When my father eventually gave up smoking he described to me not just how hard surrendering such an addiction was, but also how absurd it was that society had gained temporary amnesia of how socially acceptable it had been only 20 or 30 years before. It was, he told me, difficult for younger people to understand that these information campaigns come like fashions. Smoking was the babe of the advertising industry, the darling of Hollywood movies, and the necessary accessory of the swinging sixties. The health warnings, cancer links and scientific condemnations came later, cutting like a brutal scythe through the liberalism that had allowed the fashion to flourish. It was, he told me, a cautionary tale, not just of how advances in science and health can help society, but how society can so easily forget and override what was once considered the default normal.
Social media has risen up in the last ten years to claim the world. Mental health problems are also soaring. While these problems may also be attributable to factors common to the plight of many millennials (bad parenting, mollycoddling, inheriting an overpopulated world and poor economic circumstances, a blistering refusal to accept responsibility), social media can rightly claim to be a substantive cause of dopamine addiction, anxiety attacks and the belief that every other single person in the world is living a more enriching, fulfilling and beautiful life than you. The problem is not so much social media, but the slowness of international regulation to catch up. Those cigarette packets didn’t always carry health warnings, but eventually they did.
Is it too much of a stretch to see a time when social media sites carry government health warnings about how they will shorten your life and contribute to mental health disease? Will our social media time eventually be taxed by governments, claiming their are concerned about their country’s collective mental health? The links are clear and demonstrable between the two. Surely it is only a matter of time.
The world has changed, and many point to social media as a beacon of progress and achievement. Freedom of speech, bringing us closer to others around the world, encouraging intelligent debate. When Facebook became more concerned in surveilling us than enriching our connections those arguments began to fade; now it is patently ridiculous to claim social media is enriching academic debate across the world, when a million echo-chambers have created monstrous social addicts who refuse to listen to others who do not share their point of view, because accessing hundreds who agree with them is available at a click of a button. The arguments have been lost, and now social media is just another dangerous time-wasting activity, much like smoking.