ASU professors weigh in on the impacts of social media on students' lives

Digital detoxes are growing in popularity, with many escaping from the pressures of social media

Since the explosion of Myspaces’ popularity when it launched in 2003, a multitude of different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have grown in popularity. More recently, however, many people advocate for breaks from social media — digital detoxes.

Matt Sopha, an assistant professor at the WP Carey School of Business whose research involves social media and influence, supports the idea of digital detoxing. Sopha spoke to local news outlets supporting the National Day of Unplugging, which took place on March 10 this year. However, he feels there are better areas to focus.

“It’s a 24-hour period where people don't utilize their mobile phone specifically,” Sopha said. “The real focus became to not use mobile devices, specifically social media accounts.”

Although Sopha went on the news to advocate the National Day of Unplugging, he himself did not partake in it.

“The national day of unplugging is a good thing from an awareness perspective,” Sopha said. “If the whole purpose is to go cold turkey for 24 hours and that will somehow reduce social media addiction, then that’s really silly.”

Sopha believes the true cure to social media addiction is incremental changes over time until those become habit.

“It’s a good thing from a PR perspective," Sopha said. "It’s probably attention towards the wrong thing, rather than the more systemic issues that can be more dangerous with these devices."

Sopha said his concerns with social media stem from the distraction it creates.

“My fear isn't so much that we're so captivated by our devices ... it's when I see people multitasking, specifically when I see people driving and texting,” Sopha said. “I went to a concert recently, and a girl was on her phone most of the time recording it on Snapchat, and it was jarring to me because I felt like she was missing out on the bigger experience.”

In regards to the idea of digital detoxing, Dan Gillmor, a professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism who teaches classes on digital media literacy, said that he believes that technology has its own positive and negative effects on peoples' lives and it is up to them to decide when it is best to put the phone down.

"I think people have to set limits for themselves and to use technology for their own benefit or not be used by it," Gillmor said. "If that means having explicit time off from turning stuff on, then by all means, people should work to judge what's best for themselves, and I think in many cases that would involve using things less."

There are some, however, who would argue social media is an integral part of the current professional environment and how people interact and communicate.

Sidney Aronsohn, a health and wellness freshman and content creator for the YouTube channel FitSid, said she started her Youtube channel because she was bullied when she was younger. Her channel has over 18,000 subscribers and her pinned video has over 100,000 views. Aronsohn has since met people online she still counts as friends today. 

“We met and talked over the internet," Aronsohn said. "These girls and I became really close friends. I ended up traveling and hanging out with all my friends, and it all started over Youtube.”

Aronsohn uses social media commercially as well, stating that she has gained enough revenue from her YouTube channel to completely cover her college tuition. Regarding days like the National Day of Unplugging, Aronsohn said she does not think it is an effective means to get its point across. 

“It’s not for someone to say that it’s a good idea for everyone to unplug for one specific day or any day at all,” Aronsohn said. “What if on that day you have the conference call and you need to post for, or you have a scheduled posts for Instagram that's for a paid promotion you're doing?”

Gillmor said that he neither believes people use social media too much nor that they utilize it to its full potential.

"I think that students use social media to the extent that they’re comfortable with, but they also use it to distract themselves from issues, whether those be personal or school related," Gillmor said. "My recommendation for students is to use it whenever they feel necessary but also be mindful not to let it replace in-person interaction and let it distract from more pressing issues."


Reach the reporter at amville8@asu.edu or follow @AustinMVillegas on Twitter. 

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