Social media is woven through the fabric of our daily lives and for a new generation of teens and young adults it’s as normal as eating and breathing. 
 
This has had effects on our relationships ( just swipe right), our ability to hold in depth conversations (LOL, Insert appropriate emoji) and sadly for our attention spans. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.
And - there's a dark side.........Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, not to mention our ' always-on' text, email and Google searches are making us slaves to our short attention spans and we're increasingly at the mercy of our ‘search’ neurotransmitter - Dopamine.  
 
Anxiety on the Rise
Should we really be surprised that teenagers and young adults are experiencing more depression and anxiety than they did a decade or more ago (according to the Australia & NZ Journal of Psychiatry)?  

While there are numerous contributing factors - we'd be crazy not to consider social media one of them for a few clear reasons:

1. Constant distraction of the blips, bings, notifications means real-life accomplishment is often compromised  potentially leading to a decline in self belief and self esteem.  As Susan Weinshchenk Ph.D  says
"The constant stimulation of the dopamine system can be exhausting. And the constant switching of attention makes it hard to get anything accomplished." 
2. Preoccupation with others lives leads to comparison and often anxiety especially with girls. 
Social media has been linked to  "FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out) its new sibling "MOMO" (The Mystery of Missing out) and more recently FOLS (Fear of Looking Stupid). Our ability to be voyeurs and covet others' experiences leads to a pre-occupation with others' lives, looks, images, holidays, popularity, likes and things that really dont make a difference to our ultimate happiness.  
Studies show this subtle and regular comparison between 'my reality' and 'others virtual reality' make people feel inadequate or not liked equalling a rise in worry and stress.
This mounting evidence is no doubt leading to discussion in the Australian and NZ Journal of Psychiatry as to whether adolescent psychiatric evaluation should include an understanding of their on-line social networks. 

3. Desire to the socially ratified through 'likes', 'followers' and 'friends' can lead to a feeling of anxiety and potentially isolation or exclusion.

4. Procrastination rather than achievement becomes a social badge of honour.
 #bored #yolo #procrastination. As does opting out of things (including higher education). No wonder Uni's are struggling to keep people in.


 


5. All of the above repeats. The whole thing proves to be a rather addictive cycle because of the  naturally produced brain chemical Dopamine. 
Dopamine can start off
harmless enough.

Dopamine loves to lead us astray. Literally.

Physiologically, Dopamine is described as the neurotransmitter that causes ‘seeking behaviour’.  But the best way to think of it is like that cute, irresistible friend who constantly wants to go off and do fun stuff. 

For instance......How often do you think before starting a project, cleaning your room, or trying to finish something - I'll just do a quick Instagram check? 

That quick 5 minutes turns into 30 minutes of  "that's interesting, he's following her, is she following him? who is following her? how many followers does she have? and so it goes....

Desperately seeking Flow.
Apart from the dubious accomplishment of checking out a bunch of random people  - the distraction stops concentration needed to get stuff DONE. In other words it stands between you and a sense of achievement . 
It’s likely many teenagers and young adults have rarely experienced the quiet, distraction-free ‘zone’ of 100% concentration on a task and the productive, mood enhancing effects of FLOW  it brings.
' Flow' is what helps us create moments of achievement , often described as a state when we are fully engaged in something - our concentration is heightened and time flies and importantly is ALSO highly correlated with happiness , high concentration, high self esteem and even greater health.
 
Just like the Minions in Despicable Me
You might find yourself with a Dopaminion!
Is it all bad? 
It might not be all bad all the time and indeed - curiosity, searching for insight, ideas and new perspectives is what helps us learn and makes the world turn with inventions and innovation.  
However, in my humble view,  a continual pre-occupation with other people’s lives, the idea of curating an ‘aspirational image’ and constantly bowing to the easy option of distraction, undoubtedly gives us a short ‘high’ but in the long run leaves us out in the cold. 
Doping up on social media too often stops us from achieving FLOW and it's 'flow on' effects of learning, a sense of achievement, self esteem and confidence. 
 
When my kids were little we turned off the TV on Wednesday nights and had games nights. Maybe now we should have wireless free hours in the home, turn our phones to ‘flight mode’ for an hour a day – or better still turn them off, even treat social media like ‘dessert’ (great as a treat but you don't eat dessert for every meal).  

Better still, there is a greater and greater role for exercise, team sports, dance and yoga helping wean young people off technology 24/7 and introducing them to the benefits of FLOW, real life social connection and the idea of focus and accomplishment.
 
And if you've read this far without checking your social stuff.   An accomplishment.  A little bit of flow from me to you.
 
TANIA FARRELLY 
I'm an author, independent social researcher and brand strategist with a background in advertising & marketing. I write on trends, culture, advertising and marketing and sometimes get published :-)  and I'm mum of two Gen Y daughters who keep me up-to date  by design - or accident ! with social media.