According to reports from the BBC, around three billion people (or 40% of the world’s population) use social media. To paint a picture, that’s around half a million tweets and Snapchat photos shared every minute.
With social media being such a key part of our lives in the twentieth century, often the negative effects can be ignored. While scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter may seem harmless, in March 2018 it was reported that more than a third of Generation Z (those born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s) from a survey of 1,000 individuals stated that they were quitting social media for good. Of the same sample, 41% even claimed that social media makes them feel anxious, sad, or depressed.
In a bid to highlight how unrestrained social media use can be damaging to mental health, Leicester’s De Montfort University has decided to “recalibrate [its] relationship with social media” and switch off all its accounts. During the days off, students should make the most of the free gym classes available at the university and will be encouraged to look at the printed books in the library rather than reading online. With one in four people spending more time online than sleeping, should more universities be taking action? Should they work to ensure their students are working to their full capacity and protecting both their physical and mental health?
While I can appreciate the lengths to which De Montfort University have gone to take a stand, a ‘digital detox’ needs to be a choice
To quote a classic saying, “you can only help someone who wants to be helped.” While I can appreciate the lengths to which De Montfort University have gone to take a stand, a ‘digital detox’ needs to be a choice. Individuals should judge their relationship with social media for themselves and make a conscious choice to make a difference. Indeed, forcing students to abandon their profiles could just cause more harm than its worth.
Charlotte Walsh, a partner at the digital media retreat centre Digital Detox, concedes that “technology may be incredibly useful and educational and it undoubtedly allows us much creativity, connectivity, and enjoyment.
“But if it begins to distract you from what you should be doing, like your job or your education, or it negatively affects your relationships, or costs you more money than you can afford, then it starts to become dangerous. If it is negatively impacting your life you need to evaluate what you do online, when, and with whom.”
If universities are concerned their students may be underachieving or neglecting their health in favour of social media, universities should give students the choice to make a change rather than making it for them. Providing free taster sessions in health-oriented activities like the gym, yoga, and meditation, for example, could be the perfect resource to cut down students’ social media use without them even noticing. Rather than using blanket instruments like bans and shutdowns, an active policy of support for fun and beneficial activities could be the perfect way for students to put their phones away and take a well needed break – and without feeling forced to do so.
A detox should be about becoming aware of your own relationship with social media and learning to use it in a productive and fruitful way
Importantly, taking a break shouldn’t mean giving up the digital world altogether. A detox should be about becoming aware of your own relationship with social media and learning to use it in a productive and fruitful way. While the majority of us at Warwick grew up without the like-pressure of Instagram or the snap-stigma of Snapchat, for younger generations social media is all they know. As this year-group grows up and progresses into higher education, universities and schools should step up their game and make students especially aware of social media’s potential ill-effects.
But you can only help yourself if you want to be helped. Don’t feel pressured to take a break and establish how you want to make a change on your own terms. For these reasons, Warwick shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of De Montfort. Rather, they should offer support to those with unhealthy social media habits and give them the freedom to change themselves.