Larissa May Is Fixing Our Tech Connections




Pictures by Tim Gibson

It took a near-fatal incident in 2014 for Larissa Might, then a sophomore scholar at Vanderbilt College, to even understand she was hooked on a harmful substance. To be clear, the “drug” in query wasn’t the standard sort you may anticipate finding on a university campus—it was her cellphone. Or, extra particularly, her Instagram account, the place she was rising a speedy following as a style blogger. Might had turn out to be so invested in gaining likes and followers that she was spending upwards of 10 hours a day posting and scrolling, properly earlier than anybody knew the mental-health destruction the behavior may wreak.

Earlier than lengthy, Might had created a well-manicured façade of herself. At this time, it’s a well-known plight of influencers throughout social media, however in 2014, it was nonetheless only a extremely alluring entice. On-line, Might’s persona and avenue model had been adored by her 13,000-plus followers. However in actual life, she felt emotionally alone, battling an consuming dysfunction and debilitating melancholy—and was quickly bodily alone, too, when her declining psychological well being prompted her roommate to maneuver out. “All I actually had was my cellphone and myself,” she says. Finally, her depressive ideas turned suicidal, and a residential advisor took her to the campus Psychological Care Middle.

Although it’s laborious to consider right this moment, in 2014, social media was largely considered as a constructive innovation, a useful technique to keep linked with family members. Instagram had solely not too long ago turn out to be well-liked, and Fb nonetheless felt communal, with inside jokes written publicly on buddies’ partitions, “poking wars” breaking out between crushes, and whole picture albums dedicated to a single occasion being uploaded. TikTok wasn’t even a nugget of an thought, and we had been all nonetheless grappling with whether or not being an “influencer” could possibly be a capital-J job.

For Might, the novelty round social media was the attract. Right here was a possibility to “construct a singular talent set and have a voice within the room whereas nonetheless being in faculty,” she says of her preliminary draw to Instagram. As one of many first members on the influencer-monetization platform RewardStyle (now LTK), she was shortly incomes cash by forming model partnerships that may additionally land her entry to style reveals worldwide. Technically, Might was utilizing social media to attach, simply as she does right this moment (as a result of, sure, she nonetheless has an Instagram account, with greater than 17,000 followers at time of publication). The primary distinction between then and now? She hadn’t but been educated on the risks of social media.

“Concern is the antithesis of true connection.”

— Larissa Might

Regardless of her every day outpatient classes on the campus psych ward, the place Might would spend a couple of month talking with a faculty psychiatrist, she was by no means as soon as informed how dangerous social media could possibly be for her psychological well being. “They informed me to deal with my bodily wellness, my sexual wellness, and my sleep wellness,” says Might, “however there was no digital wellness.” In reality, she remembers being struck by how little her cellphone use entered the dialog again then.

It’s tough to think about now, however in 2014, folks weren’t but glued to their units 24/7 as they’re now, and social media wasn’t but a cornerstone of tradition. “I used to be doing all of the wholesome issues I used to be informed to do,” Might says, “nevertheless it was all whereas I used to be nonetheless on my machine, scrolling and making an attempt to get followers.”

As we now know, Might had fallen sufferer to the intoxicating drug of social-media fame. It was a “magnifying glass for my mind,” she explains. “It made the lows decrease, and the highs greater.” Might’s first-hand expertise with the duality of social media—as a robust drive for each success and destruction—is what impressed her to launch #HalftheStory in 2015. #HalftheStory initially began as a storytelling motion for younger folks to share the half of their story that wasn’t represented on-line, the candid, earnest, susceptible components that they didn’t divulge to their followers. The motion shortly went world, and Might discovered herself utilizing Google Translate on Skype to seize folks’s tales in numerous languages, whereas additionally coordinating country-wide meetups to get teenagers speaking in regards to the impacts of social media on their psychological well being. 

What emerged was a powerful group of younger folks connecting over the very factor that was inflicting their disconnection: social media. In 2018, Might included #HalftheStory as a nonprofit devoted to “serving to younger folks reframe their relationship with tech,” she says. Over the next years, Might would turn out to be a well known voice within the dialog across the mental-health impacts of tech and began talking at colleges nationwide. She would additionally work with researchers to develop the academic programming that’s now the core focus of #HalftheStory: giving younger folks the instruments to “join the dots between their feelings and their digital habits,” says Might, and be taught to have interaction with tech in a method that promotes—reasonably than stymies—connection. 

