The youth in present day India is the first generation to grow up within a world of pervasive technology. While several writers applaud these social network sites (SNSs) for transforming the social landscape of India, recent research is beginning to examine the destructive role of these SNSs. The purpose of this paper is to explore whether and to what extent social media contributes to decline in well-being, addictive behavior and other harmful social effects.
In the first phase, a structured questionnaire was sent via e-mail to 114 students. The second stage embraced an exploratory qualitative approach with in-depth interviews and reflections. As part of the third stage, the author devoted a lot of time reading the blogs and posts of the youth.
The analysis of qualitative data is presented in three major themes: patterns of usage, nature of online friendships and threat to well-being. Some of the respondents did experience “addiction-like” symptoms. It can be deduced that the respondents are not addicted to the medium per se; they are cultivating an addiction to certain activities they carry out online.
Indian newspapers have recently reported several cases how social media can mislead and corrupt the youth and some of these cases have ended in tragedy. This kind of obsessive behavior is extremely dangerous to the minds which are otherwise actually intelligent and ought to be stopped.
There is no doubt that the Indian youth is developing a dependence on this technological advance that fuses people all over the world. We are still in the infant stages of understanding these issues in the Indian context. This study adds value to the negligible empirical evidence in India till date.
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The increase in new technologies and virtual communication involving personal computers, tablets and mobile phones is causing changes in individuals’ daily habits and behavior (King et al., 2016). Social network sites (SNSs) are seen as a “global consumer phenomenon” and have been experiencing an exponential rise in usage in the last decade. Even in India, social media is emerging as the latest platform for information and communication among the Indian communities. Effective social networking has even transformed that how the country elects its prime minister. The youth have grown up within a world of pervasive technology including mobile phones, digital cameras and the omnipresent internet. A significant aspect of this generation is its widespread usage of the internet from a young age. It is the first to become adult amid and with access to digital technology. This generation has been characterized as the “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) surrounded by and using “computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age” (Prensky, 2001). Given the recent worldwide proliferation of internet sites and the ever expanding numbers of adolescents joining up, these sites presumably play an integral role in adolescent life.
For this study, we use the definition advanced by Bryer and Zavatarro (2011): “Social media are technologies that facilitate social interaction, make possible collaboration, and enable deliberation across stakeholders. These technologies include blogs, wikis, media (audio, photo, video, text) sharing tools, networking platforms (including Facebook), and virtual worlds.” Social media has radically changed the way people interact in India and has been playing a vital role in transforming Indian lifestyles. These sites have become a day-to-day routine for most Indians who now have access to thousands of networking sites that cater to different groups and buttress diverse interests and hobbies. These virtual forums for communication are increasingly present in peoples’ daily lives, and although their use is expanding throughout the entire population, they are especially popular among teens and young adults (Oberst et al., 2017). In a short span of time, this has turned into some kind of frenzy, with people constantly trying to portray a perfect image of their lives and moving toward getting more followers or likes.
While several writers applaud these SNSs for transforming the social landscape of India, recent research is beginning to examine the destructive role of these SNSs. On the internet, people engage in a variety of activities some of which may be potentially addictive (Kuss and Griffiths, 2012). The much appreciated technology-driven interconnectivity is paralleled by an increase in research indicating that excessive internet use can lead to symptoms that are associated with problems and/or addiction (Ko et al., 2009; Leung and Lee, 2012). According to the biopsychosocial model for the etiology of addictions (Griffiths, 2005) and the syndrome model of addiction (Shaffer et al., 2004) people addicted to using SNSs go through the same indications as those suffering from substance abuse.
