by Shabnam Riaz

It’s way past midnight. You’ve had an exhausting day at work and you’re due for an early morning meeting but your cell phone sitting on the bedside is facing you unassumingly.  

Ping, grrrr, the sound along with its freaky vibration alerts you to another notification and you, being the pushover you are, reach out to take a last look.  ‘Oh what a nasty comment to make on Rani’s mother’s picture on her first attempt at making GulabJamans.’ You put in a comment in her defense and just as you’re about to put the phone away , a flattering comment makes its way underneath your picture that you took while you were actually bored to death at a friend’s office and had nothing to do , but made it look like you were attending a busy conference. Hmm, you think, now is that a flirty comment, or did they say that innocently? The thought lingers on your mind longer than needed, and just when your tired mind seems to develop Brain Fog and go into shutdown mode, that awful bane of your existence, the chat notification bleeps provocatively out of nowhere. The chat head that pops up looks at you with eyes begging for you to respond, but exhausted and fed up, you put your phone on silent mode (notice you still didn’t have the heart to switch it off) and decide to deal with the barrage of messages from fellow insomniacs that you will read in the morning. “Oh so you went offline as soon as you read my message/so you don’t want to chat with me etc. etc, 

For some  people, social media and especially Facebook, has taken over daily lives in such a way that productivity is being  compromised, relationships are falling into trouble, and the line  on ‘what’s real and what’s not,’ has started  to form a dangerous blur. While we need social interaction for relaxation and a form of escapism from mundane routines, striking the balance has become key in ensuring ones emotional and mental wellbeing.

There’s something about Facebook.  Love it, hate it, or even if you don’t really use it, Facebooks’ rising popularity has showed us that this is something people have really wanted for a long time. Experts believe that Facebook in fact has become a huge source for feeding a person’s desire for interaction with others ( being a paradox as the interaction is just virtual) and fulfilling the human yearning for appreciation. It’s also a never ending vortex that keeps fuelling the insatiable desire for ego boosts in the form of “liking” statuses, pictures or events posted on groups and timelines. Having said all that, there are a lot of positive things about Facebook too. A person can establish contact with a long lost childhood friend, can stay connected with people living far away and maintain a feeling of being connected in their lives through pictures and updates.  Awareness for well deserving causes are also spread using Facebook and social media as a powerful tool too. 

Have you ever wondered why the Facebook debate over whether to have a dislike button was never introduced? Well, these clever people quickly realized that the ‘feel good, my- life-is- full -of -people -who -love –me-madly “ euphoria  would be in serious jeopardy in case everyone started to use that icon generously,  leading to a discouragement in the dizzy daze of 100 likes for an idiotic update stating what you had for breakfast.

Let’s consider the Facebook playing field shall we? Here, we have people who click (pun intended) over something as random as agreeing on one of Mother Teresa’s or Einstein’s Quotes (where sometimes the authenticity behind the origin is highly debatable), or over simple agreement in continuously enjoying a song posted somewhere that connects a distant memory.  You will continuously see on your computer screen, or as is more common your phone, developments and drama unfolding. 

So let’s examine the aura and the power behind social media, particularly Facebook, and how its effect causes concern for people who use it. 

Dr. Farrukh Hashmi, who is an Adult and Geriatric Psychiatrist and is also The Medical Director for the Neuroscience Program, Eden Medical Centre in the US, observes that the virtual world has actually provided a safer platform for those individuals who are shy or suffer from social anxiety.

“The internet and social media has allowed a comfort zone for those individuals who feel ‘safer’ in interacting from in front of a screen,” he says. “In this way, those people who avoid public and personal interaction are able to express themselves more confidently. “ 

So, that’s a good thing one would say right? Well, not really as Dr. Farrukh explains further. 

“The problem lies in the situation where people start adopting a fantasy world and develop a fake personality which is portrayed on the internet, this is both damaging emotionally and mentally as a false sense of reality is being promoted. Here in the cyber world, confidence levels go up and behaviour may be in total contrast to what a person would be like in the real world. That would lead to a person withdrawing further into themselves and becoming more physically reclusive around other people while getting further sucked into the magnetism of their online persona.  Another serious issue affecting mental well-being is the fact that people are posting opinions left , right and centre on different forums and posts, causing offense to other people while they do not take any ownership for their behavior as they are physically out of reach and usually inaccessible “ 

Dr. Farrukh also identifies another potential emotional hazard here, as the virtual world offers a limitless horizon for those looking for (or inadvertently stumbling upon) relationships. Fake profile pictures and even men posing as women or vice-versa, adds to the cosmic cocktail of virtual predators. These hunters are looking for prey and will sweep in on anyone they find to be in a vulnerable position or easily available for whatever the reason. 

