The Weekly Dilemma
Every week it’s a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the notification on my phone that tells me my weekly screen time. I love seeing that I spend over 9 hours on my phone each week as it is the motivation I need to set and work towards achieving my goal of reducing social media screen time. At the same time, I hate the notification because it's the weekly reminder of how much more I could have accomplished with that time. Instead of reviewing content on my phone, I could have exercised, personally engaged with friends (true social connection), or visited family. Although our smartphones have made life easier through the instantaneous access to information, entertainment, shopping, and other life necessities or wants, it has also taken a huge toll on our overall health, both physically and mentally. In my case, reviewing my increasing screen time each week is a constant reminder of the lack of progress towards my goal and inability to change a bad habit. This leads to a sense of guilt, knowing that I am actively not making the choice to engage in activities that will make me happier and healthier.
Technology & Digital Consumption
As a member of Gen Z, I cannot remember life without technology. Whether it was the brick-like TVs and VCRs with which I watched Disney channel movies, the Tamagotchis that consumed my childhood summers, or the evolving smartphone which now enables me to do anything and everything. Millennials and Gen Z are the most familiar and active social media users detailed by Pew Research, a nonpartisan think tank. Specifically, their findings show the following age demographics for social media users:
It is not surprising that younger generations spend the most time on social media. In addition, research from Statista states that the average person spends 2.4 hours of the 16.5 hours they are awake on social media. This means that approximately 15% of the average person's day is spent on social media. What is the effect of Gen Z and Millenials spending so much time on social media? Let’s examine the use of Instagram, the most popular social media application.
Instagram and the Daily Routine
Pew Research Center states that Americans spend 59% of their daily screen time on Instagram. The app has become a goliath within digital technologies as everything is possible with Instagram, from traditional sharing of pictures, updates on life events, to short videos, news, and marketing. This explains why it is now a must-have component for many businesses whether they are small or large or provide services or products. It’s the go-to app that allows us to stay connected to others in so many ways. This feature has grown in importance as we’ve reduced in-person contact during the global pandemic. Instagram has successfully ingrained itself as a staple in our lives and society.
Despite the benefits of Instagram, its increasing use comes with negative impacts. For example, the app was designed to keep users glued to their screens by creating a dopamine kick. It's simple, yet effective designs include the scroll to refresh and the red notification buttons constantly communicating to us updates on likes, comments, and messages from friends. Cumulatively, this makes it extremely hard to close or not view the app, making its use addictive and oblivious to most users. As a society, we are addicted to our phones and value apps like Instagram, resulting in drastic changes in our thoughts, behaviors, and everyday actions. One area we especially see this is in our definition of beauty.
How Instagram Has Defined Unachievable Beauty
As a Gen Z, Instagram's most significant impact on my thoughts and actions is its unrealistic definition of beauty. In essence, it has defined beauty in ways that make it unrealistic and unachievable for the average person. Instagram has created a public space where it is custom to only share the carefully selected and well-staged life events that paint an overall story of perfection. We spend countless minutes identifying perceived imperfections, editing out insecurities, writing the perfect caption, and then monitoring the response from friends, family, and the general public. In so doing, we place a tremendous amount of self-value in others, and through that process, we may repeatedly and inadvertently reduce our self-confidence. The irony is as we use Instagram to boost our self-confidence, our quest for likes and views may have the opposite effect of reducing the confidence we seek to gain especially when we receive mean comments or do not receive recognition through likes and re-shares.
The irony is as we use Instagram to boost our self-confidence, our quest for likes and views may have the opposite effect of reducing the confidence we seek to gain especially when we receive mean comments or do not receive recognition through likes and re-shares.
The use of Instagram and users' reaction to posts have created and reinforced the notion that everyone must always present themselves in a way that meets the standards of beauty defined by influential members on the platform and in our society. Inherently, most users are striving to meet Instagram's crowdsourced definition of beauty. Some users will use simple tools like photo editing to make themselves appear skinnier, tanned, with the perfect features and body. Others will take the more extreme option of medical procedures in the hopes of creating a better version of themselves. I am sure this was not the intent of the developers of the app, but it's definitely the outcome of how users interact with the platform.
Reinforcing a More Holistic Definition of Beauty
A more holistic definition of beauty means that we look beyond visual appearance. It should consist of both visible and non-visible traits. Beauty should include:
If we want a healthy society, we must reinforce a holistic achievable beauty standard that looks beyond visible appearance and goes deeper into who we are and what we do as interdependent members of society.
As our lives continue to be significantly impacted by technology and more intertwined with digital content, it's important for the continued reinforcement that beauty is more than visual appearance. A society striving for an unrealistic and achievable visible beauty standard will always present mental health challenges. If we want a healthy society, we must reinforce a holistic achievable beauty standard that looks beyond visible appearance and goes deeper into who we are and what we do as interdependent members of society. Ultimately, we need each other for social interaction digitally or otherwise, so let’s start reinforcing holistic beauty so that we can all enjoy the positive benefits of social media.