In today’s world, social media is inescapable. It has become our way of networking for jobs, connecting with friends, and sustaining connections from far distances. Today, companies even offer employment specifically to promote their business on social media platforms. No generation in history has been exposed to such a constant stream of information previously. We have come a long way from telegraphs and dial-up internet, but is this necessarily a good thing?

Today’s exposure to other people’s thoughts and feelings is completely unprecedented. At no point in human history has access to someone’s personal thoughts been so widely available; between blogs, Facebook statuses, and 140 characters worth of expression on Twitter, social media has given us a window into the personal lives of others.

Social media has become an extension of ourselves and allows for a public stream of consciousness granting strangers, friends, and family access to our thoughts and feelings. Of course, this could be considered a great triumph– we can now express ourselves widely freely, not to mention the many benefits of self-publishing.

Despite the many benefits of having the world virtually at your fingertips, this instant gratification from social media is bound to have detrimental effects. We as humans may not necessarily be capable of the kind of empathy required by social media. Being exposed to so much, not to mention exposing so much of ourselves, cannot be healthy for the psyche.

On a surface level, social media can be a distraction from studies. According to a 2016 New York Times article, the average Facebook user spends an hour per day on its Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger platforms. From the perspective of a millennial student, this figure seems conservative. When we are bored, unstimulated, or even just out of habit, we find ourselves scrolling through our Facebook timeline or chatting in a group message. There is an abundance of social media platforms, including but not limited to Snapchat and Twitter, that students spend a great deal of time on. Because of the intensity of communication, we are constantly subjected to words on a screen, thus taking up our time and energy.

However, Master’s of Engineering student Tessa Clarizio asserts that social media can have both a positive and negative effect on studying. ‘Social media serves as a distraction. However, it can be a positive because it allows me to message my peers with questions, set up study groups, etc.’

While social media came into being in order to enhance human communication, it can be argued that reliance on social media actually inhibits the way we effectively interact. After all, how much can we really know about a person from a few characters on Twitter?

In hiding behind a computer screen, social media users are more confident in expressing themselves and their opinions. Chances are a Facebook user posting offensive political satire would never openly share their opinions in a professional setting.

MA student Fiona Byrne asserts that people can live ‘double-lives’ through social media. ‘Social media usage can be beneficial for communication between family and friends. However, I feel as though many people create false impressions of themselves using Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts.’

Hiding behind a computer screen in order to talk to someone isn’t necessarily genuine communication. Having a conversation on Whatsapp doesn’t allow for the user to read the other person’s facial expressions and body language, therefore also creating the opportunity for misunderstanding and conflict.

Average teenagers and students across the world make ‘careers’ out of becoming internet influencers. All this requires is a popular social media account, such as YouTube or Instagram, and posting advertisements promoting various products. The concerning aspect of this rise in internet fame is not just the strange placement as to where young people place their respect. In fact, the most anxiety-inducing quality about this rise in this type of fame is the message it sends: earning fame and money requires little talent, just placing ads correctly.

While these factors are worrisome, perhaps the most worrisome is the damage that is likely to be inflicted on a heavy social media user’s mental health. We live in a world where a ‘like’ is provides validation and where having the most followers is indicative of being most popular and respected. Katinka Wilmink, who studies English at UCD, believes that this culture is particularly damaging.

‘There’s a sense of validation that comes with getting a certain amount of likes, and it’s hard not to get caught up in that.’

Deepthi Suresh, an MA student studying international relations, states that social media culture will lead to a specific set of internal issues.

‘I think social media has led to a narcissistic personality, especially young people irrespective of their gender which in turn affects their self-esteem. I do believe this will lead to an altogether different kind of complicated mental health issues.’

We are living in a day and age where a ‘like’ on a post is replacing the prevalence of genuine affection and kindness in our lives. Whether we have solid Instagram clout of not, we are all people who want friendship and joy in our lives. While social media has made it easier to communicate with people, it certainly has not made communication more effective.

Mary Sheehan – Features Writer