In spite of everything, if teenagers are going to proceed to have open entry to a device as potent as social media, Might believes additionally they want to know precisely the way it can have an effect on them, simply because it did her.

Social media on the mind

If, a decade in the past, warnings about tech use had been little greater than a whisper of concern, they’ve since risen to a rallying cry. Seemingly each second article and information section warns of the risks of Massive Digital, together with the algorithms which can be working (and ruining) our lives, the social platforms which can be tricking us right into a false sense of success, and the overall reliance on expertise that’s disconnecting us from our real-life relationships.

In actuality, although, social media is just not inherently dangerous—at the very least, when it’s utilized in moderation. The actual hazard is in its overuse or misuse, significantly as a result of social media, like several feel-good drug, can set off the reward heart of the mind in what is commonly referred to as the “dopamine feedback loop1.” It goes like this: You’re feeling bored or depressed or anxious, so that you attain in your cellphone and begin scrolling. Briefly, you’re feeling higher. You’re occupied as you learn feedback or posts from others in a method that simulates social connection. Perhaps you put up a cool image or video of your self and get the moment dopamine rush of likes or views rolling in.

However then there’s the inevitable come-down: The likes dwindle; a stranger’s video provides you FOMO; the advertisements begin to make you’re feeling dangerous about your face, your physique, your social life. You log out feeling worse than you probably did at first, and earlier than lengthy, you’re tapping again in to chase that prime. “Each time I went on my cellphone [in college], it was like my pacifier,” says Might. At any time when she was anxious or depressed, she would click on into Instagram and put up a glowing selfie or an image in a classy outfit—something to elicit sufficient likes to numb the dangerous emotions for some time. “Others have their nicotine vape pens,” she says. “I had social media.”

Vital to Might’s story is that she was 17 when her dependency on social media started. The age could appear sufficiently old, contemplating a lot of Gen Z and Gen Alpha have had entry to expertise since they had been born, however research shows2 the dopamine suggestions loop performs an particularly outstanding position in an adolescent mind—i.e., a mind youthful than 25.

“It’s not about changing into rather less lonely; it’s about changing into actively extra linked.”

“As a result of the prefrontal cortex—the a part of the mind accountable for self-regulation—isn’t fully developed3 till age 25, the reward heart of the mind is what takes priority,” says Might. We additionally know that the adolescent mind is very sensitive to social acceptance and rejection4. Mix the 2, and you have a mind that’s not solely primed to hunt constructive suggestions, however can also be missing impulse management, making it the right goal for any expertise firm seeking to get its customers hooked on that dopamine suggestions loop.

Within the context of this susceptible mind, it’s no surprise teenage social media use can shortly devolve into misuse, spawning dependency in instances like Might’s. However the place drug use has led to the event of warning labels and billboard assist hotlines, problematic social-media use has largely turn out to be normalized—a actuality that Might hopes to vary with #HalftheStory.

Wielding the mind over social media

The truth that #HalftheStory initially took off as a storytelling motion on social media, connecting younger folks on the subject of tech’s emotional influence, is the irony on the heart of Might’s work: She’s utilizing social media to warn in regards to the risks of, properly, social media. However the contradiction additionally proves her level. When used with care and moderately, tech is usually a supportive complement to our lives, not a dangerous escape from actual emotions and connections. 

Whereas #HalftheStory developed right into a group in its personal proper, with younger folks connecting over their struggles with psychological well being and social media, Might turned centered on guaranteeing the following technology didn’t wind up going through these challenges within the first place. That didn’t imply calling for the eradication of tech; not solely would that be unrealistic, but in addition, it will ignore tech’s connective perform. As a substitute, she needed to equip younger folks to be higher tech customers. 

After years of pilot packages, #HalftheStory launched Social Media U in late 2023, as a quarter-long instructional initiative tackling emotional resilience habits within the digital age, now serving seven college districts and greater than 12,500 middle- and high-school college students. Developed and examined in partnership with digital well-being researcher and doctoral candidate Rachel Hanebutt, the framework for Social Media U focuses on serving to teenagers interact with tech in an lively, conscious method, and construct the emotional consciousness abilities to establish when it’s time to disengage—the very digital-wellness toolkit Might as soon as so desperately wanted herself.

