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Is it time to unplug? Concerns over youngest generations internet usage rise

Last updated on Jan 24, 2024

By Kevin Lake, Staff Writer

Over the past few years, social media has rapidly become the most popular and global communication tool. Long gone are the days of Geocities and Myspace, where a degree of technical literacy was required. Now the internet is open to everyone, regardless of how tech-savvy they are. This prospect has its benefits such as allowing those who are separated by distance to interact with their loved ones or giving the isolated a platform to speak and socialize with others around the globe. Many have a grandparent or older family member who has been able to keep track of major milestones in their families’ lives thanks to sites such as FaceBook. This is certainly a positive of the digital age. But what about when the exact opposite is in effect? What happens when our youngest members of society are exposed to the online world?

The World Wide Web many grew up on in the late 1990s and early 2000s is not the same that exists today. Once webpages existed simply to distribute videos, written content, and basic interactive experiences such as games. But towards the end of the 2000’s, a major shift in content began to happen. 

Sites where user experiences became much more dependent on fellow users slowly became mainstream, creating the birth of modern-day social media. This does present a problem for the new generation, as they are the first to grow up in this new era. The pitfalls and challenges that come with this have led to great concern, especially when the applications and companies we rely on do more harm than good. 

You may have grown up receiving the same basic internet safety tips over and over, such as not giving out your personal information and not believing everything you hear. While this advice is still true to this day it, becomes much more difficult to follow when major platforms are the ones attempting to undermine these principles. Meta, the organization that owns Facebook, Threads and Instagram has seen its fair share of controversy in this regard. 

Social media as a whole has been under fire for harvesting data to third party companies for the purposes of advertising. All activity on the site is monitored so that products can be sold to us based on what we choose to view. Algorithms on these platforms are also designed to encourage engagement above all else, this can include recommending content that may upset or anger users. While most users are at least somewhat aware of this process or can have it explained to them it becomes harder to resist the temptation as a younger, less conscious individual. 

Many are concerned about how the internet has impacted on the nation’s youth and whether or not they are better off without it.

“My oldest son is three and he is already getting addicted to just watching a screen in general. I mean, I think it’s unavoidable,” Pratt athletic coach Preston Scott said. Scott is the father of a 3-year-old and 6-year-old son.

Courtesy of UNICEF

Technology addiction as a whole has affected many ages, particularly children, teens, and young adults. College students are no exception.

“It distracts you,” freshman undecided major Zach Heath stated. “You’re on your phone for so long, you don’t even notice the time going by, especially with college kids with finals. They’re coming up now. So the fact that people are on social media and they keep going through it, it’ll just distract them.”

With harmful content and addictive interfaces potentially harming the mental well-being of today’s children, many have vocalized solutions. This March, the state of Utah announced that within the next year it will be enacting what has been called a digital curfew which will prevent minors from accessing any social media accounts between the times of 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. Others have questioned who should be responsible for cracking down on the issue. Whether companies, governments or individual parents should tackle the problem has been debated.

“The parents are the most important only because, you know, we live in America, we live in a society where we have a free market as capitalism, so that’s this company’s product, and it’s not necessarily always going to be in their control or their fault,” Coach Preston Scott concluded. “However, I do think the company can have systems in place like that check and do stuff like that. Prevent fake news, stuff like that. When it comes to how it’s consumed. I do think that it’s incumbent upon the parents to make sure that they’re doing their best to engage with their kids and give them a healthier perspective, so that when their kids do engage with social media, they’re hearing from their parents, versus what they’re seeing and hearing on social media.”

As the landscape of communication changes, the way we regulate it must change too. Studies have linked frequent social media consumption with increased anxiety and depression. Youth is no doubt our future, so it’s imperative we do everything in our power to prevent the tools of tomorrow from hurting them. 

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