Disconnecting from social networks: is this an advisable option?

Disconnecting from social networks: is this an advisable option?

Social networks are here to stay. Just a few years ago their use was restricted to academic environments, but today it is very difficult to meet a person who does not have at least one profile in any of them.

It could even be said that the way in which we present ourselves on social networks can begin to be seen as another part of identity: the digital one. But to what extent does this coincide with what we consider to be our “real” identity?

In this article, we will expand on this and other issues, with special emphasis on the benefits that we could obtain if we disconnect from social networks . Or at least, of spending more time on our “analogical” life, to the detriment of the digital one.

Disconnecting from social networks: what does it involve?

Social networks have revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. Since their emergence in the first half of the last century, the world has become much more interconnected, to the point where we know what’s going on at the other end of it in just a few seconds. It can also be said that have contributed to promoting freedom of expression and even the construction of knowledge , since it is now the product of many millions of users sharing information simultaneously.

This transformation of new technologies has progressively displaced television and other traditional media, and has raised scientific questions about how it may affect those who use them. The other side of the coin is that there are users who, for one reason or another, spend too much time on these online platforms; this affects the way they relate to other people in their real lives.

As it is still a recent phenomenon, there are still many doubts and controversies regarding the way in which its use can compromise health or quality of life . In this article we will address six potential benefits of disconnecting from social networks, according to what science says about the issue.

1. Establishing relationships with the people around you

All social networks allow you to establish communication with anyone, no matter how far away they are physically, directly and without further ado. This is an advantage that was unthinkable a few decades ago, and which makes the world a smaller (though less private) place. Despite this progress, the paradox arises that sometimes it can end up distancing us precisely from those who are close, such as family and friends.

The more time we spend on the Internet, the less we dedicate to those who live with us , which can have an impact on the links that bind us to them. Despite the fact that networks can be an important source of support (especially during the adolescent stage), it is still key to reconcile their use with life in the everyday environment in which we build our daily lives. In no case should they be two incompatible realities, although this is often the case.

Disconnecting from social networks, reducing the number of hours spent sharing content or receiving content from others, is an opportunity to strengthen ties with those closest to you. It is necessary to take into account that the quality of a link is measured by the time shared, and that most of the contacts born on the Internet tend to be diluted before materializing in a relationship outside it.

2. Communicating face to face

Social networks have their own ways of communicating, which become popular among their users and the community as a whole. In recent years, terms such as “hashtag” or “trend topic” have proliferated to describe features that are specific to them, and which have crossed the barrier of jargon to position themselves on the stage of “pop” culture. Thus, these media have consolidated a unique and recognizable language , to which they also contribute figurative elements with which to transmit emotions (the well-known emojis) and compensate for the almost total absence of non-verbal signs.

Although each social network emphasizes a different aspect of the communicative act (from the use of the written word to images), and all of them seek immediacy in their way of relating to the user, none of them offers experiences that are minimally similar to the face-to-face encounter between two people who share a physical space. Not even through the insertion of videoconferences or other similar technologies.

Communication between human beings involves both verbal and non-verbal aspects, which are largely imitated by social networks, but incorporating an endless number of different nuances (proxemic, prosodic, etc.) that none has managed to reproduce accurately until now.

Considering that social skills are developed from practice with our peers in everyday environments , it is possible that an excess of networks (along with a lack of real interactions) may hinder the development of such important capacity.

By reducing the time we spend in networks we test and improve our way of establishing interpersonal relationships in real life, which is essential to forge close ties or to progress in the academic and work areas.

3. Contextualizing reality

Social networks inflame in users the desire of admiration, to the point that in some scientific studies have described many of the dynamics that are displayed as “narcissistic behaviors” . The truth is that on the networks we all want to show our best version, or at least the least bad of all possible versions, this phenomenon being more notable in adolescents (since they are in a period especially vulnerable to rejection and sensitive to social pressure).

Very often, people compare their life with what they see in the nets , without noticing that they are a window that does not represent at all the reality of who is shown there. The images of fascinating journeys, of expensive clothes or of an elegant sunset in a paradisiacal landscape, do not imply that on the other side fascinating things are happening while our life passes in the most absolute mediocrity; but rather that the selection of the contents that are published is based on an evident social desirability.

An example of this effect (harmful to the self-esteem of vulnerable people), is found every Christmas on the TV news, when an army of journalists rush to the lottery administrations to interview those who have been awarded some important prize.