Internet and smartphone addictions are different from addictions such as alcohol or drugs; the former are behavioral and not substance dependent (van Deursen et al., 2015). Behavioral addiction can be defined as a disorder characterized by behavior that functions to produce pleasure and to relieve feelings of pain and stress, and failure to control or limit the behavior despite significant harmful consequences (Shaffer et al., 2004). In this case, the act of using social media itself becomes a sort of reward. This is some kind of an addiction where no intoxicant is involved; therefore, it is akin to “pathological gambling” (Lee et al., 2012). Researchers have discovered certain behavioral connections between continuous social media use and substance abuse, including compulsive use, tolerance, withdrawal (Aboujjouade, 2010) unsuccessful attempts to cut back, and impairment in functioning. Young (1999) argues that there are five different types of internet addiction, namely, computer addiction (i.e. computer game addiction), information overload (i.e. web surfing addiction), net compulsions (i.e. online gambling or online shopping addiction), cyber sexual addiction (i.e. online pornography or online sex addiction) and cyber-relationship addiction (i.e. an addiction to online relationships). Addiction to SNSs falls in the last category since SNSs are used to maintain online and offline relationships.
The popular press in India was perhaps the first to point out the addictive features of SNSs. As social networks continue to burgeon, several recent articles in Indian newspapers have been highlighting these concerns. Using social media on a continuous basis gets one severely addicted to it, and unable to do without using it for a long period of time. We are still in the infant stages of understanding these issues in the Indian context. There is no doubt that the Indian youth is developing a dependence on this technological advance that fuses people all over the world, but does this necessarily mean that the Indian youth is addicted to it? The simple correlation between social network use and depression is not supported by a large amount of research (Jelenchick et al., 2012), at least in India so probably the media scare is largely overblown. In particular, there is negligible empirical evidence in India till date whether SNSs are addictive. In any case research on the addictive qualities of social networks all over the world is scarce. The study will focus on some of these issues by drawing on the perspectives of youth in two metropolitan cities in India. This paper explores whether and to what extent social media comes in the way of well-being, contributes to addictive behavior and other harmful social effects.
The addictive features of social media are becoming a concern in India. To further understand the negative repercussions of excessive usage of these platforms, students belonging to the humanities and business disciplines in Mumbai and Bengaluru were surveyed. The data collection entailed three separate stages. In the first phase, which went on from June 2016 to September 2016, the researcher managed to secure permission from five colleges in Mumbai and two in Bengaluru to put up flyers on notice boards inviting young students who spend a minimum five hours a week on SSNs to participate in a study meant purely for academic purposes. In total, 114 students responded to this call. A structured questionnaire was then sent via e-mail to these 114 students. Usable responses were received from as many as 87 students with maximum responses (63.22 percent) from undergraduate students compared to post graduate students (36.78 percent). Out of the actual 87 respondents, 51 (58.62 percent) were male and 36 (41.38 percent) were female. The second stage embraced an exploratory qualitative approach with in-depth interviews and reflections. This qualitative method was chosen as it allows an account of the experience individuals have to be told in a sequential manner, which allows the opportunity to explore the events, which may be related to each other and which may provide an indication of areas of importance for researchers (Saunders et al., 2007).
Out of the 87 respondents, 30 were randomly selected for face-to-face interviews with some replacements from the list. The interview process was based on an interview guide divided into three sections which addressed the research questions and provided the structure. Respondents were asked relatively subjective questions about their habits and experiences on SNSs with proper elaboration on the questions if needed. Although the broad questions were common to all interviews, certain related interesting points were also considered, personalizing some of the questions. Strict confidentiality was assured to all the respondents. All interviews have been recorded which made the writing process easier. The average time spent per interview was 70 minutes. There was a broad coding of data and the data was analyzed for the main themes. The mean age of the students was 18.4 years and all respondents were urban youth in the city and suburbs of Mumbai and Bengaluru. In the third stage, the author devoted a lot of time reading the blogs and posts of youth with whom the author was virtually connected along with a few more available in the public domain.
The theoretical framework used by this study is the uses and gratifications theory along with rational addiction theory. The uses and gratifications theory is suitable for this study as SNSs have something suitable for everyone be it information-seeking, inter-personal communication, entertainment, or escapism (Newhagen and Rafaeli, 1996). It explains how the social factor might ultimately lead to internet addiction. Full focus is on the gratification one gets from the SSN which is equivalent to total escapism from the problem one currently faces and one would refuse to give it up, ultimately leading to SNS addiction. This paper also builds upon the theory of rational addiction that the dependence is formed out of habit. So, the dependence on the SNS starts with normal usage that might initially appear harmless. This repetitive behavior would appear to maximize utility out of the SNS (Wright, 2006). This “overdeveloped” habit might gradually moves toward irrational behavior (Xu and Tan, 2012). The present study cautions how excessive and inappropriate usage of SNSs is becoming addictive for Indian adolescents and highlights the need for the Indian youth to moderate this habit. It suggests that parents, educational institutions and employers should provide methodical education on this important issue.
