By Dua Varun
P.M Forni, in the introduction of his self-help book, “The Thinking Life”, narrates an imaginary story of an alien, here among us, taking down notes on life on Earth. The intelligent being from another universe notices that, for human beings, the most important aspect in their lives are the decisions that they make. These decisions drive our lives, make us who we are, and are the primary factors in determining success or failure. What makes us equipped to handle these decisions? Well, time spent thinking, of course. It does not take an alien to figure out that this is not such an obvious answer, because most of us don’t spend time doing any kind of thinking at all. The alien, however, notes, that people spend a lot of time looking into their phones. He found people sitting oblivious to the world around, in restaurants, bus stops, airports, etc.
Have you ever noticed such people around you? Or are you, yourself, buried in Facebook too often to even take notice of this? A typical millennial sitting in a café would spend more time looking into their phone than they would spend looking at their meal. It is not difficult to find a group of people smiling at their phones, rather than at each other. You would also not need to exert any effort to find people who would listen to music on Spotify rather than to what their friend has to say. Social media is not only eroding our abilities to spend time thinking, but also affects our interaction and social life in the real world. Social media has made the world a more connected, yet a much more isolated, place to live in. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, and the time we spend on social media mostly eats into the time we might utilise for thinking, introspection, and reflection.
A recent study carried out by the J.E Cairnes School of Business and Economics here in NUI Galway found that social media overload affects academic performance in students. Ironically, fear of missing out (FoMO) on social media causes students’ grades to suffer. The study finds that the overuse of social media is causing fatigue and loss of self-control among students. This diminished self-control causes them to put less effort into assignments and work. The study focuses on academic deliverables that could be measured, to arrive at conclusions. But, what about the deliverables that cannot be measured? Life is more than just academics, and social media affects all aspects of it. Low self-control can trigger other problems, such as lack of goals, low motivation, difficulty in controlling emotions, passive lifestyle, difficulty maintaining a friendship, etc. Do we all not flip out when our Wi-Fi runs slow, or when a video on YouTube takes longer to load? Patience is a part of self-control, and we, as a generation, have become impatient, all thanks to social media.
In another book, titled ‘Sapiens’, Yuval Noah Harari talks about how globalization and social media have helped us create a negative self-image of ourselves. Today, it is not enough to be the most beautiful or the most intelligent in our house, family, neighbourhood or university. Our competition is with the entire world. We might be the fittest individual in our neighbourhood, but that counts for nothing when compared to the international model on Instagram. It has made our barriers to achievement higher, but at the same time increased our stress and lowered our self-esteem.
Every coin has two sides to it. Social media has had some positive effects on social capital and employee engagement, but an overload of any technology diminishes its positive effects. The study talks about cognitive load. The human brain is only capable of remembering 150 people at a point in time. Irrespective of how many friends we might have on Facebook, we are not built to process information on that large scale, and, thus, an overload of social media causes exhaustion and cognitive stress. It is, therefore, important to set limits to the use of networking sites and employ the rest of our time and cognitive skills in pursuit of a better life.