Comment Writer Muskan Surana discusses a recent comparison between junk food and social media and suggestions children are most vulnerable to both, arguing that even middle-aged adults are susceptible to social media
We cannot imagine our lives without electronic devices, especially smartphones. As a young adult, it is the first thing I wake up to and the last thing I finally doze off looking at. The absence of your phone makes the heartbeat erratically, the presence of it is nothing short of a security blanket.
It is a necessity after all.
But it is perceived as a problem by Belinda Parmar in her recent article for The Guardian. She associates the addiction to social media, and its link to excessive screen time, with the detrimental impacts of junk food on our health. Parmar calls it a feature of the growing tech industry, suggesting popular applications, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are affecting children; particularly those under 18, adversely, with the severity of impacts leading to depression.
Parmar refers to the addiction as ‘junk tech,’ the consumption of which makes children feel ‘sick and empty inside.’ Features such as infinite scrolling and short-lived messages entice the vulnerable social group of children, luring them into the world of social media.
A blue tick next to your name on Instagram, a happening life on Snapchat, numerous likes on Facebook, proliferating views for random viral challenges on TikTok; these have become a form of validation for today’s generation. I know it because I have been through it too. Maybe I still am going through it. We do this to look cool, to be a proud netizen. We do this because it helps succumb to our inner insecurities, it helps boost our self-confidence. But does it really? Research shows otherwise.
A study conducted by University College London reported that 38% of heavy social media users were prone to heavy depression. The adverse effects on mental health are evident, despite the short-lived feeling of satisfaction of matching the trends of social media. Anne Etchells, the headteacher of St. Aidan’s Primary School in north London condemned the growing influence of social media on kids. But are children the only vulnerable social group here? After observing my own surroundings, I beg to differ.
While Parmar believes the tech industry has targeted children with exposure to social media, I perceive the effects to have extrapolated to all age groups. Just considering my family, my parents are seldom off of WhatsApp, my aunts and uncles cannot stop scrolling through Facebook and my grandparents simply love sharing forwarded messages and videos. No matter how irritating it might seem, it brings attention to the fact that children might not be the only social group made vulnerable by the tech industry.
Statistics as of February 2020 show that the majority of social media users in the United Kingdom fall under the age category of 18-34, specifically so in the group of 25-34. This figure accounts for over 80% of total users, contrasting with claims made in Parmar’s article that children are seemingly the most affected by social media. The top three popular social media platforms are unsurprisingly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While sports dominate posts on Facebook, Instagrammers are influenced by celebrity influencers with their larger-than-life trends such as Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez.
Children might be at risk of overexposure to social media and its detrimental effects, but they are not the only ones. Adults, who had not spent their childhood with these technological inventions, find the tech industry equally intriguing, if not more. In fact, a 2018 article by Daily Mail claims that middle-aged adults are more prone to depression and loneliness as an effect of excessive social media than young adults and children due to the extra need for validation.
While Parmar addresses the issue, she also suggests solutions. In-built mechanisms that limit usage could be an effective initiative taken by the tech industry. The University of Pennsylvania, in its research, claimed that limiting the use of popular social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to ten minutes per day led to visible improvements in loneliness and depression. Awareness, however, is the first step forward. The adverse effects of excessive social media could be taught to children in schools and explained through blogs or newspaper articles to reach out to older audiences. Children might not be the only demographic group affected by social media as adults are equally vulnerable.
Belinda Parmar is correct in comparing screen time to junk food. But children are not the only ones craving junk food, perhaps neither are they the only ones addicted to social media.
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