Small white rectangles reflect in the glassiness of your eyes as your thumb gently and continuously flicks up on your phone screen, revealing new tweets every second. You’re drawn in, exploring the internet and ignoring your surroundings.
“Stop wasting time on social media, get off your phone and do something of worth!” This abrupt voice shakes your wave of thought and snaps you back to reality.
These are words teenagers hear often, usually coming from teachers and parents. They aren’t completely in the wrong to reprimand teens about social media use; it can be a distraction and can lead to real problems like mental and emotional stress or addiction. However, social media is not all that bad–it can actually be quite beneficial.
Too often have I heard the lecture that social media is destroying our generation and phones are evil. It’s a tired case. Social media is a growing part of our society, so instead of resisting, we must adapt and realize all the advantages that it offers.
Our innate urge to connect and form communities is the primary reason for social media addiction. Social media is a platform where people have the opportunity to form communities that they might not have in their immediate surroundings. The unique opportunity to create deep bonds with people you’ve never met in person is a very special part of being plugged in.
For Fr. Lucas Zerba, it was not easy to talk to people or express his feelings face to face. As part of the LGBTQ+ community, he felt alone and did not know whether anyone else was going through what he was. But through social media, Zerba got the chance to meet supportive friends in the LGBTQ+ community: “I became aware that there are others going through the same thing I am. It helped me come out to everyone else in my life and get involved with the GSA.”
Soph. Analisa Perez has also found a community online where she feels she can fully be herself without fear of being judged, “They let me be me and vice versa.”
Belonging to a supportive community is beneficial to mental and emotional health. According to ScienceDirect, people who feel a sense of belonging in social groups are less likely to develop depression. “I feel way more included in online activities and discussions than in reality,” Says Jr. Alexis Braun, who primarily uses Twitter. Having a sense of belonging is an imperative aspect of good mental health. For Braun and many other adolescents at WO, a sense of belonging comes from the internet.
For those that go online not to find new communities, but to stay in touch with friends and family, social media helps to deepen friendships. A 2009 study by Valkenburg and Peter shows that social media helps people form stronger bonds with those that they already know. This is because self-disclosure, the act of sharing information about ourselves, is increased on social media and strengthens our knowledge of our friends, making us feel a more intimate connection to them and their everyday lives. As Sr. Madeline Kendall articulates, “Words are one thing but seeing a snapshot of their day tells a different story.”
Not only does social media act to inform us about our friends, peers, and relative’s lives, but it is a major source for news and information.
According to a poll of 120 West Ottawa students, 44.2% of students get the news from an app on their phone. Information spreads rapidly on social media, making it an effective place to get live updates on current events from different perspectives–as opposed to news channels which usually present the news with bias. Reported by the American Press Institute, 70% of Millennials say that their social media feeds are made up of diverse viewpoints, split evenly between similar and different perspectives to their own.
As a population, Millennials and Generation Z are arguably more socially-informed than prior generations were as young adults. Getting updates from around the world and having access to any information they desire, these “iPhone Generations” have become very vocal, activistic and, as internet lingo would have it, woke. Social media has given people power to use their voice and make change.
School Walkout Day was organized by teens on social media platforms. They informed the public about school shootings and political policies, pushing for change. With the help of Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, thousands of schools across America got the message and took time out of their day to hold a walkout for gun reform and awareness.
A more recent example of social media activism is with Cynthia Brown’s case: a girl who was charged for killing her rapist. When the information got to social media, people were outraged and used their voice to fight for her liberation. NewsOne reported that “Due in part to outrage on social media and attention from celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, Brown’s story went viral.” Brown is now going to be pardoned for her killing because of the internet’s response.
Social media holds a big influence over society; it’s no surprise then, that it’s a consistent place to find inspiration.
Having a constant source of inspiration is an essential aspect for reaching our personal goals and achieving productivity, creativity and well-being. But inspiration can be difficult to come across in everyday life. For people who go to school or work all day, inspiration to do things that they are interested in is not easy to find. But with social media, people are constantly seeing works, articles, and posts about things that inspire them. A report from Psychology Today suggests that “The best you can personally do [to obtain a source of inspiration] is to set up the maximal circumstances for inspiration.” Social media is the perfect platform for this.
Fr. Victoria Villareal has found inspiration to develop her interest in the fine arts and break out of her shell: “There’s a bunch of Instagram accounts that have to do with art or singing and it inspires me to do more things like that and put myself out there.” Fr. Ariela Ferraro-Guillermo also finds creative inspiration online, saying that if she did not have social media, she “would lose creativity because social media allows people to be creative without limits.”
The heightened awareness of unique lifestyles, people, and cultures on social media has acted as inspiration for many to acknowledge their true colors and be themselves. Jr. Michael Alicea was particularly inspired to embrace his individuality by the differing lifestyles and cultures he discovered on social media: “I’ve been able to educate myself about life and the topics I’m interested in, and I’ve been able to discover who I want to be, instead of mimicking other people around me.” Our immediate surroundings can only offer so much; we’re lucky to have social media as a way to branch out and discover new things.
But not everyone will benefit from social media by simply being on their phone. There are a few guidelines to follow in order to get the best use of networking apps: limit time spent on your phone–use social media, like everything else, in moderation; follow accounts wisely–do not follow accounts that make you feel jealous, sad, or unworthy; use information on social media to make positive change. Social media should not just be a waste of time, but instead a place to find communities, make connections, discover creative inspiration, and be socially and politically aware.
Having a positive social media experience is up to the user. A poll of West Ottawa students showed that 63.6% of students feel that social media is a positive thing in their lives. It’s time to embrace the good that comes from social networking sites and accept social media as a part of our world.