Your alarm clock goes off, it’s time to start your day. What’s the first thing you do? What about right before you go to bed? If your answer is scrolling social media, you’re not alone. People are spending increasing amounts of time on social media, with reports from 2023 suggesting an average worldwide usage of two and a half hours a day.
With more social media apps and websites coming online, that amount of time is likely to increase. U.S. tech company Meta recently launched Threads, the newest social media platform vying for our time. The app is meant to rival Elon Musk’s Twitter.
With 4.8 billion social media users worldwide as of 2023, social media has become a mainstay in everyday life, particularly among younger generations. Some adolescents even describe feeling a sense of stress and poor emotional well-being when not online. So much so that terms like FOMO (fear of missing out) and Nomophobia (No Mobile Phone Phobia) have been popularized to explain the feelings and thoughts some people experience when disconnected from their smartphone or their social media.
Social media use
As we become increasingly dependent on social media for entertainment and information, it can be challenging to create space between ourselves and our social media profiles. So much so that too much enjoyment from and time spent on social media can result in strong usage habits, and in more extreme cases, addiction.
As researchers who study societal relationships with these technologies, we began to wonder the lengths young adults might go to maintain their connection to social media. To answer this question, we conducted a study of 750 Canadians, aged 16-30 years old, who regularly use social media. We asked them about their social media usage patterns, their relationship with social media and the sacrifices they would be willing to make to remain on social media.
Our findings showed that smartphones were the most used method for accessing social media and approximately 95 per cent of participants had access to at least two social media accounts, with Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube among the most popular.
Additionally, nearly half reported checking social media nine or more times a day, whereas only about one in every 10 people checked social media twice a day or less. The most popular times of day that people accessed their phone were in the morning and evening. However, access during the afternoon, at night and on the weekend was still frequent.
Interestingly, despite an average age just over 24 years old, nearly half of the young adults surveyed indicated they have had a social media account for close to or more than a decade, suggesting prolonged usage and interest from an early age.
What trade-offs are young adults willing to make?
Respondents were asked to consider what they would be willing to sacrifice to maintain their social media presence. Trade-offs fell into the following categories: food/drink, hobbies, possessions, career, appearance, relationships, health and life.
Approximately 40 per cent of respondents were willing to give up caffeine, alcohol and video games. Another 30 per cent or so were willing to give up playing sports, watching TV and eating at their favorite restaurant for an entire year.
When asked to make appearance or possession-related trade-offs, another 10 to 15 per cent said they would rather gain 15 pounds, shave their head, give up their driver’s license, never travel again and live without air conditioning.
When asked to make more serious trade-offs relating to their relationships, health, or life, fewer were willing to make the sacrifice. For example, fewer than five per cent of participants said they would be willing to contract a sexually transmitted infection, or be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness like cancer rather than give up social media.
However, nearly 10 out of every 100 participants did say they would accept being unable to have children, give up sex or give up one year of their life to maintain their social media connections. When asked to give up more years of life, almost five out of every 100 and three out of every 100 participants said they would give up five or 10 years of their life, respectively.
Some young adults are willing to give up a considerable amount to maintain their access to social media. Notably, participants were far more likely to make food, drink and hobby-related sacrifices, followed by possessions and appearance-related trade-offs, compared to more serious concessions. However, knowing that even a small proportion of participants were willing to make health and life-related sacrifices is, quite honestly, scary.
We are not the kind of researchers who want to rid the world of social media. Quite the opposite, we use it ourselves. Rather, like most things in this world, we see the benefits and consequences and want to encourage conversations, reflection and thinking about how and why we use social media.
Article written by Paige Coyne, PhD Candidate, Department of Kinesiology, University of Windsor; Bailey Csabai, Research and Graduate Assistant, Faculty of Human Kinetics, University of Windsor, and Sarah Woodruff, Professor, Director of the Community Health, Environment, and Wellness Lab, University of Windsor
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