Have you ever wondered how much time you’ve spent scrolling through social media, shopping online or streaming entertainment? I’m pretty certain you answered my first question with yes! Digital is everywhere we turn in today’s world. From your morning news updates to ordering lunch on Deliveroo to the listening to the calm app as you fall asleep, our days are led by technology but is it really taking over our lives? Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’ analysed the impact that social media and technology is having on our phycological behaviour and lives. The documentary covered the good the bad and the ugly of digital, so what are the positives and negatives of digital?
Many feel the digital age mostly negatively impacts young people and that isn’t an unfair presumption. In an Instagram age, the pressure on young people to look ‘perfect’ and fit into a box to be beautiful is immense. Unfortunately, many girls have suffered at the hands of social media forgetting that the majority of influencers and celebrities pose, edit and filter their photos to get that ‘instaworthy’ shot.
Cyberbullying is another horrible trend that has emerged from social media, we all know kids can be cruel and no longer can children finish school and escape the bullying. Being behind a screen seems to make some children feel invincible and say the most awful things to others without thinking of what the consequences of their actions may be. Currently, there isn’t any specific legislation in regards to cyberbullying but there is lots of campaigning by charities and parents for the government to introduce cyberbullying laws.
It isn’t just children who are negatively impacted by social media. Many relationships have fallen victim to jealously fuelled by social media. Whether its a partner liking a person’s photo or following an ex, social media is another obstacle to over come in couple’s relationships that wouldn’t be there had it not been for the development of the digital age.
There are also concerns that we all now spend too much time in front of screens. I’ve seen children out with parents under the age of 2 glued to iPads and using smartphones. A recent study from Ofcom found that UK adults spend 40% of waking hours in front of a screen. Spending too much time looking at screens can have a negative impact on both our physical and mental health, it is important to find a good balance and regularly step away from the screen.
The sharing of fake news can be considered the most detrimental habit to come from the digital age. It's now so easy to retweet or share a news article or political figure’s views that quickly, fake news can go viral. A recent example is the US election with Donald Trump making claims of voting fraud without the evidence to back up the claims, in a move to prevent further spread of the claims Twitter marked several of Trump’s tweets with warning messages. The ability to quickly share fake news has caused many to be misinformed about important issues, for example COVID-19. Twitter and Facebook are the main culprits when it comes to users sharing fake news and although the platforms have some measures in place to prevent it, many would welcome tougher, more effective measures.
Of course their are lots of positives that have come from the development of digital!
This year has been crazy and without technology we wouldn’t have been able to stay connected to family and friends. Lockdown was made slightly easier by endless Zoom quizzes, WhatApp messages and Instagram stories filled with banana bread. Thanks to FaceTime we actually got to see our family no matter where they were in the world. Social media has also provided a platform to share charity fundraising campaigns and social good. Through social media users have found life-saving donors, raised thousands for amazing causes and shared stories of kindness.
Social media and digital have also had a positive impact on small businesses. Businesses no longer have to spend thousands on TV advertising and expensive print advertising to get gain brand awareness and sales. Facebook advertising has helped to level the playing field allowing small businesses to compete with blue chips without the need for a huge marketing budget. Many small businesses also use Facebook’s shop feature to sell their products direct to their customers. Instagram has also become a great place for businesses to showcase their products, particularly fashion and homeware brands both big and small. We all leave a digital footprint each time we search or scroll on social media platforms, meaning businesses can better target their advertising and messages so users are served up relevant content they want to engage with.
It is important to not forget the impact digital has had on job search and career development. Gone are the days are hand delivering or posting CVs to companies and crossing your fingers you’ll hear back from one. There are now hundreds of online job boards, making it easy for job searchers to find and apply for jobs that appeal to them. In terms of social media, LinkedIn has revolutionised career development and job hunting. Recruiters can easily reach out to potential candidates, graduates can connect with career mentors, users can assess learning resources to develop their skillset and businesses can share their expertise with a global audience.
So is digital really ruining our lives? Well, it is clear there are several negatives as well as positives. Striking the right balance between online and real life is important, take time away from the screen, monitor children’s screen habits and be careful what information you share. Social media and technology won’t be going anywhere soon so with careful use there is a place for both in our lives.