Earlier this month the world stopped for teens and college students. For six hours on October 4, Facebook went dark. Along with the main site, Instagram and WhatsApp were also down for hours. Some turned to Twitter, television, or Tiktok, commenting on how much time they suddenly had to participate in other forms of media. Many joked that they took the six hours to better themselves- by scrolling through another app.
The outage demonstrated just how much Gen-Z relies on social media, raising many to question just how addicted we are to our phones.
First-year college student Jacob Kaplan moved to Connecticut just over a month ago from Oregon to attend college, pursuing his desires to attend a small New England school and study STEM.
“Right now, I mainly use Snapchat to talk with friends, more so than texting (he owns an Android), and I post on Instagram every once in a while. I spend a good amount of time on TikTok every day,” Kaplan said of his media consumption. He pinpointed the beginning of his relationship with social media to middle school, noting that his usage has certainly increased since.
“It’s been so nice to have social media to stay connected with people back home, especially because I’m on the other side of the country!” he said. However, he didn’t feel too impacted when his Instagram feed wouldn’t reload.
“I would say that it didn’t affect me as much as my peers. However, I still did notice when it happened and it affected my free time,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan suggests being more aware of how much time is spent on social media.
“I think we really need to work to overcome our technology dependence as a society, but also utilizing it to its fullest potential. I can only imagine how many people were hurt when they couldn’t contact their families or run their small businesses.”
That Monday, professors and international students who use WhatsApp to interact with their families and coworkers were essentially cut off from communications.
Dr. Nicholas Marino is a long-term lecturer in the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric at Trinity College. This semester, Dr. Marino is teaching a course in digital writing and media.
“There are definitely positives to social media- it helps us keep in touch, promotes activist causes, you can be involved even from your armchair,” Dr. Marino said.
Discussing accessibility in the classroom, Dr. Marino mentioned that social media gives teachers and professors the opportunity to assign new assignments and teach different styles of writing. Dr. Marino said, “You can connect students to something bigger.” Some of his class assignments include having students post their own writing online, analyzing memes, and studying more traditional forms of rhetoric.
However, he also sees the negative side of social media, especially working with college students.
“What makes me nervous is the flipside of that, how social media undermines democracy, especially intentionally,” he said, discussing the recently released Pandora Papers, “The Facebook whistleblower knows they are promoting negative information and they did not do anything to stop it.”
In his course on digital media, Dr. Marino went into further detail, sharing how social media uses users’ addiction to negativity, fueling ad revenue.
“Students- and all social media users- feel a dopamine spike from seeing who is interacting with them and there’s an adrenal rush seeing if someone said something nasty, then craving righteous anger,” he said.
One app, however, stands out in Dr. Marino’s mind.
“The most dangerous app is YikYak, which is built to allow anonymous bullying to flourish,” Dr. Marino said. The app, which was originally made in 2013 and re-launched in 2021, let’s users anonymously share their thoughts onto the feed, visible by anyone in a 5-mile radius. Over time, the thread disappears. Dr. Marino believes it “creates a witch hunt,” encouraging kids to seek out the people or things they are reading about.
Sammi Bray is a first year student at Trinity College in Hartford. She is studying public policy and law, with a minor in rhetoric, writing and media studies. She has been freelancing for the Record-Journal since June. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.