From The Straits Times    |

There’s no denying that social media has swiftly risen to prominence, especially over the last decade. It has captivated millions around the world and it has exerted a powerful influence on society. People use social media on their commute to work, at gatherings with friends and family and even before hitting the sheets. It seems like our lives revolve around our devices and it’s only going from bad to worse.

But why are we so obsessed with social media? Firstly, it offers an unparalleled platform for connection, enabling us to bridge physical distances and engage with others effortlessly. Even more so as time-strapped individuals, we often find ourselves struggling to find the time to meet and catch up with our loved ones.

Aside from that, as we navigate the online community, we also find it easier to make connections with others which may eventually lead to new friendships or even relationships (read: dating apps).

For others they rely on online platforms as a primary source for news, trends, and cultural discourse, shaping public opinion and driving conversations. Nowadays, instead of reading the papers or going to the bookstore to get their copy of the latest magazines, users are keeping themselves updated through different platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. It’s no wonder that the addictive nature of social media, coupled with its constant accessibility through smartphones and other devices, has made it an integral part of the lives of many. Think about it, when was the last time you’ve opened your last social media app on your phone?

The risks of social media consumption 

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1. Negative impact on mental health

And while social media can help to build these meaningful connections and ease feelings of isolation, it also takes a toll on users’ mental and emotional wellbeing. According to a study by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), it was reported that social media platforms, particularly Instagram, have a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people. The research suggests that “young people who are heavy users of social media – spending more than two hours per day on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – are more likely to report poor mental health, including symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

Even with platforms like Instagram, many are struggling with poor body image issues due to factors such as comparing oneself to others and exposure to unrealistic standards.

2. Addiction and time management

Social media platforms are designed to be engaging and can lead to addictive behaviours. We scroll through our feeds during our free time, only to spend an hour or two mindlessly watching videos after videos, and eventually we end up forgetting the chores we told ourselves we’d do after checking our phone. As a matter of fact, excessive time spent on social media can also disrupt daily routines, productivity, and for some, even real-life relationships.

3. Privacy and security concerns

If you’ve been in the loop, you’d probably know that there has been a spike in online scams in Singapore. Now that we have more apps on our phones that we can even manage, scammers have found different means to phish individuals online. Besides, social media platforms gather lots of your own personal data – putting you at risk of being exploited – which is why privacy settings and practices are crucial to protect personal information from unauthorised access or misuse.

4. Distorted perception of reality

Social media often presents an idealised and filtered version of people’s lives, creating a distorted perception of reality. As a result, it can eventually lead to feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and a skewed understanding of what is normal or attainable.

Signs of social media addiction

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1. Excessive time spent 

Spending an excessive amount of time on social media platforms? This includes constantly checking social media, even in inappropriate or inconvenient situations. 

2. Neglecting real-life interactions

If you’re ever out with your family and friends and you’re guilty of scrolling through your phone instead of prioritising face-to-face interactions, you’re addicted to social media. Not only is it a red flag, but it can also lead to a decline in real-life relationships and a reduced desire to engage in offline activities.

3. Withdrawal Symptoms

Social media use, just as use of alcohol or drugs, can hijack the dopaminergic pathways and can at times have similar withdrawal symptoms like restlessness, irritability, or anxiety when you’ve gone cold turkey.

4. Obsessive thoughts 

Constantly thinking about what to post next on Instagram or TikTok, or obsessively checking notifications, is a common sign of addiction.

5. Neglected self-care 

Prioritising social media use over self-care activities, such as proper sleep, exercise, or healthy eating, is one of the clear warning signs of addiction.

That being said, have you ever wondered if you’re addicted to social media? Try this as an experiment if you’re an Apple user.

Credit: Her World Singapore/Shazrina Shamsudin

Pull out your phone, and under ‘Settings’, go to ‘Screen Time’ to see all your activity. Under the ‘First Used After Pickup’, have a look at the number of times you’ve opened the apps on your phone. Doing so allows you to have an insight on how often you wake your devices and which apps you use first after waking them. If you’re heavily reliant on social media, you’ll notice that most of these apps will be at the top of your list. For someone like me, whose work revolves around all things digital, you can definitely tell that I spend most of my time scrolling through apps like TikTok and Instagram.

At the end of the day, it’s important to note that experiencing one or two of these signs does not automatically mean that you’re addicted to social media. However, if several of these signs are present and you have started to notice significant impacts on your daily life and well-being, it may be beneficial to seek support and consider evaluating and managing social media usage habits.