modern world. The last 3 presidential election campaigns in the USA could have completely different outcomes if it weren’t for the social media.
Humanity as a species is addicted to what became a non-stop “Big Brother” reality show on steroids: Watching other people going about their daily lives, while as the viewer staying in the shadows. And if you think about that, it was only September 1999 that the now archetypal Netherlands reality TV show was launched, echoing the idea of futurist George Orwell from his classic dystopian novel 1984. Today it is no longer a scary thought; it’s simply our life. And we love it!
- Over 2.3 billion people out of 7 billion who live today are already using social networking, and this number grows exponentially.
- Facebook had over 1.79 billion registered users by the third quarter of 2016. Over 1 billion are active users.
- By 2020, in another 3 years, this number is projected to reach close to 3 billion users, according to Statista.
The Dark Side of Social Media
However, even amazing and useful inventions have a darker reverse side, in addition to the bright and colourful front.
It’s not even about employers checking potential candidates through Facebook and looking through their Twitter feeds. Neither it’s about some weirdos trying to lure potential victims.
There is another worry coming to each and every one of us using social networking, psychologists say. They even found a name for it—Facebook depression.
What is Facebook depression?
The new syndrome was pinpointed in 2011 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Facebook depression is characterized as the type of depression that starts with spending more time in social networks and then followed by increased negative feelings and thoughts, leading to an actual depression.
UK researchers from the University of Lancaster recently confirmed that spending too much time in social networks can cause depression. Researchers David Baker and G. Algorta found that there is a complex connection between the use of social media and the level of unhappiness that could digress to depression. Besides, gender and age also have an impact on how this process works.
The essence of this syndrome is the act of comparing oneself to others, which is rather unconscious for the most of us.
The effects of comparing oneself to others online are far more pronounced than when people do it in the offline world, researchers discovered.
The study of Baker and Algorta was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking journal.
The Study on Facebook Depression by Baker & Algorta
The research work involved analysing data on 35 thousand participants from 14 different countries. The ages of respondents varied from 15 to 88.
The researchers name the following markers that accompany depression developed through the use of social networks:
- Negative comparisons with lives of other people.
- Being envious of other people.
- Maintaining links with ex-partners as friends in social networks.
- Frequent negative status updates.
People with neurotic personalities were, expectedly, more prone to developing a depression linked to the use of social networks. Women happened to be affected by the syndrome more often than men.
Are You An Active Users of Social Networks? You Are Not Necessarily a Narcissist
At the same time, another research by Australian scientists demonstrated that only 1 in 10 photos on Instagram was posted to gain followers or become famous.
Scholars from the Australian National University analysed over 5,000 accounts and concluded that posting photos with comments simply became a regular way to share personal updates with families and friends. Dr Tony Eager, the author of the study, asserts that selfie-lovers don’t necessarily succumb to narcissism or strive for self-empowerment, as some previous authors suggested.
- The most common type of selfies (35%) is an autobiography shot, depicting important events as well as some casual happenings in a person’s life.
- The next popular kind of photos depicts romantic relationships (21%).
- Fun-poking and humoristic pictures comprise about 12% of images posted.
- Product endorsements or images aimed to attract followers involve about 11% of Instagram shots.
For many network users posting status updates, videos and images became a daily job and the way to earn a living. The beautiful world they create in their accounts is not unlike ads in glamorous magazines. Once the makeup is washed off and the stunning gowns returned to sponsors, passers-by may not even recognize them.
The One That Got Away
Australian blogger Essena O’Neill created a stir in social networks in 2015 when she deleted over 2 thousand Instagram photos and quit self-promotion for good, despite having over 600 thousand followers and picking large checks from sponsors.
“Social media is not real life”, she stated, and then changed comments to her beautiful shots, explaining how hard it was to appear pretty and carefree in the pictures, and recounting all the problems that happened on the day.
Check her story if you are still under impression that someone, somewhere has a much more glamorous and untroubled life than you do.
High Life is Not as Enjoyable as Some Imagine
The “high life” and parties with celebrities are not as amazing as they are promoted to be. For the majority of guests it is their job and they have to appear at the event and be polite and entertaining.
Besides, it takes weeks to find an outfit, do the fittings, and then many hours on the day to get ready (hair and makeup). Sometimes you have to get up at 4 am for that, if the event or a TV interview is in the morning. Standing on 6-inch heels for hours while grinning for photos is also a job, not some fun. It may be scorching hot or freezing cold but you have to smile and look happy in your stifling dress, which makes walking problematic and sitting next to impossible. For guys, suits, ties, and narrow laced-up shoes also give lots of “joy” during formal events.
There are free drinks and food at the event, which you cannot eat or drink (because of imminent damage to makeup or potential spots, or, in the case of intoxication, unwise remarks that may see sponsors cancelling contracts). If you think it’s fun, it’s actually more of a torture, but they do it and pretend to like it, so that people who do not know the truth aspire and want to be like them.
The happiest moment of the day (unless you are the lucky person that got that award and not the loser along with dozens of others) is to take off these horrendous shoes that gave you blisters and the suffocating outfit, and then put your feet up and switch on TV, grab a cold drink and relax.
By the way, this happy moment is available to you, too, at any time.
How to Avoid Becoming Depressed because of Social Networks
The data collected by Baker & Algorta points to the need to stop comparing ourselves with others. This factor was the most obvious when monitoring patterns of healthy online users as compared to the ones whose mental health was affected.
As the research by Eager confirms, social networking has became an acceptable and easy way of updating families and friends on life developments and maintaining connections.
So, the problem is not the social networks themselves but how we use them.
The obvious steps:
- Limiting the time spent in social networks could be the simplest way for users who feel depressed to get out of the vicious circle of negative comparisons and rumination.
- Cutting links with ex-partners is another suggestion for those affected. Once ex-lovers disappear from your newsfeed, the need to know what they are doing will slowly vanish.
- Stopping the envy may be a more complex issue. The simplest thing here is to remember: When you see a beautiful woman or man who seems to have everything, most likely, there is someone who is sick and tired of them, too. Besides, they also have exes and possibly annoying siblings or parents.
- Cut the negativity. Start following the old wisdom and if you have nothing nice to utter, say nothing. If you intend to post a sarcastic remark, simply don’t.
People whom you don’t know in real life (celebrities, popular authors) do not share all their troubles and problems online, but it doesn’t mean they have none. Vice versa, the more intense and diverse are their lives, the larger are the challenges that come their way. You probably would have no idea what to do with some things they are forced to deal with on a daily basis.
Maintaining Mental Health
It became more obvious in recent years that mental health is an issue that doesn’t affect just some “crazy” people but each and every one of us. The ability to manage emotions is not simply an egotistical need but a necessity for living a healthy, happy and long life.
As such, looking after one’s mental state in general would assist in preventing Facebook depression as well. Exercising, spending time outdoors, finding enough minutes in the day to connect with well-meaning and positive friends and family are simple but often overlooked means to keeping one’s life in balance.
Caring for others as opposed to concentrating on personal problems, real or perceived, is also a great way of finding peace and harmony. It can be as prosaic as walking a neighbour’s dog or volunteering at a local community centre.
Just realize that every person on this planet, including celebrities on giant wages, is the happiest when they are with their loved ones, hugging kids and sitting around the table eating dinner with the family. It’s true.