Observations and inferences
The analysis of qualitative data is presented in three major themes: patterns of usage, nature of online friendships and threat to well-being.
Patterns of usage
SNSs are gaining in popularity among the Indian youth. As is seen in Figure 1, the most popular social media platform is Facebook (97.70 percent), followed by LinkedIn (87.35 percent), Instagram (77.01 percent) and Twitter (67.81 percent). Snapchat (32.18 percent) and Pinterest (25.28 percent) do arouse moderate interest among the Indian youth. Friendster (11.49 percent) and Hi5 (9.19 percent) seem to be the least popular sites. The average time spent by the respondents on these sites is depicted in Figure 2. In all, 2 percent spend up to five hours a week on social media, 8 percent spend between five and ten hours a week on social network websites, 21 percent spend between 10 and 15 hours a week, 15 percent spend between 15 and 20 hours a week, another 24 percent spend between 20 and 25 hours a week, 17 percent spend between 25 and 50 hours a week and 21 percent spend more than 50 hours a week on social media networks. This is indicative of the fact that in order to keep an attractive profile, frequent visits are necessary and this is a factor that facilitates potential excessive use (Lenhart et al., 2010). Several respondents visit SNSs several times a day and many claim it is hard to go through an hour without checking up on their online contacts. It is also to be kept in mind that college students were introduced to these websites very early in their lives and these has become a part of their daily routine. Almost all the respondents admitted that social media sites are a “very important part” (62 percent) or “important part” (34 percent) of their lives. Comments like the one given below are not uncommon, though this could be categorized as a slightly extreme case:
I log in after I come home from college around 2 pm and log out only after 2 am. In college I use my mobile internet and check updates every few minutes usually on the sly
The most common activities on SNSs as can be seen from Figure 3 are posting on the Facebook wall (94 percent), reading and responding to comments (88 percent), sending and responding to invites (83 percent) and browsing the profiles and pages of others (69 percent).
It is heartening that 59 percent have extremely strong privacy settings so only their friends and followers can view their profile. In all, 23 percent allow those known to their friends to have access to their profile. In total, 17 percent have weak privacy settings and allow all users to view their profile.
The main reasons reported for the widespread usage are that it becomes easy to stay in touch with friends (94 percent), and these are also used to make new friends (36 percent). The latter seems more common among boys than girls. The female respondents mostly use social networks to stay in touch with existing relationships whereas some of the males majorly use these networks also to forge new relationships. In all, 6 percent (two of them female) claimed to have mainly interacted with strangers through social media networks. Upon further probing, they confided that the anonymity that social media websites offer excites them.
Some of the respondents (9 percent) stated that they mainly interacted with parents and relatives on social media. Mumbai and Bengaluru are study hubs and attract students from all over the country. Social media platforms offer a cost effective, convenient and speedy mode of communication to such students to stay in touch with parents and relatives. Several respondents (47 percent) claimed to mainly interact with other people they knew, apart from classmates and relatives. They do not regularly meet these people and thus use these platforms to maintain their relationships.
