When was the last time you disconnected from your technology for a day- by choice? No, sleeping doesn’t count. I mean really got away from it all- not answered the phone, not checked your email, turned off Facebook notifications and let your Instagram go silent.
I’m part of the Snapchat generation, and I’ve grown up with technology and all the instant gratification that comes with it. The benefits of being connected to the vast network of individuals and information that make up the internet are numerous, but the side effects of perpetual instant gratification are subtle enough that you might just miss them.
Research into the relationship between social media use and anxiety and depression found a linear association between the amount of platforms used and prevalence of these negative emotions. Published in the Computers In Human Behaviour journal, a number of researchers found that the more connected an individual was through social media, the higher their chance of having anxiety and depression was- regardless of time spent. The reason I bring this up is that social media is inherently related to immediate gratification. It’s being interconnected to the point of 24/7 access to people, instant messaging, and instant updates.
Now take my little cousin, Finn. My five-year-old amigo can operate his mother’s iPad efficiently enough to rack up large bills for games that require patience to succeed in- or just in-game purchases. He knows that he can either wait 24 hours for something in-game to happen automatically, or he can press a series of buttons he can barely read to make it happen immediately, which also sends a sneaky bill to my Aunts credit card. I think we all know which he prefers. The troubling part of this is the precedent it sets in his formative mind. His brain is responding to these stimuli in a way that suggests he has advanced and done something correctly, releasing dopamine to reward behaviour.
There’s nothing wrong with this- I’m certainly not advocating parents to ban children from playing games and having fun, but certain problems arise when a whole generation is raised with immediate gratification playing a significant role in behaviour preferences. Firstly, prescriptions for ADHD have risen more than 50% in the past six years. I don’t believe that our identification methods for symptoms of ADHD have advanced so much in six years that 50% of cases would have been missed before, and researchers confirm it. Of a sample size of 4.5 million children, over 20% were found to be misdiagnosed with ADHD. It’s not that more and more people are developing ADHD, it’s that a deep-rooted desire for instant gratification displays all the tendencies of attention deficit.
“So what,” I hear you say, “I’m not depressed, anxious, or in need of medication- what could I gain from less social media saturation?” When you delay gratification or are less active on social media, it’s not just “not bad” for you, it’s actively good. Research into the role of instant gratification in an economic form shows us that people who defer their gratification are more likely to be financially stable and successful. Furthermore, that delaying gratification is one of the most notable stages between maturity and immaturity– less mature individuals lacking willpower. So by exercising a little restraint and willpower, you’re demonstrating the traits of financially stable, successful, and mature people. You might still need to apply a little elbow grease to get there, but you won’t be looking at the screen of your phone when you do.
I live in a world where I can instantly message my friends. I can instantly see what’s happening across the world on my phone. I can instantly order dinner, instantly play games, instantly buy something online. I can’t instantly turn off my brain, though, which is something that our generation needs to be taught.