Let’s talk about Facebook. It’s convenient, free, fun, and it allows people from across the world to communicate and connect in a way that wasn’t possible before it. Facebook has merged different forms of mass media with multiple types of communication. Thanks to the social media platform, organizational communication, interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, television, and news are reachable in the same place. Not only does Facebook allow us to facilitate different types of communication and spread information to large groups of people, but it’s also accessible on different devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. This concept of merging different forms of media and communication is called media convergence.
So what’s the big deal about being able to get different types of communication and media within the same place?
Well, media convergence allows us to have copious amounts of information. We actually have access to more information than ever before which is why our current culture is named the “information society”. Having significantly large amounts of information and media convergence allows us to be more educated and informed, but with those benefits come some not so good implications for our mental health.
When individuals are exposed to large amounts of information at one time, their brains are unable to process it all.
This concept called “information overload” is problematic because it gets in the way of our minds ability to make decisions effectively and understand issues. In a recent study done by Clemson University, it was found that information overload and excessive technology use can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. People who overuse technology also show decreased emotional connection, decreased self-esteem, attention problems, lack of empathy, inability to set boundaries, and immediate need for gratification (Scott, Simecka & Valley, 2017). Social media, in particular, has been proven to cause depression because individuals who use it fall into a “comparison game” where they compare their lives to others. This causes some individuals to feel as though their life is not as good as other people who are also on social media, which leads them to be critical towards their life and feel hopeless (Steers, Wickham & Acitelli, 2014).
With more forms of media and communication being accessible in the same place, we also run into the issue that our devices are more addictive and harder to separate away from. When we are apart from our devices for a short amount of time, a burst of cortisol is released (McCandless, 2017). Cortisol, the stress hormone, is what is triggered when our bodies go into “fight- or -flight” mode. The flight- or -flight response occurs when our body feels danger or panic about a situation. So yes, this means that when some individuals are away from their phone and they cannot immediately access it they feel physical stress symptoms. Along with the stress hormone being released, studies have also proven that a hormone called dopamine is released when we are involved in positive interactions on the internet. Dopamine, the opposite of cortisol, is a reward hormone in the brain that is produced while smoking cigarettes, eating, gambling, and drinking alcohol. The dangerous thing about dopamine is that it is connected to addictive patterns of behavior (McCandless, 2017).
Since individuals see a counselor for other addictive behaviors similar to those listed above, it is important to recognize that people in the future may have to see a counselor for help with balancing media usage and the real world. With convergence contributing to dependency on our devices, it is crucial that more research is conducted to figure out how we can combat the negative consequences that technology has on our psychological health. Mental health issues related to technological dependence are predicted to keep rising (Scott, Simecka & Valley, 2017) which makes it even more important for counselors to understand these negative effects. If they fully understand the negative effects they can understand and help their clients efficiently.
Media convergence has allowed us to have easier access to information, more information, and more communication outlets, but in order to get the most out of these platforms, we must create a healthy distance between us and our devices. It’s safe to say that technology usage habits are something to be cautious of, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing!
Digital media is extremely powerful because it can be utilized to spread ideas, connect with others, create social change and bring people together.
Once we are educated about how to create an appropriate distance between social media and the user, our society will be able to use digital media to its full potential.
Steers, M. L. N., Wickham, R. E., & Acitelli, L. K. (2014). Seeing everyone else’s highlight reels: How Facebook usage is linked to depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(8), 701-731.
Scott, D. A., Valley, B., & Simecka, B. A. (2017). Mental health concerns in the digital age. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 15(3), 604-613.
McCandless, B. (2017, June 11). Hooked on your phone? CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hooked-on-phones/