The probability that it “touches” is ridiculous, but it is distorted when it is shown publicly, generating a cognitive error that places it in a different terrain (more probable than it really is). Something similar happens in networks when we are constantly exposed to information about how wonderful the lives of others are, in contrast to our own.

Distancing ourselves from social networks allows us to focus our attention on a much more real life, which is the one that surrounds us , in which we witness with greater clarity the fortune and misfortune that inhabit the world. This brings us back to the precise coordinates in which things unfold, beyond the show business with which each one decides to show his digital personality.

In fact, many studies have linked this problem to feelings of injustice and the erosion of self-esteem, both of which may be distantly related to depression and anxiety.

  • You may be interested in: “The Psychology Behind Social Networks: The Unwritten Code of Behavior”

4. Avoiding addiction

Although there is still no consensus in the research community, many consider that social networks can stimulate addictive behaviour among their users . This would be explained through features such as the immediacy with which reinforcements are given (social approval with a click on the “like” button), their easy accessibility, the simplicity of their interface and the participation in communities that give the person a sense of belonging. There are even some networks that include simple games, whose purpose is none other than to keep users inside as long as possible.

Many authors have described that the abuse of social networks has a great similarity with phenomena that occur in toxic addictions, such as: tolerance (progressively greater use of any of the platforms) and withdrawal syndrome (a significant discomfort when it is impossible to access the network from any device). This group of symptoms reduces the involvement in other activities of daily life, such as family or work, and conditions the time spent on sleep or physical exercise.

When the appearance of these problems is evident, it is essential to visit a mental health professional so that he or she can articulate an individualized treatment, which leads the person to a responsible use of these tools (which can be particularly useful when used in the right way).

5. Protect yourself from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem

Many studies have found a relationship between time spent using social networks and depressive symptoms, although the exact dynamics behind the finding have not yet been clarified. In any case, there seems to be a certain consensus that the use of the networks does not in itself imply a factor that deteriorates mood, but that everything is subject to the way in which these are used .

Networks are therefore a double-edged sword: they bring positive or negative things, and whether one or the other is received depends on what the user does during the time he or she is on them.

In the last decade, standardized protocols have been created to detect, through the use of social networks, the profiles of users who might suffer from depression or manifest self-policing ideas, with the purpose of identifying people with a special suicidal risk. It is expected that in the coming years all these tools (which are based on the principles of artificial intelligence applied to language) will be used to offer secondary prevention interventions (in the early stages of a potential disorder).

A relationship has also been observed between anxiety and social networks , particularly when the use of these networks is aimed at dealing with difficult emotions for which alternative and adaptive coping mechanisms are lacking. There is some work that even relates the number of profiles available (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to the autonomous activation of the user, who would perceive an overwhelming demand in trying to deal with all of them in the way he would like to.

The use of social networks should therefore be moderated among people with a depressive or anxiety disorder. The exact way in which these phenomena are related is still unknown , since most of the research that has been done to date is based on correlational type analyses, which do not allow a cause and effect relationship to be drawn. Thus, the use of the networks could precipitate the problem, or perhaps it would be the mental disorder that would be motivating the abuse of the Internet. Self-esteem could be at the base of both assumptions.

6. Preventing sedentarism and insomnia

The use of social networks is generally a sedentary activity. To write a tweet or upload a post on Facebook, the person should not make any physical effort, so the time spent on these platforms is inversely proportional to that spent on sports activities. This problem is very important, especially for children , many of whom already have their own online profile, since they need exercise for healthy development.

On the other hand, there is also evidence that excessive use of social networks can reduce the time spent on sleep, or make it less restful.

This finding could have three possible causes, namely: cognitive overactivation during the hours close to bedtime (due to the performance of mentally demanding tasks on the Internet), staying connected until the early hours of the morning (reducing time to rest) and exposure to screens that project excessive light onto the retina. All this can alter the circadian rhythms , regulated by the supraquiasmatic nucleus and the production of melatonin from the pineal gland.

Disconnecting from social networks can be the perfect occasion to spend time on activities that contribute to improving our general physical condition , as long as the use being made of them prevents a healthy life. As we pointed out, all this is more important in children, since participating in symbolic play (together with their peers during real life) contributes to the maturation of their nervous system and the development of skills necessary for a full social life (which also results in greater body movement and optimal physical condition).

Bibliographic references:

  • Pantic, I. (2014). Online Social Networking and Mental Health. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17(10), 652 – 657.
  • Scott, H. and Clelland, H. (2019). Understanding Links Between Social Media Use, Sleep and Mental Health: Recent Progress and Current Challenges. Current Sleep Medicine Reports, 5(3), 141 – 149.

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