On trying to understand whether belonging to social networks makes the youth feel they belong to a community, mixed reactions were noted. Almost half replied in the negative explaining that social media is merely a projection of a lifestyle, which is different from the stark reality and they find the platforms “flaky” and “superficial.” Also, reasons like anonymity, constant judgment and criticism resulting from the veil provided by the internet and the existence of cyber bullying made them even more convinced that they were not part of a community. In all, 49 percent believed that they would feel left out if they were not a part of these social platforms, as is evident from comments such as these:
I start feeling restless if I don’t check what my friends are up to
On the other hand the other half believed that social media platforms did make them feel like a part of a community. Social media platforms enabled them interact with people sharing similar interests, and helped build a close-knit community in terms of immediate social circles. This then is extended to a global network of people having similar interests. In total, 49 percent believed that they would feel left out if they were not a part of these social platforms, as the following statement shows:
I always want to be in tune with my group and what is going on
Nature of online friendships
Only 10 percent of the respondents consider all social network contacts cultivated online as their friends. In total, 27 percent deem a majority of their social network connections as their friends whereas 46 percent regard very few among their social network as friends. SNSs may appear constructive for those whose real-life social circle is limited. It gives them quick and easy access to friends in the virtual world. All this is relatively less risky and easier than face-to-face communication because of its greater anonymity. It is very interesting to note that a chunk of the respondents (71 percent) had not yet met their online friends, though they would speak to them online on a regular basis. In all, 22 percent had spoken on the phone and 41 percent regularly text messaged these connections but never met them, even after keeping online connections with them since a long time. A mere 14 percent admitted to meeting their online friends on a regular basis and hanging out with them. In total, 60 percent of the respondents were not even comfortable asking their social media connections for a “small favor.” Ultimately, social media has made the respondents aware of the fact that the real world and the virtual world are completely different. They realized that these friendships do not have any actual emotional connect. Three respondents also stated that when they forged friendship with strangers on these platforms, they almost became victims of fraudulent activities. This upsets their mental sanity and may lead to serious consequences. Experiences such as these have helped them reflect on the real friendships that exist outside the virtual space. Others believe that these platforms had helped them strengthen their existing relationships and also forge new ones. Social media platforms had given them a broader perspective of relationships, helped build bonds and made them reduce the tendency to pass false judgments.
Threat to well-being
In total, 32 percent claimed to have suffered from cyber bullying on at least one of the SNSs at some point of time especially on Facebook whereas 67 percent had never been victims of cyber bullying on these platforms. During the interviews two girls who had been victims of cyber bullying stated they had greatly reduced their social media usage after these incidents and deleted their accounts on certain platforms. Others admitted they are still active on social media even after such incidents. On certain victims it had a long-lasting impact and they had not yet recovered from it. Further probing revealed that it had “negatively impacted self-esteem and shattered self-confidence.”
Comparison of lifestyles
Social media networks allow us a glimpse into the supposedly perfect life led by others and thus, directly affect how we view ourselves. In total, 52 percent of the respondents claimed not to be affected at all by the posts and profiles of others. However, in the face-to-face interviews some of them admitted that although they had ticked this option in the questionnaire at a subconscious level this did matter to them and they had made some changes in their lifestyle. In all, 33 percent claimed to being marginally affected and 11 percent admitted that they are greatly affected by others profiles, and what other people post has a huge impact on them. Thus, some of the youth in our study do get affected by what other people post on social media, which is an unhealthy sign. Some respondents confided that they were having “less rewarding experiences and less fun” compared to their friends. They admitted to feeling left out from the “good life” and tried hard to fit into the lifestyle followed by others. Remarks such as these were all too common:
I feel inferior at times and crave for a better lifestyle
I get depressed when I see what a good time my friends always have. I feel left out and unwanted
According to this research, one in two teenagers felt that they were “missing out” on the picture-perfect lives others portrayed through social media. This upsets their mental sanity and may lead to serious consequences. This is despite the fact that a majority (59 percent) of the youth do acknowledge that people behave differently and are not their usual selves on social media. In our study, 67 percent of the respondents admitted to projecting an exaggerated and perfect picture of their lives to get more followers or likes and this may take them to the point of addiction. At the other extreme 14 percent of the respondents admitted they reveal the truth and pour out their woes on social media to get advice from others. This is particularly seen among the female respondents.
Impact on self-esteem
Social media use produces an array of emotions, some of them positive, such as the self-affirmation and self-esteem boost that comes from creating and viewing one’s own profile (Kim and Lee, 2011).The size of people’s online social networks correlates positively with life satisfaction and well-being (Lee et al., 2011). Feedback from friends is instantly and publicly available and this most likely has a great impact on adolescents’ self-esteem. Some people have a habit of incessant and continuous posting on social media in order to remain “popular” and “relevant.” In all, 44 percent feel they cannot trust everything they see on social media and that it is not trustworthy enough. On the issue whether the Indian youth link popularity on social media to their self-esteem, 64 percent of the respondents “strongly link” the likes, comments etc. on SNSs to their own self-esteem and another 22 percent feel the posts and comments may be affecting their self-esteem. Only 12 percent acknowledge that social media popularity is not linked to self-esteem at all, and what happens on social media “strictly remains there.”
