The internet is a great place. Never in history has information been more accessible to so many people around the globe. Everything you want to know is just a click away, with Google being so popular it is actually used as a verb now. Moreover, you can carry all that information with you in the format of just your smartphone or tablet: you don’t even have to buy hard-copy books anymore if you don’t want to, because almost everything is digital. As expected, social media play an important role in the spreading of information: platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Pinterest, and many more (click here for more examples) allow you to stay connected, share images, videos and more importantly, memes, and save it all in the cloud for later reference. The possibilities are truly endless. But when you find yourself going down a YouTube rabbit hole again or wasting time doing one of the many BuzzFeed quizzes to find out what kind of pasta you are (I’m lasagne apparently) while you actually have to do your homework, you cannot help but wonder: is all that information really beneficial? Isn’t it all just information overload and are we doomed to waste half of our lives watching cat videos?
Since the birth of the digital age there has been a backlash especially against social media platforms. Next to issues like the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal main concerns about social media are that we are oversharing personal information and at the same time also try to create some sort of perfect online identity. It is so easy getting caught up in all those beautiful and inspiring Instagram accounts and realising that your life will never look anything remotely like that. Personally, I am very aware that life is definitely not all rainbows and sunshine, and I am (most of the time) content with my life and who I am. However, I hear many stories around me of people who do feel affected by those stories and feel pressured into keeping up appearances. In order to keep up those appearances, you have to contribute actively and create new content (or Facebook starts bullying you daily about not having changed your profile picture for over a year). If you also want to create a large following you have to take it up a notch and go above and beyond the regular posts and shares. Life turns into work and vice versa. As a result, social pressure increases and news of burned-out YouTubers appears.
This social pressure not only affects successful YouTubers or other social influencers. Dutch news sites like NOS report that more and more students are suffering from psychological problems as depression and burn outs. In an interview with Tom Bilyeu from Inside Quest Simon Sinek talks about millennials in the workplace and explains why things like social media make this generation prone to those psychological issues. Adding to that is the saturated job market (for many high-education jobs that is) that forces this generation to excel and take up extra-curricular activities in order to distinguish themselves from others. Cumulatively, this is quite a lot and when thinking about all of those things, watching another Netflix episode is so much easier to quiet the chaos inside your head, than to actually deal with it all. There will always be tomorrow, right?
However, it’s not all bad of course. The main association people have with digital media is social media and all the controversy around it, but as A.J. Agrawal in an article for Forbes points out, social media has also become a channel to distribute important information. Discarding these good aspects of social media just because you don’t agree with someone on Facebook would be a shame. Furthermore, digital media consist of more than just social media, and digitalisation provides many opportunities for especially the sciences: digitalisation of old manuscripts that perhaps would have been lost in the future, digital archives and databases, everything related to health sciences (like gene mapping), information visualisation, and the list goes on and on. But digital media also consists of simply your online family photos and I know I feel a lot better knowing that, if in any case my house burns down, those memories aren’t lost forever. With information comes responsibility and it is our responsibility to both retain important (historical) information for future generations as well as make it accessible to as many people as possible (except maybe those private photos).
While in my case I am probably doomed to waste half my life on completely and utterly useless information that floats around the internet somewhere (I am great at pub quizzes and trivia though), it is important to keep a balance. So maybe put down that phone or install a tool that disables your social media sites for a while, and finish writing that assignment you need to hand in, so you can spend your time on things that actually fulfil you.