Social media divides generations, promotes communication
By Mari Kanagy, Publishing Editor & Hannah Spranger, Co-Content Editor
Starting in 2020, Instagram will extend the newest addition to its platform to the United States: taking away the ‘like’ feature on posts. The intent of the modification is to, as Instagram released in a tweet in July, shift the focus toward enjoying the posts themselves, “not how many likes they get.” This significant change in such a widely-used social media platform has sparked conversation about the effects of social media, and the ways in which technology impacts people’s lives every day.
This impact can be felt close to home in the high school community. Senior Shira Stahl has expressed annoyance at being a part of online culture.
“At certain points of my life, I’ve gotten fed up with social media, for different reasons,” Stahl said. “Three or four times I’ve just thought … ‘this is annoying, and I just want to stop for a bit.’”
Each of these “social media cleanses,” lasts for about two weeks, and is brought about by a dissatisfaction in the amount of time wasted online.
Math teacher Andy Callender admits to struggling with many of the same issues that students do when it comes to cell phone usage.
“I am completely addicted to my phone, and I’m aware that I’m addicted to it,” Callender said. “I’ve tried various things to have less screen time in my life, but I still struggle with it.”
Last year, Callender limited the usage of his iPhone for about three months, in an attempt to limit his screen time and lack of productivity coming from the device. Instead, he used only a flip phone as a mobile device.
“I couldn’t do it,” Callender said. “My life progressed too far, and it was just not sustainable. Communication was too hard, keeping in touch with friends through text was too hard.”
He has since returned to using his smart phone, but has found other outside methods of controlling his screen time. Now, Callender uses a gadget called Kitchen Safe, a lock box which makes any distracting technology accessible for a set amount of time. Furthermore, Callender hopes to further his own limitations on screen time.
“I would like to have more self control over [my cell phone usage],” Callender said. “I totally feel myself getting that dopamine rush when I see the little red notifications on my phone.”
Callender believes that people’s struggle to control their cell phone usage is a societal culture change, that mostly stems from the younger generation. In fact, he stressed the importance of refocusing attention at school toward the topic.
“I think the whole topic of your relationship with our devices should be a huge conversation we’re having as a community,” Callender said. “I think that should be required learning in some form. It’s something that we sort of have these rules about, but we don’t have enough deep conversations about how technology is affecting each other.”
Callender recognizes the positive impact that technology has on our lives, on how the debate over screen time is more complicated than simply disparaging phones.
“I also see phones as a huge educational tool,” Callender said. “When I tell my kids to put their phones away, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘I don’t want you to over interpret this as me saying technology is un-useful in the classroom.’ It’s really a much deeper conversation about timing and being part of a community.”
Among students, there are differing opinions on whether social media has an overall positive or negative impact
Junior Mead Gill has experienced more positive aspects of social media and the opportunities it provides for communication.
“Overall it’s just a positive thing in society,” he said. “I feel like people make a big deal about social media being … bad for mental health, and there are lots of instances where that is true, but I think in the long run, and for most people, it’s just a great way just to connect with people.”
Gill believes that the growth of social media has opened up communication that was not as readily available before.
“Even with people that you don’t know that much, it’s just good to be in contact with them,” he said. “It just makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
Senior Evan Stephanick sees social media as having a more negative impact on his and his peer’s lives.
“You post something and you get a bunch of comments that are like, ‘oh my God, you’re so pretty or whatever, right?’” Stepanick said. “Like, that’s great. That boosts your self confidence, right? That makes you feel good and you can connect with people, but then you start to become dependent on that.”
Stephanick expressed that once someone begins relying on social media, it is difficult to form connections in real life.
“People start posting for fun and then start getting validation from [likes and comments],” Stephanick said. “Then when something does come around in person and tries to give you that, it’s not the same, you don’t feel the same way.”
For older generations — who have not grown up in the age of social media — the increase of technology has raised different questions. In recent years, data and articles have published information that brings light to the negative aspects of social media platforms. As both a teacher and parent, physics teacher Susan Swan has begun looking into the downsides of technology.
“I was just reading this article about how people, adults and kids alike, are not [able] to be bored anymore,” she said. “What I mean by bored is that they don’t know how to occupy themselves in a more productive manner than checking Facebook or Instagram.”
In recent years, Swan has witnessed the rise of social media in her classrooms.
“[Students] always have to check, every down moment I have students pulling out their phones to check,” Swan said. “When Mr. Guss sent out that email about chopsticks in fourth period, it was like wildfire. That was not an emergency, but you would have thought it was an emergency the way that they responded.”
Swan has also noticed impacts that technology has on relationships in real life.
“Technology is replacing real friendships,” she said. “The ability to interact with other humans, the ability to just come in to chat if you have downtime and find out about a person, which is how you develop friendships.”
Swan expressed the difficulties that the rise in cell phone usage has posed as phones have become more available for students.
“Some teachers have [students] put phones in the pockets [at the front of the classroom], but I’m not comfortable being responsible for 30 phones,” she said. “I like to trust students will use them responsibly. I’m not offended when students take out phones. I think phone addiction is a thing. I just think it’s better if it’s put away.”
Swan has also seen the impact that technology has had on her fourth grade son.
“It is hard to get him to go outside and play instead of going on the iPad. He’d rather do the iPad,” Swan said. “It’s a battle, especially on the weekends …I think that at the end of a long day, [technology] feels like it’s a brain break, and he deserves a break.”
Swan acknowledges that technology and social media are not going to disappear simply because negative aspects are being brought to the surface. Rather, she favors an alternative approach to handling the societal addiction.
“I mean, it’s just balancing. This is the environment we live in now,” she said. “This is it, right? We’re not going to go back to no cell phones, so it’s just managing it. And I think if students recognize the value of self control, they’’l benefit in the long term. I think that would be a good lesson.”