In today’s hyper-connected world, digital media has become an integral part of our daily lives. The rise of digital media and the prevalence of short-form content has significantly transformed the way we consume information. From social media posts and memes to videos and articles, these bite-sized snippets offer instant gratification and quick entertainment.
However, there is growing concern about the impact of this digital phenomenon on our mental health which we keep ignoring. Digital media indeed provide support, information, and a platform for self-expression but on the other hand, it also leaves some negative impacts on our minds.
On average there are about 72.9 million active social media users in Pakistan every month with an annual growth rate of 4.3%. Facebook has 37.30 million users in Pakistan, YouTube has 71.70 million users, Instagram has 12.95 million users, TikTok has 16.51 million users and Twitter has 4.65 million users in early 2023. Almost all of the platforms offer to create and upload short-form content. Content such as reels and short clips, has gained immense popularity due to its convenience and accessibility as it offers convenience and instant gratification.
It is designed to capture our attention quickly and keep us scrolling showcasing people’s best moments, talents, or lifestyles. The carefully curated nature of short videos can create unrealistic expectations about life, relationships, body image, and success. It often features trendy challenges, viral content, or popular events, which can trigger a fear of missing out (FOMO).
This fear can lead to anxiety or a constant need to stay up-to-date with the latest trends. The allure of short-form content lies in its ability to deliver instant satisfaction and entertainment in bite-sized portions. People enjoy spending a lot of time watching short videos, stories, reels and memes that last for a few seconds or minutes. However, the continuous exposure to this content raises concerns about its impact on mental health and well-being.
Short-form content often presents an idealized version of reality, leading to a culture of comparison and potential negative effects on mental well-being. This can make us compare ourselves to others and feel bad about ourselves. Many studies have found that using social media often can make us feel lonely, jealous, and sad. The content we see is carefully chosen and doesn’t show the whole truth, so we might think our lives aren’t as good as others.
According to research published in Computers in Human Behavior, excessive social media use has been linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Seeing all the perfect posts all the time can make us have unrealistic expectations and feel like we’re not good enough. Research has shown that short-form content can contribute to shallow engagement and a decreased attention span. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that prolonged exposure to digital media, characterized by short-form content, can lead to diminished cognitive control and reduced attention span.
A report by Microsoft Corporation revealed that the average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2021. The constant exposure to quick and easy content reinforces our desire for immediate satisfaction and makes it challenging for us to concentrate on more complex tasks that require deeper thinking. Using digital media excessively can be addictive and cause problems in our lives, like disrupted sleep.
Experts agree that too much time spent on digital devices can harm our mental health. Research has found that looking at short-form content, especially before bed, can mess up our sleep schedule and make it harder to get enough rest. The blue light from screens stops our bodies from making enough melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. This lack of sleep can lead to mood problems, trouble thinking clearly, and feeling generally unwell.
To mitigate the potential negative effects of short-form content on mental health, it is crucial to establish a healthy digital consumption balance. This involves setting screen time limits, curating social media feeds, and practising mindful digital habits. Additionally, fostering meaningful connections in the offline world, engaging in physical exercise, and practising self-care activities can help individuals maintain their mental well-being in the digital age.
The author is a digital media strategist at Digilite Global and can be reached at @Amnahjplus.