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‘The Social Dilemma’ and How Technology Can Negatively Impact Mental Health

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5 people standing against a brick wall while using their phones.

What Is the Dilemma?

The Social Dilemma, a Netflix documentary, focuses on the dangers of social media and the negative impact it is having on teenagers’ mental health. Social media can serve as a tool to connect with people and make friends. But there is a dark side to social media that is not always shown. 

The Social Dilemma shines a light on the dark side by showing how social media platforms were made to be addictive. Former workers at Google, Pinterest, and Facebook talk about the time and planning that went into creating addicting apps, referring to phones as ‘digital pacifiers.’

Social media corporations are mainly focused on money. These apps are meant to be addicting because corporations make money off of the time you spend on them. 

Although we feel we can take a break from our phones or do a “social media fast” at any time, trying to quit social media after starting can be nearly impossible because of the lengths these corporations go to.

Every app has an algorithm that is specifically designed to make the app of more interest to you. For example, Instagram monitors what photos you like or comment on, how much time you spend looking at each photo, how many times you visit various profiles, etc.

They gather this information in order to maximize the time you spend on the app. If you are away from an app for a long period of time, they will send you notifications to get you to reopen the app. 

The documentary compares social media to drugs in terms of its addictiveness. “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software,” said Edward Tufte. 

Why Technology and Social Media Are Harmful 

One of the most concerning parts of The Social Dilemma was when the Netflix film discussed how mental health has been impacted by social media.

Studies show that the amount of time teenagers spend on social media is linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. When social media first became popular in 2009, there was a spike in hospital admissions for self-harm and suicide among teenagers. 

Sleep patterns are also largely affected by social media. Being exposed to the light on your phone right before bed delays sleep and affects sleep patterns. This can lead to sleep deprivation which can affect mental health and is actually linked to depression and anxiety. 

Someone holding their phone with notifications popping up.

I think one of the biggest reasons why social media can be so harmful is because people often create a false reality of their life. We post only the most positive, attractive, and best photos.

This can lead to comparison and unhealthy mindsets. Social media can also make teens feel excluded when their friends post everything they are doing and who they are hanging out with.

This documentary made me rethink the amount of time I spend on social media platforms and technology in general. I have been guilty of scrolling mindlessly through apps like Instagram and TikTok. But with the way these apps are set up, it is so easy to get sucked in. 

Snapchat streaks are designed to make you check the app every day to reply to friends. Instagram stories are meant to make you spend more time on the app. TikTok purposefully plays video after video to capture your attention and keep you scrolling. 

Social media can also negatively impact body image and self-esteem. One prime example of this is Snapchat filters. These filters can be fun, but they also can be harmful.

They change the way your face looks, which can warp the perception you have of yourself. The filters often add makeup to your face and change the shape of your facial features. 

Social media can also harm self-esteem through likes. We get a rush of dopamine when friends like and comment on our posts. But this can turn social media into a popularity contest and leave users seeking superficial feedback for validation. 

“Social media starts to dig deeper and deeper down into the brain stem and take over kids’ sense of self-worth and identity,” said Tristan Harris, former Google employee. 

How to Quit Social Media 

Learning these technological hindrances does no good if we don’t act, so have you looked into how to quit social media? It may seem like a bold move you’ve never considered before, but wasn’t life before your smartphone so simple?

Discovering how to quit social media depends on the person. Do you find yourself “on call” for TikTok every night to see if anyone liked your comment? Turn off notifications. Do you get stressed about sending Snapchat streaks every day? Break your streak.

Replace liking a friend’s Facebook posts with having a meaningful phone call or text conversation you both will like more. Replace the tea on Twitter with a tea party beside your younger sister and her stuffed animals.

Deciding how to quit social media could be as simple as deleting the app you never use or as big as powering off your phone for a week. It just depends on your realization of how social media is holding you hostage and your desire to break free.

After watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix, I deleted the Instagram app from my phone and set time limits on other social media apps. I’ve also turned on the grayscale setting on my phone which makes the screen black and white.

Phones and apps are also designed with bright colors in order to be more tempting and addicting, so I’ve found the grayscale feature useful. 

An iPhone with popular social media apps open.

Conduct a Social Media Fast

If your life is meaningless without your smartphone, it’s time to conduct a social media fast. A social media fast, also known as the “no social media challenge,” is when you take a break from the Internet and apps that demand your attention.

You set the timing, so your social media fast can be anywhere from a week to a month. You won’t know what to do with your time, and you’ll be rolling in free minutes. What better way to break this notorious addiction than by refusing to let the Internet make money from your attention?

Though the first few days of your social media fast may be boring, that’s the point. We constantly lie to ourselves that we need apps to make us happy, but we’ve forgotten the simple joys that smartphones have overwritten.

Find that new talent of painting. Start your new hobby of completing Sudoku puzzles. If time is money, it’s time to make an investment that yields purpose to your afternoon.

My advice to anyone trying to spend less time on their phone would be to turn off all notifications, set screen time controls, and delete time-wasting apps. I believe it is helpful to avoid checking social media right before going to sleep and upon waking up.

Even keeping your phone in a different room while you sleep can be very helpful to your social media fast. As well as putting your phone in a different room when you are doing work or studying. 

It is important to be aware of the dangers of social media in order to better ourselves and our mental health.

A main character in Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma tried locking his phone away, but he couldn’t make it one week. Can you?