Art by Autumn Hardwick
Transparency Item: The Perspectives section of the Graphic is comprised of articles based on opinion. This is the opinion and perspective of the writer.
In comparison with previous generations, today’s teens and young adults spend much more time on social media than reading books. Statistics show 80% of teens use social media daily, while fewer than 20% spend time reading a book every day, according to the American Psychological Association.
While social media is not inherently harmful, there are negative effects associated with its use. Numerous studies show social media platforms are addictive and exacerbate anxiety, depression and even physical ailments, according to McLean Hospital.
On the other hand, reading provides a plethora of benefits. Not only does reading improve one’s vocabulary and cognitive function, it also can reduce stress, aid sleep and alleviate symptoms of stress and depression, according to Healthline.
Reading is a conduit to the human experience and teaches empathy through stories and narratives. Books are a tool to find genuine human connection.
The constant barrage of social media is also detrimental to student studying habits. Individuals who spend a lot of time on social media are accustomed to instant communication. Their use of social media shortens attention span, making it a challenge for them to focus on longer texts, according to Baptist Health.
“Think about how difficult it must be to read even five pages of an 800-page college textbook when you’ve been used to spending most of your time switching between one digital activity and another in a matter of seconds,” said Jean M. Twenge, professor of Psychology at San Diego State University.
Instant gratification and speedy delivery are hallmarks of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Yet, when individuals become accustomed to this lifestyle, it can inhibit critical thinking. In essence, critical thinking is “careful thinking directed to a goal,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Psychology.
The time associated with reading a book allows readers to observe, feel, wonder and conceptualize ideas. Instead of wolfing down a birthday cake all at once, readers can nibble delicately and enjoy sensations like texture and flavor. Conversely, the fast-paced nature of social media platforms do not allow individuals to process information in the same way.
Information overload, a situation in which you receive too much information at one time and cannot think about it in a clear way, is one of the pitfalls of relying on social media. An abundance of poor quality information and limited critical thinking leads to the proliferation of misinformation.
“Unable to process all this material, we let our cognitive biases decide what we should pay attention to,” according to Scientific American.
It is far better to pick up a single book and spend time digesting its ideas than grasping at hundreds of pieces of incomplete and misinformation on social media.
While some may argue social media highlights only concise and pertinent information, understanding complex issues —such as racial discrimination— requires considering a multitude of factors.
Social media platforms may be a good way to transmit information quickly, but they often do not paint the whole picture, depriving individuals of crucial context and background information, according to Boston University. The rampant spread of misinformation illustrates this.
Research shows misinformation travels six times faster than the truth and is spread to many more people via social media platforms, according to CITAP.
Unlike social media posts, books must undergo a review and editorial process before publication, according to Bloomsbury. This process gives readers an added reassurance that what they are reading has already been thoroughly reviewed. For the same reasons, reading a primary source is more reliable than a social media post about the subject.
With that in mind, choosing what to read is just as important as choosing to read in the first place. There are different book genres for different purposes; not all books are created equally.
Sometimes I want to relax and enjoy a light-hearted book. Other times I read —especially for Great Books— to provoke philosophical thought.
There is a book for every occasion, and having options allows me to calm my emotions, steady my mind and focus on healing. Reading gives me peace, while scrolling through social media distracts and detracts from the present.
Ultimately, be discerning and conscious of your media consumption— what you take in is often what you put out. While there is a place and time for social media, don’t make it your primary source of education and news.
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