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What Are The New Challenges In A Social Media Connected World?

communication technology mobile phone high tech concept. Happy man using texting on smartphone social media application icons flying out of cellphone isolated grey wall background. 4g data plan.jpegI believe one of the biggest ongoing challenges in our professional and personal lives will be how to effectively manage our digital lives and social media usage. In an “internet of things”/hyper-connected world that we live in our digital preferences, habits, and usage will have profound impacts on our mental health and overall well-being.

Social media is now ingrained in everything that we do. It has become so omnipresent that there has been some interesting mental health and behavioral factors that are getting some increased attention.

Consider the following random news articles that I read recently:

Smartphones and Depression

I saw an interesting CNN interview with Michael Smerconish and Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, about the troubling causality between the teenage use of smartphones and depression.

Using data collected between 2010 and 2015 from more than 500,000 adolescents nationwide, Twenge’s study found kids who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less. Among kids who used electronic devices five or more hours a day, 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome.

Twenge also found that kids who used social media daily were 13% more likely to report high levels of depressive symptoms than those who used social less frequently.
Overall, kids in the study who spent low amounts of time engaged in in-person social interaction, but high amounts of time on social media, were the most likely to be depressed.

(Source: Time Magazine: http://time.com/4974863/kids-smartphones-depression/)

While Dr. Twenge’s study focused on adolescent mental health, I do not think that it is too difficult to attribute the same problems to adults. Social media keeps feeding us a never-ending feed of how happier, successful, and interesting everyone else is compared to us. This can put us on a hamster wheel where we are constantly chasing some ideal that we believe will make us better. We all know where that leads.

Why Are We Always Checking Our Social Media Sites?

We are also having to look at how dopamine driven behavior is driving our social media consumption habits. What is dopamine? Psychology Today offers the following definition:

What is Dopamine

 is a neurotransmitter that helps control the 
's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them. 

The connection between dopamine and internet use is that the reward recognition trigger that dopamine delivers drives us to be constantly checking our online profiles for likes, shares, and comments.

While this can be a positive force in building communities, providing news, and education it can also drive negative behaviors like constantly checking your social profiles (FOMO – fear of missing out), writing overly provocative material to drive clinks, and centering your universe around the internet versus the world around you. Also, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is an issue that only impacts “millennials”.

 How Algorithms Dictate What You See

 We also have to recognize the impact that algorithms play in our social media world. It is well known that the posts that we see in our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram feeds do not come there randomly. They are curated by the websites based on algorithms that they have developed to determine what “they” believe is the most relevant information that we should see.

 For example, here is what is happening with Facebook.

Here’s an uncomfortable fact of life in the 21st century:
we live in a world where algorithms increasingly decide what we see, hear, and think
. Facebook offered a stark illustration last week when it announced it would tweak its news feed to emphasize more updates from family and friends and fewer stories from publishers and brands.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg (who elected him editor-in-chief?) says the changes are intended to improve the well-being of the site's 2 billion-plus users, but publishers, who have increasingly come to rely on Facebook for ad revenue, were taken aback. Meanwhile, there
are already signs
that the tweaked code could have unintended consequences, including potentially exaggerating the influence of “fake news.” It’s a reminder that building the world’s most influential website is the easy part. Managing the political fallout of wielding that much power? It’s complicated. Source:
Eurasia Group - Signal

And here is a recent post regarding what is going on at Instagram:

“… a member of the startup company, Dopamine Labs, claims that Instagram strategically holds back “likes” in order to keep users coming back. He adds that “it’ll show only a fraction of the likes” in the hopes that you’ll “be disappointed with your haul and check back again.” Twitter is starting to pick up on this news, so let’s hope something gets done about it…” (Source:
Tara Hunt – Truly Social

And not to leave out LinkedIn, here is an interesting article that discusses their four-step algorithm for determining the content that reaches your newsfeed (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/four-pillars-linkedin-newsfeed-algorithm-colin-oliver/). I am not sure how this article will do. I guess if you are reading it now we were able to manage our way through the gauntlet.

Introducing A New Social Media Phobia

Finally, it seems that the digital age has now given us a new phobia. In a recent Steve Boese HR Technology blog, he writes the following

But all of us probably at one time or another felt the creeping anxiety or frustration or maybe ever fear that comes from being without our mobile phones - either from a dead battery, being in a place with no mobile/data service, or even one of the rare (and disappearing fast) places where mobile phone use is not permitted.

How long could you go, in a non-emergency, 'normal' life situation, without having access to a working, functional mobile phone? An hour? Maybe two? Maybe much less than that, if you are the kind of person who more or less runs your life and business and family stuff from your mobile phone.

Turns out this anxiety/fear of being out of mobile contact has a name, or at least a proposed name -

From our pals at

Nomophobia is a proposed name for the phobia of being out of cell phone contact.
The term, an abbreviation for "no-mobile-phone phobia", was coined during a 2008 study by the UK Post Office who commissioned YouGov, a UK-based research organization evaluating anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they "lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage".

I'd say since 2008, the year of the referenced study above, that the percentage of folks who would admit to being 'anxious' if they were without their working mobile phone would be much, much higher. Like everyone, I am thinking.


The digital age has brought us so much good in terms:

  • Connecting people with ease without geographic or financial constraints.
  • Providing instant access to the greatest amount of information the world has ever seen.
  • Creating platforms for voices to be heard and for business to connect with their end users in real time.

It was interesting that I had to do a more extensive online search to find what is good about social media versus bad. Social media has made all of our lives better but challenges, like the ones I mentioned above, remain.

We are exploring uncharted territory here and there is much more to be learned. I for one am not going to become a Luddite and walk away from social media (if so, then this is my last post). I am however evolving my opinion on how to be a better consumer and user.