Facebook, Twitter, Instagram... Our generation has grown up with social networks, and for most of us, life without them would be somewhat inconceivable nowadays. I'm the first to admit to being a complete social media addict, and I'm starting to worry that my seemingly obsessive dependence on social networks is going to do a lot more harm than good in the long run. Talking to my fellow student friends, it would seem I'm not alone...
We sit down at our laptops to work on an essay, and despite having purposefully closed our Facebook and Twitter tabs, we inevitably find ourselves opening them up after typing every few lines, just in case we have a notification. Whilst actually revising, we discover an interesting fact and feel the need to tweet it - after all, it could get retweeted! And we could end up with more followers!
Is there anything greater in the Twitter world than a retweet? It's the ultimate sign of approval. A retweet shows that you - yes YOU - have said something so interesting/funny/insightful that someone wishes to share it with everyone they know. Of course there's the 'favorite' too, but realistically, a favorite is a pat on the shoulder compared to the retweet's bear hug.
Back to your revision - obviously whilst you only opened Twitter back up for a moment to share your oh-so-interesting piece of info with the Twittersphere, you then inevitably find yourself reading the ever-refreshing news feed, whiling away hours looking at Instagrammed pictures of lunches (yes, I myself am one of those awful culprits) and ridiculous attempts to coin witty hashtags. #doyouthinkthisislongenoughtobeanironichashtag?
But OH GOD what if no-one retweets or replies to you!? Should you delete the tweet? You sit there feeling as insecure as a 13 year old on the first day of a new school, library books open, poised to start note-taking, but all you can really focus on is your online persona.
This is a lot worse with Facebook. We measure self-worth in Facebook 'likes' these days. Let me tell you, if I come back to this blog after it's published and see that people other than my family have 'liked' it, I will undoubtedly feel great. If no-one has, I may just cry. Or have a Twitter rant (because Twitter is always there, even when the real people in your life aren't.)
Eventually, you realise you're not getting any of your essay done whatsoever, so you shut down your laptop and go to a different room to do some old-fashioned work with books, paper and pens. Right. Now you will be efficient and productive.
Except you won't, will you? What with your iPhone snug in your pocket, there's no getting away from your online social life. Of course, you can't turn your phone off, because what if someone desperately needs to contact you? Every buzz or ping my iPhone makes gives me a little rush and is treated with disproportionate importance, so much so that if I am in a lecture and can't get my phone out, I may actually start to feel a bit twitchy (and obviously will lose focus on the knowledge being imparted to me.)
And the trouble is, when your phone is there, you can't help but just keep checking. You know, just in case someone has started following you on Instagram, or liked your new profile picture. Once you tap the Facebook app, there's no going back. Oh look, someone's shared a video of a baby that won't stop laughing at a dog. I'll just have a quick look. A little revision break, that's all.
Here's the issue: I love social media. There's no way on earth I would have been able to keep in touch with as many school friends as I have without Facebook, and it's really very nice to be able to know what everyone's up to.
But my social media addiction seems to be going a bit far. In the cinema, I find myself composing a tweet about the film, and even when just watching TV, I can't resist the urge to check out what everyone on Facebook and Twitter are thinking. Do I have such a lack of focus that I'm incapable of doing anything without using social media simultaneously?
The great thing about both Facebook and Twitter is they're constant sources of information, entertainment and amusement. Never again must we find ourselves bored, waiting and with nothing to do. Twitter can be incredibly useful professionally as well as socially, so really, we're just enhancing our career prospects, right?
Those career prospects which may fail to materialise at all if we ourselves fail to graduate because we spent far too much time tweeting, and not enough revising. Our attention spans seem to be diminishing with every passing day.
So what's the answer? Why are we so incapable of going without social media for more than a few minutes? Obviously it doesn't help that exam revision and essay work is - for the most part - something of a chore, so we will take any distraction we can get.
Going cold turkey and deactivating our social media accounts realistically is not an option. Could it be that our generation are getting just as easily addicted to social media as they are to booze, drugs and sugar? One thing's for sure - the exam results will tell.
Follow Rachel Hosie on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rachel_hosie