peter ndahiro
Ndahiro Peter

Every so often, you will find a young person that is neither a #RwOT nor a Rwandan on Instagram. They hate social media because of what they deem undeserved popularity and an unwarranted notion of necessity. Then there are those who have given up on social media altogether after a period of using it gleefully. People who have quit social media have been released from the chase for online validation. They are blind to the fake popularity structure that our networks can build, and have sought validation through other expressions of art that breed a more original way of thinking.

They are more productive, more creative, and more self-assured. Some of us see the morning scroll down our timelines as our daily pick me up before the start of the working day. Whether it is a social issue that demands debate in 280 characters, or a new meme that is sweeping the internet, there is always something happening on our timelines that can take us away from the dread of the real world. Young people in Rwanda are particularly captivated by social media, and it makes sense. We are no longer bound by distance in making and maintaining relationships with likeminded individuals.

Current global statistics tell us that we spend over two hours a day on social media, which would accumulate to 5 years and 4 months over a lifetime. Our online devices collectively clamor for our precious time and attention every day of our lives. Professors of communication state that, “The thing about social media is that it constantly interrupts us. When we stop ourselves to check social media again and again, it really becomes another form of multitasking, and multitasking makes whatever you do take longer, and you do it in an inferior way.”

Social media platforms have been designed to keep you hooked like a gambler in a casino. Push notifications on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are largely useless updates that sometimes do not even concern us, but they achieve their goal in making us pull out our phones, in turn pulling us away from whatever else we may have been doing.

Facebook’s current head of marketing in a recent speech noted that the average millennial checks his or her phone 157 times daily, so they certainly have a strategy that is working. Creativity and inspiration can come from anywhere, and it certainly can come from content that we may have seen on social media. But there is a school of thought that the best ideas come when we have time to ourselves. When we are afforded the luxury of daydreaming, the time to really ponder upon a subject, and imagine what is and what is not possible, many people believe this is when you hit innovation.

Having social media in the background interferes with your ability to be creative and think outside the box. We devote all our free time to our timelines and in turn we are taking away from our time to be creators. And finally the need for self-assurance and validation is what we the youth specifically crave, and what we believe social media gives us. It is hard to think of our social media platforms without like buttons, but it was in 2009 when Facebook first introduced it.

YouTube and Instagram followed suit in 2010 and Twitter did the same in 2015. One of Facebook’s four designers behind the like button, Justin Rosenstein, said that “it succeeded in its goals, but it also created large unintended negative side effects. In a way, it was too successful.” From a personal standpoint, I can testify to constantly checking my notifications to see if people have liked my content. It is a false sense of validation, but a brief moment of happiness and a quick shot of dopamine, as addictive as any drug you may find.

Psychologists have likened checking your notifications to pulling the lever on a slot machine, you might win or you might not, it’s a fun game unless you are losing. Young people in their teens and young adults begin a journey of self-doubt that constantly asks them whether they are good enough. The majority of us use social media to share our best moments and not the low ones.

This begins a vicious cycle of comparison, that eventually makes us create false popularity complexes amongst our peers, which end up having negative effects on our mental psyche, leading to feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and in the end not being who we are. Social media has been successful in making people believe that a like, a retweet, or a share, validates us and what we are saying to be true and worthy. Everyone fears to be left hanging on a question or left like-less in the cauldron of scrutiny that is social media.

I have been an avid user of social media since my teens and have loved the opportunity to connect with people on a constant basis that may not be reachable physically. But as someone who aims to create and not just comment, it is hard to ignore the negative mental effects its use can have when you understand it is built to be addictive and ensure you can never put it down. Some people would advocate for quitting social media altogether; others would say you just need to reduce usage. Let’s all just be aware of the facts before we commit ourselves to a lifetime of staring at our phones.

The writer is a graduate in Creative Media Technology with an interest in Communications and Public Relations, Online Marketing, and Brand Identity Development. He is a friend of Inspire Rwanda - PR!