Next Generation|

Whenever I unlock my phone, I find myself gravitating towards Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. So much so that even when I need to make a call or check my email, my finger instinctively taps and swipes to the Instagram icon.

Swipe up, enter unlock pattern, three swipes to the left and right amidst the chaos of app icons lies my social media folder. It’s a daunting task, but apparently, I have done it a lot because my screen time report shows a whopping 46 hours of screen time per week and that’s not even counting my laptop usage!

While researching, I stumbled upon some truly astonishing statistics. It is reported that people worldwide spend an average of 6 hours and 58 minutes on screens every day, with Gen Z specifically averaging around 9 hours. This prompted my curiosity: What are the consumption patterns of Nepalese youths in today’s digital age?

Fortunately, I have the privilege of being an educator and currently teaching Gen Z students. As part of my research, I conducted a small survey among 31 students aged 18-22, specifically asking them to track their weekly screen time on smartphones. The results were astonishing. On average, these 31 students spent a staggering 45 hours per week engaged with their screens. The maximum reported screen time reached an astonishing 77 hours and 24 minutes, while the minimum recorded was 22 hours. It’s worth noting that some students mentioned experiencing a temporary decline in screen time due to phone malfunctions for a few days, but for the purpose of this survey, those instances were not taken into consideration.

The top five apps came out to be, Youtube with 17 (55%) students, Tiktok and Facebook with 15 students (48%), Instagram with 14 (45%) and Messenger with 7 (23%) students. Each and every students had at least one of these five apps in their phones.

While this data may not represent every Gen Z in Nepal but it does indicate something. Social media consumption is growing and it can lead to some serious damages.

Dopamine, a chemical produced in our brain that is associated with happiness. Dopamine usually gets released when we experience happiness, when we get rewarded or when we get surprised. Multiple research has shown that dopamine is the chemical responsible for “seeking” behavior among human beings. Dopamine is the thing that makes human beings wanting and searching for pleasure. This chemical can also contribute to addiction, as it fuels the constant pursuit of gratification.

This is exactly what social medias exploit, the dopamine system in our brain. Social media acts as a stimulus, the dopamine system gets satisfied from likes, comments, videos, and photos available inside the platform.

Most of us are addicted to our phone screens, we cannot control the amount of time we spend on our phones. When a slight boredom hits us, we tend to look at our phones.

Social media platforms offer immediate gratification to their users. The content available on these platforms seems endless, with developers working tirelessly to keep users engaged and glued to their screens. The rise of short-form content, like 15-second videos, has intensified this effect. I personally experienced this when I downloaded TikTok and found myself losing track of time, spending three hours absorbed in the platform. It was clear that my brain was enjoying the dopamine rush triggered by social media. Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist specializing in digital culture and communication, aptly described the experience of TikTok users being carried away in a pleasurable dopamine state. It’s almost hypnotic, leading users to keep watching without realizing how much time has passed.

One of my students expressed, “I have personally witnessed the impact of social media on myself. Instead of utilizing my leisure time to learn new skills, I find it being wasted on social media. Even when I try to motivate myself and sit down to learn something new, the sound of a notification instantly distracts me and pulls me back into the endless scrolling loop.”

Upon reviewing the screen time of my students, I inquired about their satisfaction level regarding their screen usage. Out of the surveyed students, three (9.7%) expressed contentment with their screen time, five (16%) remained neutral, thirteen (42%) expressed disappointment, and ten (32.3%) reported feeling extremely disappointed.

The data collected from the students reveals some interesting insights. First, when asked if they felt guilty about their screen time, the majority, 55%, answered affirmatively, indicating a sense of guilt associated with their screen usage. On the other hand, 45% responded negatively, suggesting that they did not experience feelings of guilt.

Furthermore, when asked if they were willing to reduce their screen time, a significant majority of 28 students (90%) expressed a willingness to do so, indicating their recognition of the need to decrease their screen usage. Only a small proportion of three students (10%) responded negatively, indicating resistance to reducing their screen time.

The data suggests that while a considerable number of students feel guilty about their screen time, a majority of them also recognize the importance of reducing it. This indicates a potential willingness to modify their habits and strike a healthier balance between screen usage and other activities.

A few years ago, I took the initiative to disable notifications on all social media apps on my phone, except for messaging apps. This step was necessary because the notification tone itself acted as a trigger, luring me into endless scrolling. Recently, I implemented a barrier to accessing social media on my phone. Among my top three apps, namely Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, my barrier ensures that only one of these apps can exist on my phone at a time. Consequently, I uninstalled social media applications and restricted access to them solely on my laptop during evenings. To satiate the dopamine receptors in my brain, I replaced social media with a chess app, which now captures most of my screen time. As a result, my overall screen time has decreased by 10 hours per week.

In a world increasingly automated by AI, it’s crucial for the younger generation to develop a distinctive skill set that sets them apart. However, social media consumption poses a threat to their journey of self-discovery. Constantly engrossed in comparing their lives to others, immersed in a sea of digital content across platforms, they find it difficult to truly explore themselves. Compounding the issue, programmers tirelessly work to keep us hooked to our phones, while algorithms echo our own viewpoints. Rather than being exposed to diverse perspectives, we often embrace popular opinions as our own truths. This cycle hinders personal growth and prevents us from truly discovering who we are.

It is an uphill battle, but it can be conquered.   

Binayak Kuikel

Binayak Kuikel

* a content creator and an educator.

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