OPINION: Social Media: Waste of Time or Information Cache?

By: Carter Caldwell

Social media is taking up more and more time on a daily basis, with many reports claiming that teenagers are spending around 8 hours a day on social media sites or apps.  Among the biggest of these are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube.  While some of these sites may hold true educational potential, it is how they are used that ultimately determines whether or not time spent on them was worthwhile.

For instance, there are some who claim that social media provides students with the ability to communicate easier and in turn make educational progress, with a study by the National School Boards Association revealing that 59% of teens admit to having used social media to “discuss educational topics,” and another 50% having used social media in direct relation to assignments.  These numbers are not surprising, as mobile sites especially are making the spread of information much more accessible and verifiable.  Sites like this also make new discoveries and/or studies more available to the public, which makes for a more informed and better prepared society.  

Conversely, social media also opens many new doorways for cheating, with apps like Snapchat (which allows users to share pictures that disappear after a certain amount of time) in particular encouraging these behaviors.  Social media also taps into the brain’s reward circuitry, which could lead to users feeling the need to constantly check social media and as a result lose productivity, which supports a handful of studies that found non-social media users to have higher GPAs and score higher on tests. There is also the question of online safety and privacy.  Sites can be counted on asking for at least some pieces of information that leave you wondering what they could need them for, especially personal things such as addresses and phone numbers.  Coupled with the ominous possibility of companies being hacked, sharing such information should be valid grounds for concern.

Today’s world is changing faster than ever, and it’s often a relief to have something to mindlessly scroll through, especially when one is bored.  In an attempt to curb possible distractions, many schools have simply taken to barring all phone use in class.  In many ways this is an understandable solution: since cell phones are a new phenomenon, there is no time-tested way to deal with them so why deal with them at all?  However, many of these same schools are also finding themselves taking advantage of the Internet in classrooms, resulting in new “paperless” systems.  In some ways, this makes for an almost ridiculous contradiction.  If Internet usage is so distracting for students, why make it a central part of their education?

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