Have you ever met anyone who claims that they don’t have any social media accounts? Yeah, neither have we. Those platforms are everywhere, and everyone seems to be engaged with them. Social media is the place where something is always happening, there is always something to talk about, something to share, like, show, or oppose to, and people love to be part of it all, especially younger people - students. There is so much in this virtual world that sometimes they find themselves unable to stop scrolling. But how exactly does social media affect students?
Ronald Harvey, Assistant Professor of Psychology at AUBG, explains that there is a simple reason for the fascination of young people with social media. He says, “their job is to develop mentally from about the age of 13 to about the age of 20-21 and to figure out who they are” not only by experimenting with appearances, discussing, comparing, and trying out new things, but also by gathering ideas and receiving feedback on what they are doing. Social media platforms simply offer the opportunity to do all these things at the same time. They allow people to connect with each other, watch each other, and share ideas.
Those are exactly the things that social media is used most for. Ani Encheva, a Media and Culture student at Utrecht University, says that she mainly uses social media to connect with family and friends, but also tries to use it for informing herself about what is happening around the world.
“Of course, there must be a balance, so I also often use social media for figuring out what to eat during the week, to find a good movie, etc,” she says.
In contrast, Delyana Raykova, a Software Engineering student at Sofia University, prefers the more artistic side of social media – the side with beautiful portraits, landscapes, fashion, and art in general. “But also, I like seeing pictures taken by my friends and people I know, because I’m interested in what they do and what they are keen on,” she says.
Often social media is stigmatized to be addictive for people because of the endless digital content and the phenomenon of “I can’t stop scrolling”. However, prof. Harvey goes to clarify this term saying, “Things that are true addictions are destructive”. He explains that there is no such thing as addiction to social media – people simply like it very much and hence they use it a lot. One of the main reasons for this is that people like doing things they get rewards from. In this case, they are in the form of likes, comments, number of views, and attention from people we know and even from strangers. These platforms are designed specifically for this, which is why the number of recognition people can get on social media is astonishing. “Imagine the amount of feedback you get from friends in Yambol (for example) in real life compared to the feedback you can get worldwide via Facebook or Instagram,” Harvey says.
Ani and Delyana both agree that they spend more time on social media than they would prefer to. “I have even installed an app to tell me the exact time I spend on social media and I can tell you the situation is very bad,” Delyana says. She added that even on a good day when she doesn’t use her phone that much, she still spends 1 hour on Instagram. Ani reveals that her parents even joke that her smartphone is an extension to her arm because she uses it even when she randomly wakes up at night.
Both of the interviewed students claim that they try to limit the time they spend on social media. Not only because it distracts them from their work but also because of its negative effects on mental health. Since the posts on social media show only a fragment, a perfect angle of people’s lives, the result is a fractured unrealistic perception of the world. These platforms allow endless opportunities for comparison, but the actual problem is that, as prof. Harvey says, “you are comparing your insides with other people’s outsides, and you will never come out ahead”.
Since students spend so much time on social media, the proper question will be “How does it affect their studying”? Both Delyana and Ani admit that they have gone on social media during an online class but immediately regretted it afterward because they fell behind in the lecture. Delyana says that when she has an online class, she goes on social media much more frequently because teachers cannot actually see her and comment on that. She admits that during on-ground classes she checks her phone rarely, but for her, it depends more on how engaged and interested she is in a certain topic during class.
“For example, today I had a tutorial and towards the end, I was so annoyed, and I was like “ugh, why is no one posting on Instagram?!” and I went to another app to see some more content,” she says.
Social media can be a serious distraction, especially during online classes, but they both say they are trying to stay away from it when studying as much as they can. However, Ani adds that her efforts are not always successful. Delyana blames the effect of the constant scrolling on the platforms’ algorithm, which keeps on showing you more and more content based on what you have liked before. Ani says, however, that she is “very strict” when it comes to meeting deadlines and she does not allow herself to get distracted while doing schoolwork that much.
Still, for Ani and Delyana social media can also help them with their studies.
“Maybe it can be of help, but only if I want it to,” Delyana says. She adds that social media offers a great way to communicate with her classmates and talk about major-related topics. Delyana says that she can even find educational videos connected to her studies that can help her solve a problem or learn something new.
“I can find memes related to my major and learn something from that.”
“The greatest benefit of social media during online university is that I can meet and get to know colleagues that I haven’t met yet and discuss and share ideas with them,” Ani adds.
At the end of the day, social media is what we make of it. It can be just a distraction, it can be an art gallery, an educational tool, and even “the only connection with your family,” as Ani says. When asked about whether they could survive a day at university without any social media, Delyana says “For sure I could if I needed to, if something extraordinary happened, but only for a day, not all the time”. Ani says she has never done it before, but she believes she would not struggle with it, and she adds “Challenge accepted.”