From Nairobi, Judy Amunga-Ndibo, discusses how the pressure to have a vibrant social media presence is leading to depression and feelings of failure, as well as how African societies are losing long-held values of basic decency.
At only 28, Tasha (not her real name) feels that her life is underwhelming. She regularly checks out updates on her friends’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds to compare her life to theirs. She believes they are all faring better than her and this leaves her feeling envious and depressed.
Tasha represents a growing number of young women who are slowly losing self-esteem due to the pressure of what others share on social media. Yet, Tasha is no failure. She is a university graduate and works for a multinational conglomerate. But while social media is an engine of goodwill and has many other advantages used wisely, Tasha has fallen victim to the shallow side of social media interaction – bent on showcasing how best one’s filtered photo looks, what expensive dress is being worn, which expensive restaurant is being dined at, and so forth.
Before you gather a big pile of stones in fury against this particular article, I cannot emphasise enough the important role technology and social media play in current progressive society – globally and Africa included. The new platforms have been used to change societies, support causes and even speed up development in various aspects of social and business life; and apps are making it easier for us to connect with beloved ones in any part of the globe.
At the same time, however, we cannot ignore the negative side of social media and how it affects our society and our lives. Examples of this are too many to list in this space, but include making women insecure about their looks and bodies, the creation of fake profiles and online lives – including love-lives – and the sharing of negative vices and activities such as pornography, prostitution and much more besides. Activities that were once whispered in shame and done in secret are openly shared and glorified on social media. Negative foreign cultures and lifestyles are also readily copied and spread as ‘normal’.
Habitual social media use is also being increasingly linked to shortened attention spans and a loss of prolonged focus and concentration, factors that are critical to learning. Meanwhile, written language skills, along with verbal communication skills, are being sacrificed in preference for emojis, slang and abbreviations. In fact, in today’s world of micro-bytes of information being delivered within 160 characters, I am honoured if you are still with me reading this article to this point – good on you and us.
With smartphones, tablets and computers becoming normal lifestyle must-haves, children and teenagers are as much the victims of the negative side of social media as adults. Basic manners and decency are increasingly being eroded among our youth. Take for example the case of a group of Kenyan high school boys and girls who filmed their sex scenes in a park in the capital city, Nairobi, and live-streamed the footage directly on to a popular social media site, before police were alerted. The teenagers, all under 17 years of age, were arrested and cautioned. Imagine the shame they brought on their parents.
What then should society do in this new age, one which we by and large can’t live without? A wise person once said that everything you do should be done in balance and moderation.
Here are a few suggestions that could help us all avoid potential addiction and unwarranted dependency on social media, but instead use the platforms responsibly:
- Do not take everything you see on social media at face value – it is common for people to experience depression, sadness, envy and even failure based on what others are posting as their lifestyles. Remember most of the posts are heavily choreographed, edited, filtered, and sometimes made-up views of the sharer’s real life.
- If you have a friend who posts one hundred times on a variety of issues, expecting immediate responses from you, it is okay to respond in your own time. Social media overload where one receives an overwhelming number of posts and texts, then feels pressured to respond instantly, is stressful!
- Set a schedule within which you can use social media apps. Practise self-control!
- Meet and greet! Invest in interacting with people socially. Enjoy simple things such as shared meals and laughter, going out together and other bonding activities where there is real human interaction. If you are always searching for love on social media apps, how about giving of yourself to a charity that works with needy children and realise how fulfiling this can be. Discover relationships that are warm, alive and real!
- Get real life interests and hobbies: try and find what fuels your creative juices then get to work on it. It could be writing, joining book clubs, adrenaline sports, fitness training, event planning, cooking, etc. Use the free time you have to indulge in such activities instead of trolling social media apps.
- Focus: limit the social media apps you use to those relevant to your work and social life.
- Be careful what you post and how many followers you have or friends you like: do not over-friend and do not overshare! Social media apps are not hosting guardian angels! Don’t be fooled!
- If you have a family, find ways to rediscover good old-fashioned entertainment that includes shared activities. Even a simple board game can do wonders for family bonding!