by Kira Weiner
Chapman University senior Devon Hillard has an addiction. Her boyfriend knows about it. Her friends have noticed it. She thinks about it frequently, stays up to date on news surrounding it and constantly finds new ways of using it.
Her substance of choice: websites. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. Hillard is a self-professed social media enthusiast, and she gets excited over every like and poke.
“I check social media a couple times an hour as long as I’m not driving or in class. Even then, I’ll log onto social media if the professor allows phones or computers,” Hillard said. “I’ve been called an addict.”
As a public relations & advertising major, Hillard may spend more time studying online networking than most college students. However, her social media addiction is not that abnormal: Nielsen’s annual Social Media Report estimates that people in the United States spend around 121 billion minutes on social media a month.
The amount of time that she spends logged-in does not bother Hillard, who said that she “enjoys understanding social media trends, trying new platforms and learning about the best practices.”
However according to recent research, social media addictions may have severe psychological consequences. A study published in the Public Library of Science found that social media use leads to a decline in happiness and overall wellbeing.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, monitored the online activity of 82 Facebook users in their late teens and early twenties every day for two weeks. Participants reported their state of mind and direct social contact through surveys five times a day, as well as rating their satisfaction with life at the beginning and end of the study. When the researchers analyzed the results, they found that the more a participant used Facebook in the time between taking two surveys, the worse he or she reported feeling the next time he or she took a survey. Additionally, those who visited the site more frequently were more likely to report a decline in satisfaction than those who visited it sparingly.
“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” lead author and University of Michigan social psychologist Ethan Kross said in an interview with The Ann Arbor News. “But rather than enhancing wellbeing, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”
The research did not provide an explanation for the decline in happiness after using Facebook, but co-author of the study and University of Michigan cognitive neuroscientist John Jonides believes that it relates to the phenomenon of social comparison.
“When you’re on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing,” Jonides said in an interview with National Public Radio. “That sets up social comparison – you may feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook.”
Sophomore sociology major Carmina Portea, who checks Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at least five times a day, understands the comparative influence of social media.
“There was a pressure to post on social media, especially because people want to prove that they’re having a great time after high school and that college is the best part of their life,” Portea said.
Seeing and internalizing these posts and pictures, Portea believes, may lead to a negative outlook.
“I think that social media definitely has a psychological impact on us,” Portea said. “If you are really present on social media you have pressure to show that you’re having a good time, or if you see that people are having a good time and you’re not it makes you feel upset.”
Even though sophomore screenwriting major Brianna Janes usually logs onto Facebook to communicate with others and not scroll through her newsfeed, she often feels “neutral to worse” after visiting the website.
"A lot of people post stuff on Facebook about how their lives are so great and wonderful, even though their lives could be a completely different thing than what they’re posting,” Janes said. “It’s a bit of an odd experience. ”
Like Portea and Janes, freshman kineseology major Taylor White checks his Facebook multiple times a day. In high school, White used to find himself comparing himself to others online. However, he has changed his outlook on social media since coming to college.
“I used to go online and think, ‘Why am I not having fun like you are?’” White said. “Now I’ve realized that everyone is doing their own thing. I’m having fun on my own and I don’t need to be jealous. I’ve evolved to getting ideas from others and having an appreciation for what they’re doing, rather than comparing myself to them.”
The University Michigan study also found that over time, face-to-face interactions and phone conversations had a positive impact on the participant’s feelings. So the social media users of the world may not be doomed to a glum outlook on life afterall, as long as they do not take the fabrication of reality presented on social media to be a direct representation of real life.