By Charity L. Cohen
Special to The Alamance News
Like many at the start of the pandemic, Keegan Lee, high school senior at The Burlington School, fell into the endless cycle of scrolling social media, hoping to connect with others during this period of global isolation. What she found instead was that social media just contributed to the loneliness she felt and negatively impacted her mental health; yet, she had a difficult time detaching herself from social media.
“I saw it as this universe where if I were to constantly engage with these platforms then my social life would be completely amplified, but I found that that put me into a deeper space of isolation,” Lee said in a recent interview with The Alamance News.
The irony – a tool intended to help people socialize seemed to divide them further – puzzled Lee. So she went searching for answers.
For 60 days, she unplugged from social media and journaled her thoughts along the way. To better understand her behavior and the various psychological effects of social media, Lee reached out to Dr. Bilal Ghandour, an Elon University professor who specializes in anxiety disorders and self-harm behaviors.
As Lee completed her journal entries throughout the 60-day period, she sent her journal to Ghandour and he responded to each entry with scientific and medical explanations of her certain moods and actions.
Ghandour helped Lee understand that social media’s addictive nature is due to the delivery of personalized content through algorithms that collect data using online footprints: i.e., online content that gets the most clicks.
Ghandour also shared that there’s a dopamine rush – or a reward signal – derived from the seeming validation of people who interact with social media posts by liking, commenting, reposting and sharing posts. With each rush felt, most users look for more doses of validation creating a cycle of addiction.
“I was comparing myself and associating my worth with numbers,” Lee said.
Lee took her journal entries along with Ghandour’s research and transformed them into a book called “60 Days of Disconnect,” which she co-authored with the Elon professor.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing how people are reciprocating what I’m doing,” Lee said. “Some people have even deleted some social media apps, and have talked to me about how it’s changed their life and their perspective of the world and that’s really meaningful.”
The 60 days of social media disconnection were cathartic and freeing for Lee. She is now back on social media because she values its sense of connection but says she has created a healthier relationship with it by learning to be more mindful and completely present with loved ones. She even found a new hobby, while fine-tuning another.
“I started writing letters because I think it’s something to be said about seeing your name on an envelope and in handwritten form, and then opening it up and just seeing a whole letter about you, or if the person is expressing gratitude, or they’re just telling you how much they care about you,” she said. “It’s a really beautiful thing because it’s physical and it doesn’t go away.”
Lee is also an avid runner; she ran cross country for three years and is starting track this year. Rather than logging onto social media to satisfy her boredom, she used her time to train more intensely as a runner.
The “60 Days of Disconnect” was just a launching pad for the work she hopes to do with mental health and psychology in the future. She currently works as the Co-CEO and Director of Well-being for the Log Off Movement, a global organization founded by teens to advocate for mental health and healthy usage of social media while spreading awareness of the negative impacts of social media. Lee writes a monthly blog and hosts a podcast for the Log Off Movement.
As the Director of Well-being, Lee launched an international “Mental Health Matters Campaign,” where people from around the world photos with a sign that said “Mental Health Matters” to demonstrate mental health as an international cause and create a global dialogue. She receives over 30 photo submissions from teens all around the world.
Lee’s current focus is on educating parents on the harmful effects of improper social media usage. She expects to go on a book tour soon and share her knowledge with individuals during her tour as well as in classroom settings. She also wants to study neuroscience and psychology in college to further her knowledge of mental health. She hasn’t decided on which college she will attend in the fall, but she has her sights set on schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Dartmouth College.
She hopes more people will encourage tech companies to create more humane social media platforms that are centered on real human connection, rather than the number of likes and follows. Although Lee’s generation is most likely to suffer from the negative impacts of social media, she hopes her peers will be the catalysts for positive change in the social media landscape.
“I believe that I am within the generation that’s going to create the competent steps needed to obtain a healthier relationship with technology, because we are the first generation to be born into a world with it,” she said. “We are digitally native so we know how it works and we haven’t experienced life without it and so I hope that my generation will come to the awareness that it’s something that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be fixed.”
The book is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.