To begin with, media has become an essential part of young people’s lives. Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) stress that adolescents (8 to 18 years old) spend about 7.5 hours using media on a daily basis. This has numerous effects on young people and their behaviors. In fact, “cultivation theory hypothesizes that the social reality of heavy viewers of TV and movies is shaped by what they watch” (Schneider et al., 2012). As individuals come into contact with media content, their social reality shifts about. Below, I explore how exactly this happens.
Over the past twenty years or so, internet has become one of the most essential tools. It helps people stay connected, it facilitates the sharing of diverse media content; but there are also negative sides to it. For instance, violent and pornographic content has become widespread. This R-rated content is often accessed by young people who are not psychologically prepared to face this type of information. Research has shown that even adults are negatively affected by pornography. In a study, adults who were exposed to nonviolent pornography over the course of six weeks, were more likely to choose violent pornographic content (Schneider et al., 2012). After considering a range of studies, Schneider and colleagues (2012) conclude that regular engagement with pornographic content leads to the distortion of one’s perception of the male-female relationship and one’s sexuality.
The content we expose ourselves to on the media changes the way we think about ourselves and others. Young people are highly affected by the values embraced by media. In effect, media offers numerous interpretations of what is beautiful, sexy, attractive, and appropriate. Young people are especially vulnerable to these influences. Manago et al. (2008) emphasize that one’s adolescent years are a critical time for identity formation. According to Goffman, “individuals develop a sense of self from creating an impression they wish to give to others” (Manago et al., 2008). Adolescents and emerging adults (those who are in the age period between 18 and early 20’s) rely on their social contacts to figure out who they are. With the emergence of social media, this process has moved into the virtual sphere. As a result, the individual may be tempted to construct a false self-presentation in order to be liked more by their peers. This self might be built on the false constructs that are offered by the media world: concepts of what is appealing, pretty, good, and tempting. All aspects of one’s true self which do not conform with these notions may be put aside and rejected by the individual.
In an article by Bardone-Cone and Cass (2007), the authors stress how media imagery leads to heightened body dissatisfaction, putting teenagers at risk for eating disorders such as anorexia (especially girls). Specifically, exposure to pro-anorexia websites has negative effects on young women (Bardone-Cone & Cass, 2007). Schneider and colleagues (2012) stress that exposure to violent media content increases the probability of violent behaviors (especially among boys). Summing up, the internet reality shapes how we view the surrounding world, our relationships with others, and ourselves.
When it comes to my identity and how the internet affects it, I would say that it is affected to a small extent. Sometimes, I take days off from social media, since I have come to realize that it can be a waste of time sitting there strolling through my timeline looking at nonsensical and sometimes bias content, which can sometimes lead me into heated debates. Subconsciously, we compare ourselves with others. Sometimes, the self-presentations offered on social media can be predominantly false (meant to be “liked” by others). Since my core value is to be true to myself, my feelings, and my emotions, I feel that when I spend too much time using social media, or watching too much TV, my perception of myself and the surrounding reality becomes distorted. For instance, I may identify with a movie character or a celebrity that I like. As I observe myself afterwards, I realize that I am only putting on a façade or trying to be someone I am not, playing an imitation game. Even more, violent content in video games and movies sometimes boosts my aggression. Thus, I have decided to limit my use of media to several hours a day (logging into social media only a few times a week). In fact, I feel much happier now vs. the time when I used Internet and social media nonstop.
Bardone-Cone, A. M., & Cass, K. M. (2007). What does viewing a pro-anorexia website do? An experimental examination of website exposure and moderating effects. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40(6), 537-548.
Manago, A. M., et al. (2008). Self-presentation and gender on MySpace. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 446-458.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A. & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA SAGE Productions, Inc.