Social Media U is of course connective in that it happens each in school rooms and on Zoom, the place teenagers can positively and productively interact with one another. Nevertheless it’s the programming itself that teaches them to make use of tech as a method to construct new connections, each on-line and off.

“[Social Media U] leans into play and creativity, reasonably than concern,” says Might, “as a result of concern is the antithesis of true connection.” College students aren’t proven slides in regards to the risks of algorithms and tech habit. As a substitute, they’re led via mindfulness actions that assist them perceive, in actual time, the emotional impact social media can have on their psychological well being, even after they don’t understand it. By gaining consciousness over their feelings and studying in regards to the spectrum of emotions that may come up with tech use, college students are taught to establish when a web based interplay is constructive or adverse, after which empowered to take away themselves from the negativity and join with somebody IRL as an alternative.

Problematic social-media use has largely turn out to be normalized—a actuality that Larissa Might hopes to vary.

College students are additionally proven learn how to use tech extra actively to hunt out group (like, reaching out to a gaggle of buddies on Discord while you really feel lonely), in addition to learn how to discover your individual “digital oases,” as Might calls on-line areas that increase your temper and improve your connection to your self (hers, for instance, is her Pinterest gardening board). She believes that when younger folks have the emotional aptitude to take management of their very own tech use, they’ll be much less more likely to succumb to the identical dopamine suggestions loop that after almost took her life. 

Much more than that, they’ll even be higher outfitted to attain “digital flourishing5,” which is a measure for a way you work together with tech, together with how constructive you’re feeling throughout and after being on-line, and the way a lot you’re actually thriving in your digital interactions (reasonably than utilizing them for escapism). The mannequin is constructed on a handful of metrics that embody the constructive results of social media to assist in giving people insights into their very own tech use. “What we’re aiming for isn’t simply much less digital illness; it’s digital flourishing,” says Might. “It’s not about changing into rather less lonely; it’s about changing into actively extra linked.”

The ability in elevating a future technology who understands learn how to obtain digital flourishing can’t be understated; at the very least half the story with tech, as Might sees it, is in how you employ it. However she additionally is aware of that Massive Tech might want to meet her midway, and it’s why she plans to work with tech firms “to create new options that enhance emotional company for younger minds,” she says. An instance: As a substitute of sending a “like” to another person, maybe you possibly can privately charge whether or not a bit of content material made you’re feeling good or dangerous, and customise your algorithm via emotional responses. “What if we may have management over the content material that we’re seeing, reasonably than letting tech flood our feed with issues that it thinks we need to see?” she muses.

If Might had been on condition that sort of management over her personal Instagram feed again in 2014, she won’t have gotten sucked into the doom-scrolling that may in the end disconnect her from herself, her buddies, and her group. She may need had the company to choose out of the injury to her psychological well being, and to choose in—earnestly and vulnerably—to the digital connections she was constructing on-line.

However as long as we will’t management the algorithms, Might is dedicated to serving to younger folks higher management learn how to interact with them—not solely to keep away from the social-media dependency that after gripped her, however to harness the connective powers of social media for good.

Effectively+Good articles reference scientific, dependable, latest, sturdy research to again up the data we share. You’ll be able to belief us alongside your wellness journey.

  1. Burhan, R., et al. “Neurotransmitter Dopamine (DA) and its Position within the Improvement of Social Media Dependancy.” J Neurol Neurophy, vol. 11, 7 (2020): pp. 1–02. doi:10.35248/2155-9562.20.11.507

  2. Casey, B J et al. “The adolescent mind.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences vol. 1124 (2008): 111-26. doi:10.1196/annals.1440.010

  3. Arain, Mariam et al. “Maturation of the adolescent mind.” Neuropsychiatric illness and remedy vol. 9 (2013): 449-61. doi:10.2147/NDT.S39776

  4. Somerville, Leah H. “Particular difficulty on the teenage mind: Sensitivity to social analysis.” Present instructions in psychological science vol. 22,2 (2013): 121-127. doi:10.1177/0963721413476512

  5. Janicke-Bowles, Sophie H., et al. “Digital Flourishing: Conceptualizing and Assessing Optimistic Perceptions of Mediated Social Interactions.” Journal of Happiness Research, vol. 24, 3 (2023): 1013–1035. doi.org10.1007/s10902-023-00619-5


Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here