Before I arrived in China it didn’t even cross my mind how my access to the world outside of China would be affected. I didn’t even consider I’d be locked out of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everything Googly, and what that might actually mean. I suppose I’m the sort of person that likes to take things as they come. I’ve often found that there is more happiness that way, and if not then with support there is often something one can at least learn about happiness.
Social media and mental health
Social media has been a very important part of my present journey. It has not only enabled me to stay in touch with people far away, and communicate where I am and how I am feeling, but also to share any insights I might have around happiness and well-being as I journey toward Bhutan.
As such I am mindful of how useful social media can be. There is, however, plenty of research, for example, that has highlighted that social media can be detrimental to people’s mental health, Personally, I am keenly aware of just how easy it is for me to spend more time than I would like on social media. Time that I would otherwise like to spend doing things I know would be more beneficial for my happiness, such as writing (I can still upload to my blog), reading, or simply just sitting with my-self.
At times I can really struggle not to incessantly keep checking on my various social media feeds, and when I do succumb to one feed or another then it is just too easy to keep scrolling down the screen. Often when I go online with a specific purpose I can get so lost on social media I forget why I actually came online in the first place.
There is a familiarly addictive quality to my interaction with social media and what I’ve noticed is that when I’m experiencing difficult emotions – for example, anxiety, fear, sadness, or boredom even – then to avoid being present with what is I all too often reach for social media. There is sometimes a certain reaching out by using social media – for example, if I express a distress and get enough likes and comments, then there is a sense of feeling supported. But I find that sort of support is not wholly nourishing, and for me functions as more of a temporary sticking plaster, until I can get the sort of support I really need, which is often in the form of a live interaction with a person before me.
An importance that goes far beyond my personal happiness
So in being locked out of these social media feeds there is some sort of personal relief. Perhaps I’m happier. But actually what does that matter when there is an issue much more important for happiness and well-being at stake here. The reason I am blocked from these platforms is related in some way or another to state policy. That policy most probably centres around control – through limiting citizens access to outside information and also for the purposes of monitoring people. Such restrictions are therefore possibly likely to be detrimental to happiness and well-being. In any case there are equivalents in China, one’s that can be monitored and controlled by the state.
The idea of being monitored and controlled by the state sounds pretty scary to many people. Yet, the consideration that a private company could be monitoring and controlling people might barely raise an eyebrow to just as many. The internet is rife with privacy intrusions, and Facebook, for example, has manipulated people’s news feeds to influence people’s moods under the guise of innovation. The social media platforms are designed to be as addictive as possible. In short, the more addictive social media platforms are then the longer people will spend on them, they will encounter more adverts, and that increases revenue. Under these circumstances social media what is the likelihood that they will be good for people’s mental health.
Thus, whilst it is certainly not happiness inducing to know that our lives are controlled by the state for its own agenda (political survival), it is, to me at least, similarly disconcerting to know that my life is to some extent under the control of private organisations to suit their own agendas (economic survival). Until we get to a point where the context in which we get to make decisions is one that promotes genuine happiness and well-being I will have to keep struggling to limit my use and feeling somewhat relieved when I don’t have unfettered access to social media.