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Gen Z: The 'social' generation, more disconnected than ever?

Written by Emma Conaghan

‘Get off your phone…’ is a phrase all our parents have said to us, which they often follow up with some remark about how life was so much easier before the rise of technology, as we promptly roll our eyes because, as teenagers, we know better. However, I have come to realise that maybe they are not wrong.

If we didn’t have social media would we be more sociable? As a 19-year-old girl who has grown up in the age of social media, I can see how it is has had a largely negative impact on us. So much of what we see online is so disconnected from reality Instagram, for example, only shows the highlights of someone’s life. I am guilty of posting photos where I appear to be having the best time but in reality, I may be behind the screen feeling ‘down in the dumps.’ While social media hasn’t stopped me from going out and seeing my friends, it has made being social more accessible than ever before because at the click of a button I can be talking to someone face to face through a screen. Amazing! How convenient?! But no… why not just go and meet a friend for coffee? Rather than sitting in our bedrooms scrolling for hours. The mental health charity MIND concluded in a study that 95% of people interviewed said their mood changed from anxious and depressed to calm and balanced after spending time outside. According to data at Centres for Disease Control in America, college-wide access to Facebook led to a 7% increase in severe depression amongst students. However, nothing has really been done to combat this as social media has also got many perceived benefits such as connecting with old friends. Personally, I feel more fulfilled when I meet friends for coffee, a meal or drinks, as opposed to a facetime or a conversation over text. Virtual communication lacks the personal nature of an interaction, even just the absence of a hug when greeting or saying goodbye to someone is lost when communicating through a device.

Social Media is not just disconnecting us mentally but also physically. I struggle with Body Dysmorphia. Having spoken to women of older generations such as my mum, this is not a term any of them had heard prior to the rise of social media. To quote my mum; “When I was growing up there was no access to photos that had been airbrushed and you didn’t always know what people were doing so there wasn’t that same opportunity for people to flaunt their lives. Therefore, there wasn’t that same comparison of your life with others and FOMO was almost impossible, I feel I lived much more in the present. The way me and my friends would show off what we had been doing such as on holiday was through a postcard arriving at the door as opposed to seeing the perfect bikini photo in a daily feed.” However, I can say that the majority of my friends suffer with body dysmorphia in some capacity. We have become so wrapped up in the idea of a ‘perfect’ figure or face that we forget our body is the vessel that allows us to live our life.

While I can’t prove that social media causes body dysmorphia, I can confidently say that it exacerbates it. The process of taking a photo and then analysing it for hours and comparing it to other people on social media trying to decide if its good enough to post. Then once posted, the process of waiting for the validation of likes and comments, it’s exhausting and is not a beneficial way to live. Earlier this year, Florida House Experience Health carried out a study which concluded that 87% of women and 65% of men compare themselves to others on social media. This reality suggests due to the disconnected nature of our generation, we have forgotten that the role of our bodies is not to look like we have been airbrushed and cinched in but its job is to keep us alive so we can achieve great things in our day to day life. In 2014, celebrities Matt Johnson and Anna Williamson took part in a 50km trek to raise money for the mental health charity MIND. This is a prime example, of appreciating what our body can do and why we should take care of it rather than being critical or what it doesn’t look like we should be grateful for what it does do.

The disconnect caused by social media leads to loneliness. In a survey carried out by Cigna in 2018 it was revealed that the average loneliness score of participants who fell within the Gen Z category was 10 points higher than the Greatest Generation, which consists of people above the age of 72. It is clear that a large factor of loneliness is to do with the exposure to social media. Looking forward into 2023 we should be prioritising our physical and mental wellbeing and should be living more in the present. As the English writer Alan Watts once said; ‘I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.’

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