21
February
2019
|
14:54
Europe/Amsterdam

Social media: bane or boon?

From left: Mr Yao, Vanessa, Asst Prof Lee and Assoc Prof Ng sharing their thoughts on social media at the Dean’s Dialogue

When Year 1 NUS Business and NUS Communications and New Media student Vanessa Ho posts a picture to her Instagram account, what her more than 56,000 followers may not know is that two to three hours of preparation and editing may have gone into creating that single image. Producing a video for her feed may take over four hours. Vanessa’s unique insight as a social media influencer provided the ideal jumping-off point for the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) Dean’s Dialogue on 19 February on the topic of “Romanticising Social Media — Are we sugar coating our identities?”.

Vanessa joined panellists Assistant Professor Lee Jungup from NUS Social Work and Mr Shem Yao, senior coach at non-profit agency Touch Cyber Wellness for the intimate and interactive event, which was moderated by NUS Vice Dean of Students Associate Professor Vivian Ng.

Vanessa’s sharing of her modus operandi for Instagram posts sparked a discussion on social media addiction and obsession, with the panellists and attendees offering opinions on how to define such behaviour. Asst Prof Lee, whose research interests include cyber bullying and substance abuse in youth, posited that defining addiction by the number of hours spent on social media or the number of friends or followers one engages with is insufficient. One should also examine the effects of social media use on our real lives and relationships.

“The use of social media has very much become part and parcel of our daily lifestyle…that may not really constitute a form of addiction. But of course we do need to look at how to have timeouts, to regulate ourselves, and to disconnect in order to connect [in real life],” added Mr Yao.

The panellists were in agreement that social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are designed to be addictive, which can lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Vanessa said that the ability to scroll through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds seemingly endlessly can make one lose track of time, while frequent notifications promote constant engagement. Being bombarded with heavily curated and idealised images of outfits, food, holidays, parties and the like can also trigger feelings of inadequacy, even among adult users.

“During the holiday season, I saw all my friends posting their holiday photos. Towards the end of the holiday season, I saw another friend post the start of her holiday, saying ‘Finally, it’s my turn.’ She was looking at all the posts of her friends and it affected her. She couldn’t wait to share her own journey with other people,” recounted Assoc Prof Ng. Asst Prof Lee added that while some people are able to feel happy for their friends who share good things on social media, others who may be facing difficulties or struggles in their lives are likely to be more vulnerable to feeling resentful.

During the holiday season, I saw all my friends posting their holiday photos. Towards the end of the holiday season, I saw another friend post the start of her holiday, saying ‘Finally, it’s my turn.’ She was looking at all the posts of her friends and it affected her. She couldn’t wait to share her own journey with other people.

The discussion then turned to the role of social media in identity formation. Mr Yao proposed that people portray one of three versions of themselves on social media — an edited self, an extended self or an existing self. Asst Prof Lee warned that for youth who are still exploring their passions and forming their identity, portraying an edited or even fake self on social media over a prolonged period may cause them to lose touch with who they really are. One attendee, citing his young cousins as an example, also brought up how the quest to gain “likes” and followers on social media may prompt some users to adjust their identities by changing their appearance, passions and even values.

However, some attendees were keen to highlight that these apps can also be used for good. Year 3 NUS Engineering and US exchange student Navya Jagarlamudi relies on social media to stay in touch with family and friends back home. “I personally think social media itself is a great platform…I can still keep in touch with friends I’ve made in high school and with people back home without having to constantly text every single individual I know,” she said. Mr Yao agreed, saying that keeping abreast of his friend’s lives throughout the year helps drive conversations at their annual reunion over Chinese New Year.

This is the second OSA Dean’s Dialogue of the year, which encompasses a series of intellectual and meaningful conversations with a diverse range of speakers designed to stimulate creative thinking outside the classroom walls.