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  • McKenna Neef

Going Offline: How Gen Z is Battling Media Burnout

Written by McKenna Neef

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Do any research on Gen Z and you’ll be met with the same finding: We love social media.

In a lot of ways, that statement is true. After all, having grown up amid the invention of the iPhone and the rise of Facebook, we’re the textbook definition of digital natives. According to The Economist, 46% of young Americans are “almost constantly online,” while 48% use the Internet “several times a day.” With Gen Z watching a whopping 24-48 hours of TikTok content per month and spending approximately half of their waking hours in front of a screen, it’s certainly true that Gen Z is familiar with the online world. But in love with it? That’s a different story.

Burning Out

“15 years ago, the internet was an escape from the real world. Now, the real world is an escape from the internet.”

This 2017 tweet from user Noah Smith racked up nearly 233 thousand likes and about 108 thousand retweets and quote tweets, revealing a surprising, yet ever growing, attitude towards the digital sphere.

Within the past five years, this feeling has been reflected in research findings. A 2019 report conducted by ORIGIN found that Gen Z is becoming increasingly likely to take a social media “detox,” with 61% of respondents reporting taking a break from social media. This new phenomenon is often linked to the increase in negative effects social media is having on its formerly loyal users. 48% of ORIGIN’s Gen Z respondents stated that social media makes them feel anxious, sad or depressed. Additionally, 24% explained they are considering quitting social media due to negative self-esteem issues, marking a 7% increase from ORIGIN’s 2017 report.

Ironically enough, social media has become a hub for anti-social media discussion. On TikTok the hashtag “socialmediabreak” has a collective 11.5 million views and the hashtag “socialmediadetox” has 10.1 million. Videos feature creators who temporarily deleted social media, talking about the things they learned, how it helped them rebuild their self-confidence and the other activities the newfound free time allowed for.

Rebuilding Balance

For many Gen Z, the majority of their day is spent in front of a screen – from attending an online lecture, to working on their laptop, to scrolling through TikTok, to relaxing at the end of the day by watching TV (and likely checking their phone simultaneously). Our on-screen lives are just as eventful as our off-screen ones. With the importance of being well-versed in the digital world as a communicator and the negative effects of social media growing at the same dizzying rate, many young people are wondering how to find a balance.

While cutting social media out entirely is certainly a solution, it’s not the only way to get relief. A 2018 study from Guilford Press Periodicals revealed that “limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”

The secret here? Balance.

If you’re spending more time doomscrolling on Instagram than hanging out with friends, picking up new hobbies or taking care of yourself, something needs to change. You don’t have to throw your phone off the top of your apartment complex – just set limits.

The Power of Advertisers

Social media isn’t just a place for posting solo pics and attempting to do the dance that looked so much easier when Charli D’Amelio did it – it’s a major platform for marketing and advertising. In fact, social media recently overtook paid search as an advertising channel, with 25% year-over-year growth and over $137 billion in revenue. So if Gen Z is getting sick of social media, where do advertisers stand?

While many of social media’s flaws are being brought to light, it’s nowhere near dead. Not only is social media growing, but this trend is expected to continue in coming years. However, as Gen Z becomes increasingly aware of social media’s repercussions and seeks to set better boundaries with it, corporations should follow suit.

This doesn’t mean your company should go silent on social media – it just means you should create content that aligns with Gen Z’s changing values.

Creating Content That Does Good

A lot of advertising out there is nothing but noise, and Gen Z sees right through it. The secret to staying up-to-date with changing attitudes towards social media is positioning yourself as a voice of reason. Utilize both your owned and paid social media as a channel for positivity, inclusivity and overall well-being. Companies have the power to change social media habits by encouraging balance in digital use, reminding their followers to take breaks from mindless scrolling and creating content that is insightful and uplifting.

While you’re at it, don’t ditch all your other advertising methods. After all, the best moments in life don’t happen on your FYP or an Instagram feed.

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