This study has unearthed some personality traits from the kind of posts on SNSs. Students seen as introverts tend to disclose a lot more personal information. A boy who describes himself as “highly obese, ugly and suffering from halitosis” admitted to never actually meeting friends he makes on the internet. On the other hand a girl confided: “I am flat-out ugly no matter what I wear or what I do to my hair so I first make friends on the SNSs, confide in them and then ultimately meet them” (39). Introverts disclose more personal information on their pages (Amichai-Hamburger and Vinitzky, 2010). From the face-to-face interviews it is observed that the majority appear to use SNSs for social enhancement, and a few did admit to using the sites for social compensation. These results seem to be fairly consistent with those of Mehdizadeh’s (2010) study on Facebook users.
The constant habit to check their online accounts and see the likes or dislikes leads to fluctuations in the level of self-esteem. Once all this starts many teenagers acknowledged they find it extremely difficult to reverse it. They also tend to go overboard in buying expensive clothes and start spending a lot of money on their appearance. This in the long run keeps them marooned in the virtual world and they lose contact with real life.
Users who prefer communication via SNSs (as compared to face-to-face communication) are more likely to develop an addiction to using SNSs (Kuss and Griffiths, 2012). Comments such as these testify to the addictive power of social media among the Indian youth:
I have to miss college often because I just cannot get up in the mornings after logging off at 4 am
I consider my Apple my best friend, spending hours with it every day
I’m an addict. I just get lost in Facebook
I now do not feel the need to go out
Facing problems with my girlfriend over this addiction!
I do not deny I have a problem. I now feel fine only in the non face to face interaction. I call it socializing whereas my brother calls it escapism
My grades in college have dipped. Mom often says I tend to procrastinate and get easily distracted from my studies
In fact, 52 percent of the respondents admitted to being addicted to social media platforms and affirmed that social media platforms did contribute to addictive behavior. Some of the students did complain of very erratic sleeping patterns and constant yawning during the day. They confessed they “could not live without it.” In fact, one boy explained in detail how his mother made all attempts to make him abandon this habit, but in vain.
Some common patterns were deduced among these cases of suspected addiction. Most of them were male with a fair sprinkling of females; they had very few actual friends, hardly socialized and were not too attractive in their appearance. Accordingly, the supposed expectations and benefits of SNS use may go awry particularly for people with low self-esteem (Kuss and Griffiths, 2012). These perceived advantages make them spend more and more time on these sites which may potentially lead to addiction. Some of the respondents did experience “addiction-like” symptoms. It could be deduced that the respondents are not addicted to the medium per se; they may cultivate an addiction to certain activities they carry out online but beyond doubt majority of the youth surveyed spend their lives completely immersed in technology and perhaps do not even consider social media as “technology.”
Habits are formed through repeated acts in certain circumstances (Oulasvirta et al., 2011). Maladaptive habits can cause unintended behavior activated by internal or external cues interfering with other acts, for example, when people experience excessive urges such as unintended smartphone checking and this could interfere with daily life if it is not limited by regulations or social norms (Rush, 2011). The new generation in India is the first to have constant access to internet technology right from the very beginning. As teenagers go through an important transitionary period in their lives, attention and popularity become very important to them. So, they tend to use these sites for socializing and making new friends and are usually vulnerable to the next “new” thing. The Indian youth make extensive utilization of SNSs in order to stay in touch with family and friends, but also with acquaintances; therefore sustaining weak ties with potentially advantageous environments (Kuss and Griffiths, 2012). This may lead to excessive usage of these sites ultimately leading to addictive behavior. These platforms have adversely affected social relationships and community life of the respondents who now spend less time with friends and family. Majority also feel lonely and depressed when they see pictures and videos of others having a good time, thereby leading to an inferiority complex. While the desire to disclose personal information may not be a product of social media per se, one cannot deny that social media does provides the platform to do this and receive immediate feedback. It is the individual rather than the community that is the focus of attention (Boyd and Ellison, 2008). The youth present themselves and their lives in a very rosy way on these SNSs and this gives them immense pleasure. Adolescents often engage in what has been referred to as “imaginative audience behavior” (Elkind and Bowen, 1979). They constantly feel they are being watched and evaluated and tend to become obsessed with their appearance. The heightened feeling of increasing recognition on social media guides self-worth and self-esteem. Everybody is always trying to project themselves in the best light. Many of the youth are using these SSNs to show the rest of the world what a huge circle of friends they have and what a fancy life they lead. People feel inferior when they make “upward comparisons” and feel better when making “downward comparisons” (Michinov, 2001). The upward comparisons in the long run lead to conditions like anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. Social media is also linked to comparison of lifestyles and a feeling of depression as the youth tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what they saw online.