“It’s human nature to like the person who is like you and falling in and out of relationships and flirting on the internet is rampant in both Pakistan and abroad,” says Dr. Farrukh. “It is also a surprising fact that it’s not usually the people who are single, divorced or just out of a relationship who are getting into emotionally damaging relationships, but actually those who are married.  Many people who feel they have lost interest in their spouses or that there marriage is lacking in something, turn to online relationships to fill the void. Of course it goes without saying that these scenarios can lead to devastating emotional turmoil. Another issue is that the virtual world is full of ‘Cyber Romeos’ who are basically fuelling their ego by interacting with random people and posing as if they are into a serious relationship. These people can wreak havoc in an innocent unsuspecting individual and once their attention spans have been exhausted they will move on to their next target, leaving the heartbroken victim to pick up the pieces. “

So what does one do in such a situation then and how can a person be on their guard from such harmful situations. 

“‘Trust but Verify’ is the motto I use and would suggest to everyone else, “ is the expert opinion from Dr. Farrukh.  “Betrayal of course comes from those who are close enough to hurt you  and while trust is essential in any relationship , one must be sure that the are being dealt with honestly. We should protect ourselves by not falling into the trap of just being connected with a person or situation as it is constantly fuelling our ego and doing nothing else.  Many statuses are posted on Facebook to evoke sympathy or praise, while it’s alright to do that sometimes, its emotionally unhealthy to feed from being a Drama Queen and developing attention seeking habits.“

Well, we should all definitely heed such expert opinion and  It’s also  very important to keep reminding yourself that no matter how furiously typing away at a keyboard or completely being engrossed in  texting withsomeone seems, if you do not spend a sufficient time with them in real life you will not be able to move beyond a virtual fascination.  

 

Selfies are a disorder

Moving onto another very frequent feature of Facebook ( and something I’m often indulging in myself infrequently – I use the word infrequently as I’m in denial of course) the bad news for our picture-clicking- happy readers is that the American Psychiatric Association (APA)   has confirmed that selfie addiction , ‘Selfitis’ , is a mental disorder indeed.  Experts say that the need to take countless pictures and then posting them on Facebook for instant likes and comments promotes narcissistic behavior and is also evidence of low self –esteem and egocentric behavior. So, whenever you feel that urge to post another pouty face in quick succession, try to extend the duration between posts. Yes we know it’s sometimes an instant pick–me-up but imagine all the people who are thinking, ‘oh no, not again!’ and are having nightmares of all the bathroom pictures you’re tempted to upload just because the light gives you that super glow. 

Another very important issue is the situation of children and the internet, especially the growing numbers using social media that can cause a lot of concern. 

According to Dr. Aneeta Afzal , Board certified psychiatrist and Fellow of child and adolescent psychiatry, she says that as with anything available to children, supervision is the key. 

“Various researchers have undertaken the task of finding out the impact of the Internet on our children. It's a complicated task for variety of reasons—cultural, psychological, social, and neurological. Where do we start? This is a new phenomenon, and it will take us decades to learn and understand the real impact of this giant that has taken over our lives. There are studies both advocating for and warning against the use of Internet. Who should we believe?” 

She asks a very pertinent question indeed, her advice should be heeded by all parents with these same concerns. 

“As a child psychiatrist I see both the advantages and disadvantages. I have seen good parents using the Internet for the benefit of their children, finding beneficial web sites to help their learning disability or poor social skills. However, I have also seen dysfunctional families where the parents either don't provide enough supervision for their children while using the Internet or use the Internet as a babysitter. In both cases I can see the dysfunction of the family expressing itself through this new phenomenon. “ 

Dr. Aneeta, makes a very relevant observation that the Internet or social media, especially Facebook must be monitored to see where children are interacting. Also its imperative to be in touch with who children are friends with on Facebook and how that friendship may be affecting their exposure to inappropriate material .

“I see ADHD children performing better on computers, because they don't have to focus on one single stimulus. Yet, then there are debates about the Internet causing poor attention span and effecting cognitive abilities of children.” She adds. “ The bottom line is at this point in time it's hard to answer some of these questions as they are still evolving. However, like anything else, the key is moderation, and the way it's utilized. Parents need to have a good healthy relationship with their children, so that they don't have to hide behind computers.” 

Dr. Aneeta definitely has hit the nail on the head when it comes to relationships and our well-being. We need to be able to maintain healthy, vibrant relationships by having the courage to go offline and give a hundred percent concentration to the people who we inadvertently ignore sometimes because of what’s happening on a screen. 

Having said all this, it’s time for me to now listen to all our expert’s advice, send this article and log off so I can  spend time with my children before I head off to work! 

 

Shabnam is a news anchor on PTV World