By Evie Sweetman
A massive 45 per cent of the world’s population use social media for an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes per day, making knowledge of its impact on our well-being of crucial importance.
The advent of smartphones and social media is so recent that understanding of the long-term effects of large amounts of screen time is limited. However, the information we have so far suggests that it is a highly problematic part of modern life.
The social media companies are not going to start limiting our time on their websites anytime soon. We need to be aware of how to navigate the digital landscape and make sure that our online relationships do not become more important than the ones in real life.
On top of that, there is a disturbing amount of people whose main hobbies are scrolling through Instagram or Snapchat. After all, people spend on average, daily, 58 minutes on Facebook, 53 minutes on Instagram and 35 minutes on Snapchat.
If the time spent on Facebook was creative, perhaps that time wouldn’t be badly spent. However, the problem with a lot of social media is that people spend far more time consuming content than they do creating it.
Scientists are now studying how social media impacts people’s brains, specifically, teenagers’ brains.
In a new documentary film called “Screenagers,” by Delaney Ruston, a study is shown where young mice are subjected to flashing lights, quickly changing images, and other distracting lights and sounds. They are then put in a maze and they have to find a way out. The mice who had been subjected to the flashing lights and images took, on average, three times longer to get out of the maze than the mice who were not subjected to the lights.
Essentially, the lights and images — which were simulating social media — changed the mice’s brains, affecting their ability to learn.
Imagine if humans’ brains work the same way. Already, people have been commenting on the shortened attention spans of teens who spend a lot of time on social media.
However, I believe there is a good side to this. Social media can connect people, bring awareness to critical causes, share beauty and much more. We just need to learn how to control ourselves a bit better and maybe think more about switching off and sometimes doing things like playing sports, talking with friends, reading, connecting with people or creating something.
Evie Sweetman is a Grade 8 student at Cayman International School.
This article originally appeared in the November 2019 print edition of Camana Bay Times in the “Life in Middle School” column, with the headline “Social Media: How much is too much?”.