This analysis clearly indicates that connections on social media do not blossom into friendship in actual life. Contacts remain random names on the friends list. Also, even when the online friendships do go deep, an actual meeting may never materialize and this is exactly how some of the youth want to maintain the equations. The findings correlate to the model developed by Caplan (2005) which explains that individuals who have deficient self-presentational skills might prefer online communication to face-to-face communication. As they devote more time and attention to their online social interaction, some of them have a hard time regulating their internet use, which is termed compulsive use (Caplan, 2005) This in turn leads to all kind of negative life outcomes such as missing out on a social life, dip in grades and sleepless nights. The use of SNSs also seems to be related to poor social adaptation, such as social anxiety (Bodroza and Jovanovic, 2016). Internet and other digital addictions are often the result of habitual behavior used to relieve pain or escape from reality (Huisman et al., 2000). This research has shown that excessive usage of these is becoming a problem for the Indian youth as well. Addictive behavior has six core components of addiction, which are: salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse (Griffiths, 2005). Social networking fulfills all these six criteria of addiction.
The egocentric construction of SNSs facilitates the engagement in addictive behaviors and may thus serve as a factor that attracts people to using it in a potentially excessive way (Kuss and Griffiths, 2012). The fifth annual National Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey has discovered that the fear of missing out due to high levels of social media use leads to depression and anxiety and stress (Damjanovic and Dayman, 2015). More specifically, Dutch adolescents aged 10 to 19 years who received predominantly negative feedback had low self-esteem which in turn led to low well-being (Valkenkburg et al., 2006). Studies indicate that people tend to self-disclose much more on internet sites than in the real, physical world (Raymer, 2015). A study by Wölfling et al. (2008) indicates that people use the internet excessively in order to cope with everyday stressors.
Some other studies show results contrary to what is reported by this study. Huang (2010) has shown that social communication via internet is a positive predictor of psychological well-being. Wang et al. (2014) reported that social communication use is positively correlated with well-being and people who use SNSs frequently have higher levels of well-being. However the findings of this study seem to be in conformity with several other studies in the field. Orr et al. (2009) inferred that particularly shy people spend large amounts of time on Facebook and have large amounts of friends on SNSs. Individuals with internet use problems may be unable to remain abstinent or to moderate their addictive behavior (Murali and George, 2007). A study by LaRose and Peng (2009) showed that individuals who experienced loneliness and had deficient social skills could develop strong compulsive internet use behavior leading to leading to negative life outcomes rather than tackling the original problems. That excessive usage of Facebook leads to depressive symptoms was proved in another study as well. Individuals with low self-esteem may end up feeling worse due to the effects of social comparison on SNSs such as Facebook (Steers et al., 2014). Facebook and online social networking is associated with several psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (Pantic, 2014). Kross et al. (2013) concluded “The more people used Facebook “the worse they felt” and “the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.” Facebook use is linked to declines in subjective well-being and rather than enhancing well-being, Facebook may undermine it (Kross et al., 2013).
Indian newspapers have recently reported several cases how social media can mislead and corrupt the youth and some of these cases have ended in tragedy. In China, some youth drawn into gambling and gaming on the internet indulged in it continuously beyond a day and then died. This kind of obsessive behavior is obviously extremely dangerous to minds which are otherwise actually intelligent. Excessive use of anything is harmful and dangerous for a person and everything ought to be done in moderation.
