SPECIAL REPORT: Why can’t we look away?


NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA) — Social media: It’s the resource we hate to love and love to hate. But, research shows we can’t stop scrolling.

In 2013, the average internet user had about four social media accounts. Fast forward to now, and we’re looking at an average of seven per person.

That’s according to a study by Global Web Index.

But, more than 80 percent of people say social media does more to waste time than benefit us.

So, why can’t we look away?

“If I were to let it, social media would be 100 percent of my job as Miss Arkansas,” said Darynne Dahlem, Miss Arkansas 2019.

The newly crowned Miss Arkansas 2019 pins her crown on top of her head as she steps into her unique role as a public figure.

“Before Miss Arkansas, maybe like once a day. After Miss Arkansas, social media is a part of the job,” Dahlem said.

Making appearances, hosting events, and of course, sharing her life with anyone who wants to see it.

“Obviously I’m not going to post eight times a day, but sometimes I have eight posts I need to make,” she said.

While she tries to limit her time on mobile apps, it’s not something the pageant winner can simply walk away from.

“I don’t want to live my life on a screen. I don’t want to live my life on a cell phone,” she said. “I want to be the Miss Arkansas that’s really tangible and in person, but a lot of what I do has to go through social media.”

For people like Dahlem, posting is necessary.

But, a 2019 poll found that most people think social media does more to waste our time.

“Pictures are probably the most prioritized form of social media,” Dahlem said.

Instagram, which focuses on photos, has hit one billion active monthly users as of June 2018.

With a post, comes likes. With likes, comes dopamine; a key ingredient in happiness.

Susan Kristiniak, the Asst. Chief Nursing Officer for Northwest Health in Springdale, said, “There’s a chemical release in the brain when we experience positive things like that and it gives us this euphoric feeling.”

Kristiniak said while social media gives, it can also take away. Especially when people lean too much on it.

“Unfortunately, that can be their only source of reinforcement,” she said. “So when that waivers for whatever reason, that could be very detrimental to that overall feeling.”

When we get on social media, we look for reinforcement, a sense of confirmation.

Kristiniak said, “That reward mechanism of ‘wow, it’s my birthday,’ and ‘so and so remembered,’ or ‘I got a new job,’ or, ‘had a new baby and here’s the new pictures,’ and people acknowledge and give good wishes.”

We want to show the best version of ourselves.

Dahlem said, “Where are we going to take the best pictures? Where’s the best lighting?”

When that doesn’t measure up, “that’s where the sadness comes in again,” Kristiniak said.

Social media makes it easy to compare yourself to others. But, that’s exactly the kind of thing Dahlem wants to avoid.

She said, “You don’t have to go everywhere with curly hair and makeup and evening gown and the crown on to be Miss Arkansas. Because that’s not what people want to look up to. Because if that’s what people think [then] being Miss Arkansas is unattainable, then little girls would have nothing to strive for. Because if they think they can’t do it then why would they want to be Miss Arkansas?”

It’s not just posting. Kristiniak said we’re getting to a point where we’re texting more instead of socializing in person.

Looking at the data, we’re also Snapchatting more than you might expect.

In 2014, 46 million users. This year, 190 million.

“That’s a true loss for us as human beings, not to have that true experience with each other,” Kristiniak said.

Yet, 57 percent of people say they haven’t made an effort to limit or quit using social media in the last few years.

Dahlem said, “That goes back to not so much social media, but being comfortable with yourself.”

People who are trying to cope with a struggle or situation, for example, those who have cancer, diabetes or deal with infertility, can also use social media as a tool to connect.

“The person that is disabled who can’t move, there’s a resource of connectivity of conversation. Facetiming somebody you can actually see. It’s also a great way of checking on the elderly,” Kristiniak said.

While they’re not experts, she said it could be enough to know that someone is listening.

So does social media help, or hurt?

Dahlem said, “So, if I put a hammer on the table, it is not inherently good or evil. It can be used for both though. It can be used to build a house and it can be used to harm. And that’s how things like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter should be looked at.”

In a Twitter poll, we asked you how often you think you’re on social media.

Out of 101 votes, 44% said they spend 0-2 hours on social media, 35% said 3-5 hours and 21% said they will spend all day on it.

Thursday, July 18, Dr. Margaret Rutherford will join KNWA on Facebook live to take a deeper look into how social media affects our mental health.

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