The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Social Media in Our Lives

Just how far can social media go? It’s no question that social media has become more and more relevant in everyone’s day-to-day lives, whether you’re 20 years old or 55 years old. In fact, TikTok recently reported having more than 1 billion monthly active users globally. That means nearly 1/7th of the world was engaging in TikTok, with the average amount of hours spent on the application nearing 25 hours a month, beating out Television by an hour and a half, on an app that was nearly banned at this time last year. While social media can have many good aspects, like watching funny clips or dancing videos on TikTok, many fear it is contributing greatly to social displacement in society.

In an article by medicalnewstoday.com titled “Is Social Media Ruining Your Life?”  Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, examines if social displacement theory is in fact true and if it really is an ugly thing we should fear for the future. According to the article, “Social displacement theory basically states that the more time you spend in the world of social media, the less time you’re likely to spend socializing with people in the real world. This applies to both passive use of social media (such as mindless scrolling at a house party) and active interaction (such as living for those little green circles that appear next to the names of your Facebook friends)” Hall states. “The social displacement theory also says that such a decrease in social interaction will make you miserable — or, to use scientific language, “lead to a decrease in your well-being.”’

Hall decided to put this theory to the test, and decide if such a decrease in social interaction is all bad. Two studies, one conclusion: Hall and his colleagues collected data from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth between 2009 and 2011 to examine for “Study 1”. Hall and his colleagues investigated whether or not there was a direct link between social media use and “direct” social media contact, which was defined as “getting out of the house, hanging out with friends, talking on the phone, or partaking in any form of group activity, bar religious ones.” The study group consisted of the so-called Generation X, some of the main adopters of social media and new technology. “What was interesting,” he adds, “was that, during a time of really rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, you didn’t see sudden declines in people’s direct social contact. If the social displacement theory is correct,” says Hall, “people should get out less and make fewer of those phone calls, and that just wasn’t the case.”

So, how bad could social media be? At least people can learn some things on it, right? After all, according to pewresearch.org, more than eight-in-ten Americans get news from their social media. According to another article published on theweek.com, social media might be making you smarter (wink wink). “Social media might render us mean and unhappy, but it also makes us more intelligent, according to a new study. Research suggests social media can improve verbal, research, and critical-thinking skills, despite popular concern about the damaging effects of the internet on impressionable youths.” So, maybe you could be getting smarter from social media. You’ll just have to deal with the “mean and unhappy” part.

It’s important to take most of these articles and their “research” with a grain of salt. Social media can be both valuable and hurtful, like a double-edged sword or good-tasting poison. It did, after all, produce the world’s most valuable startup in TikTok. But, these articles and statistics (all found on social media) all really make you beg the question; just how far can social media go?