by Clay Cohen, Media Power Youth Summer Intern
I jumped at the possibility of becoming an intern at Media Power Youth because I am fascinated by the hold social media seems to have on my friends, family, and myself. Over time, this new social technology will only continue to intertwine itself in all facets of our lives. My goal was to develop a deeper understanding of media literacy so that I could be better equipped to mentor my friends and six younger siblings. I’ve learned that whether social media positively or negatively affects an individual’s mental health depends on the person and situation.
Before working for Media Power Youth, I was a waiter at a local restaurant in my hometown. One of the bartenders was a victim of a tragic incident, resulting in a significant injury that inhibited his ability to work and pay for the medical expenses he incurred. The restaurant owner took it upon himself to set up a GoFundMe and raised over $35,000 to subsidize his medical bills! I watched as the restaurant’s customers and employees rallied to support him both through social media and in person. He came back to work 9 months after the incident. He told me, “All the donations I received online granted me the time I needed to fully recover before coming back to work. The support I received from the customers made my service feel appreciated, revitalizing the fire within me to do what I love.”
This experience showed me the power that being a part of a robust social network (online and offline) can have on your self-esteem, which leads to good mental and physical health, even under the worst conditions. Research suggests that social media’s impact on an individual’s mental health is driven by factors beyond frequency and duration of use. In this example, the positive support from social media improved the bartender’s mental health by making him feel appreciated.
When the coronavirus hit, my commute to school was eliminated, and the restaurant I worked at closed. This left me with more time on my hands, and I lost control over how much time I spent on social media. More recently, I have learned that this is by design, and it can be challenging for humans to detach from technology. According to Nina Visan, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford, “Variably rewarding users with stimuli (likes, notifications, comments, etc.) keeps them engaged with content. When a user’s photo receives a “like,” the same dopamine pathways involved in motivation, reward, and addiction are activated.”
I decided I would give up social media for six months and fill that void with activities that produce residual meaning, like spending time with my family. While I rarely read a book cover to cover before quitting social media, I now found myself reading all day long and genuinely enjoying it because I had changed the way my mind releases dopamine. During this time, I convinced one of my friends to do the same. He told me, “by quitting social media and focusing on reading and hobbies, I feel much better about myself and am far more productive and confident than I have ever been!”
Here are a few tips from my experience that you can use to help friends and family struggling with social media: