THE WILD WEST
When the very first social media sites emerged on the scene in the early 2000s (hello, MySpace, my old friend) not much thought was given to the potential negative effects. After all, the premise was positive: it gave people the ability to connect with friends and family, while meeting new people in the process.
Since then, the number of sites and apps dedicated to socialising online has skyrocketed, as have the number of studies that show it’s not all beer and skittles.
A New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) found one in ten Kiwis aged 30 to 59 had experienced cyber bullying, while that number was even higher in youth, with 46 percent of 18 to 19-year-olds experiencing it. Compared to previous eras, where home would at least be a temporary refuge, there is often no escape from harassment in a digital world.
Statistics also show regular social media use can create feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem and even loneliness – the very thing it was meant to counteract. Because social media profiles are a curated, typically positive version of someone’s life, the desire to compare it with your own is powerful. But the research shows the more people make those comparisons, the unhappier they become.
Mindworks psychologist Sara Chatwin says she’s been a registered practitioner since 1995, and has seen the effect technology has had on the human psyche over time.
She says there now seems to be a lot more people with disorders such as anxiety, and that could be linked to the way technology is being consumed so heavily in daily life.
“Whilst there are avenues where it’s been so great, I’ve seen so much damage that social media and technology has done,” she says. “For one, there are not many laws or regulations that monitor what is going on or checks and balances put in place. It’s very random. I work with a lot of celebrities, and there’s a phenomenal amount of anonymous hate that gets fired to the nicest of people. Social media has next to no devices to monitor, regulate or enforce limitations or restrictions on it.”
She says the solution to combating the negative effects of social media is to take life back to grassroots.
“You’re never going to get away from this stuff, because it’s here and it’s growing – but you can get outside, go for a walk, go to a gym, or meet people face-to-face,” she says.
And as the lines between social media and reality blur, Chetwin says it’s also important to take note of what is important.
“If you have a life that’s online, you don’t have a real life,” she says. “You have half a life. Online stuff isn’t based in reality, it’s based on the ability to not have to do things that are necessary when you’re a human being living in a real-world environment.”