This study finds support for the displacement hypothesis but not for the stimulation hypothesis. Based on displacement hypothesis, spending more time on SNSs reduces adolescents’ well-being because it displaces time spent with existing while the stimulation hypothesis maintains that usage of SNSs increases the quality of their real-life relations (Valkenburg and Peter, 2007).
This generation in India has put social media at the top of their priority list. All the respondents selected for this research spent a minimum of five hours on SNSs a week and were heavy users, spending up to even 50 hours a week on SNSs. These sites have become an in-built part of the Indian youth today who are deemed to be “digital natives” (Prensky, 2005) as against those of us in India who learnt digitalization as adults and are technology immigrants. The youth in this study do acknowledge that they need to reduce the usage but are seem unable to do so in the majority of cases. What we see in India today is the persistence of a trend of people spending more time in the midst of technology than amid humans. Social network platforms are considered a boon, allowing people to connect seamlessly and viably with anyone in the world. These sites are especially attractive for the youth in this study as they can adjust their profiles to show the world an ideal picture of themselves; and via those virtual selves they can interact with friends and peers in a forum that is often shielded from supervising adults.
This study dealt on the negative repercussions these platforms have as a result of their excessive usage. Internet addiction has been described as a twenty-first century epidemic (Christakis, 2010). There is growing evidence that because of their hyperlinked architecture social media can prove more distracting than focusing (Aagaard, 2014; Anderson et al., 2014; Rambe and Nel, 2014). Along with this, other research has provided clear evidence that overuse or maladaptive use of ICT can have negative effects on the well-being and psychological functioning of children, adolescents, and young adults (Brooks, 2015; Fox and Moreland, 2015; Rosen et al., 2013; Sampasa-Kanyinga and Lewis, 2015).However, social media is simply providing a quicker peeling of the onion as in majority of the cases the issues were anyway there and most people anyway love to talk about themselves.
Undoubtedly the Indian youth are spending a lot of time browsing and chatting on various SNSs and these clearly have mass appeal. These levels are becoming more and more extreme and are leading to potentially addictive qualities. The youth are acquiring an addiction to the particular activities they do online rather than the internet per se. This is a kind of cyber-relationship addiction partly to escape reality and partly to uplift one’s mood. They label their computer as their “best friend.” For many youth in this study, interacting online is the best way of living in a society where people are getting more and more isolated from each other. The youth are particularly impressionable at this age and when social media gets added to the prevailing peer pressure, some cannot handle it. The line between habit and addiction is drawn when it interferes with living a normal life. The rational use of social media thus moves from habit toward irrational behavior (Xu et al., 2012).
Excessive use of anything is harmful and dangerous for a person. Just as the remedy to alcoholism cannot be to go back to the era of prohibition, the right remedies need to be offered to the youth who get into these addictive habits. Moderating their access to social media is one excellent method. The best plan is to redirect the focus by providing enough time for face-to-face social interaction, increasing family leisure time and inviting friends and family over for get-togethers.
Parents and teachers would do well to worry more about all the negative effects of their children’s incessant and probably maladaptive use of these SNSs. Schools and parents should educate children on these matters from the very beginning, Enhancing their self-esteem and promoting social skills could be an important measure of prevention of negative outcomes of social networking and mobile device use (Oberst et al., 2017). Parents should ensure that from the beginning they keep controls on their children, try to monitor the sites their children frequently access, make sure the time spent on SNSs is not excessive and prevent excessive late-night log-ins. Educational institutions also have a pivotal role to play and need to reiterate to their students that they should filter the information they see on social media. Administrators can play a primary role in promoting awareness of internet abuse or addiction on campus by being in a position to both assess the needs of students, and implement preventive programs to decrease the potential dangers of excessive internet use (Scherer, 1997). While the internet has certainly changed the way we live, all the changes it has brought about in the Indian lifestyle may not always be for the better. Further research is needed on the Indian scene and also on the effective treatment of internet addiction.
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About the author
Jehangir Bharucha is a Senior Vice Principal at the Hassaram Rijhumal College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai, India; and is a Faculty at Lincoln University College, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.