Opinion | Gen Z overuses social media

By Matthew Krauter, Columnist

We spend a lot of time online. As we sit cooped up in our homes across the world practicing social distancing, it’s easier than ever to get sucked into our cellphone screens. While participating in a pass-along quarantine game you stumble upon on Instagram may be tempting, maybe you shouldn’t.

Cellphones have become an essential part of our daily lives. This is unequivocally a positive thing. Instant global communication, access to virtually all knowledge and other quality-of-life-improving applications are surely a benefit to society.

But are we really always using our devices for productivity? Of course not, nor should we be expected to. Watching YouTube, endlessly scrolling Instagram, participating in TikTok dance challenges and sending daily Snapchat streaks are essential parts of many people’s daily lives. People need time to relax and socialize, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But an issue may be arising from the overuse of social media.

Generation Z, well-known for their tech-savviness, spends an average of three hours per day on social media according to new research from Global Web Index. The average social media usage among all ages has risen from an hour and a half in 2012 to two hours and 20 minutes in 2019.

Why would so many people be spending so much time on social media? Some of the most common reasons include staying in touch with others, following news and filling up spare time.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Interestingly enough, despite their high usage of social media, research from Origin found “34% of Generation Z social media users have quit one or more platforms entirely, while a full 64% have taken at least a temporary break.” A whole 41% of Gen Z also reported, “social media makes them feel sad, anxious or depressed.”

Why is it that a generation so fluent with technology would feel the need to take a break from social media or report it as a cause of depression? Technology and interconnectivity are meant to improve our lives, not cause distress.

I suspect Gen Z feels dissatisfied because social media seems to yield diminishing marginal returns. It’s so easy to waste time unconsciously on various apps that we gain nothing from. Eventually, the lack of value in the way we spend our time has a negative result on us. 

As a member of Gen Z, I hate to admit it, but the older generations are sometimes right about us wasting too much time on our phones. That’s not what any college student wants to hear, but it’s the truth.

Apple devices have a screen time log within the settings application that allows you to view detailed accounts of your average device usage. For a long time, ignorance of those logs was bliss for me. But curiosity got to the better of me, and I was horrified to see my daily usage.

Like 64% of Gen Z, I’ve embarked on a break from social media. As a Catholic, I had to give up a bad habit for Lent and uninstalling all social media worked rather fittingly. But deleting social media is easier said than done.

For weeks, my thumb would unconsciously tap where my Twitter app once laid, and I was fettered whenever my 15-minute daily limit on YouTube locked the app in the middle of a video.

Quitting social media takes discipline, but using those three hours per day in other ways is much more rewarding. Picking up a new hobby or just reading that book you’ve been meaning to get to on your shelf are indisputably far better uses of your time than liking Kylie Jenner’s newest post.

Focusing on intentionality by being deliberate in how you allocate your time allows you to invest in yourself and become a more fulfilled person in a unique way.

There is a time and place for social media, and no one contends everyone needs to drop it right now. There are plenty of people who balance it healthily with the rest of their lives, but there are also many who could be doing much more. Just think about how you’d wish you would have spent your time a year from now.

Consider adding a daily limit to your usage in your device settings or taking a break so you can set aside some wasted time for something you truly care about.

Matthew is a sophomore in LAS.

[email protected]