Social media has never been just good or just bad. It probably never will be. Nevertheless, it seems that it is becoming more detrimental both to ourselves and to those around us. The bad of social media seems to heavily outweigh the good. Perhaps the scariest thing of all is that social media may in fact be a contradiction in terms. How social is social media?
Social media is, no doubt, good and useful in some respects. It enables us to keep in touch with each other, to catch up, and to let other people know how we are doing, even if we are on the other side of the world. We can meet new people through social media, and it enables us to organise meetings and group events. Moreover, opinions, ideas, and stories can be shared, discussed, and reflected upon. Useful? Of course. Worthwhile? Definitely. But this is not all. There is another side to social media.
In a society like ours, where the good is proclaimed and heralded and the bad is repressed, it is easy to tell ourselves, and each other, how great social media is. Also, given that there are so many people on it, how could it be anything but good? It is a commonly held view that to be on social media is to be connected, is to be social, and that if you are not on it, then you are missing out.
Social media is addictive. Period. Society looks down upon addiction, yet the majority of it is active in a kind of global addiction. Why is it so addictive? It may be that social media makes us feel connected, and that feeling of being part of something may provide us with some kind of high, albeit a strange one, and so we become hooked, unable to leave our phones alone for more than a few minutes.
Social media is not real. This may be another component which hooks us so easily. Social media provides us with the opportunity to create somebody different from ourselves, who is portrayed as identical with ourselves, and to attribute desirable traits to them. Social media has become a tool to alter our image and how people view us. We are enabled to flaunt the beautiful while hiding the ugly, to reveal the interesting while ignoring the boring, and to portray perfection while repressing innate imperfection. Instagram and Snapchat in particular give us the opportunity to portray our lives in the best possible light to others. But why would we ever want to do such a thing? It may be, perhaps, because we disdain imperfection, because we want to make ourselves feel better about our own lives, and maybe even to make others feel worse about theirs. In almost every photo and post there is an implicit voice which says, ‘Beat this. Yes, this is my life, and it is more interesting than yours.’ It then becomes a constant battle, a constant conflict. It is a fight for the most likes, the most follows, the best picture, the most popular video, and the nicest comments. Surely all this conflict can only lead to anxiety, fear of missing out, and grief.
The amount of time that we now spend on social media is damaging. Not just to ourselves, as we have seen, but to those around us. The more deeply we become connected in social media, the less deeply we become connected with those around us. We prefer to spend our time in a virtual world as a virtual personality surrounded by other, virtual people, rather than spending time with real people. That is the contradiction-that we are supposed to become connected, but over time we become only alienated. For the most part, the majority of people on social media don’t care what you think, have been doing, or are up to now. There will be some, of course, but not many. The people, the real people around us, however, they care. Moreover, it is no doubt true that the deepest friendships and relationships are grounded in real life, not on social media in a virtual world.
Social media indicates a desire for power, for recognition. A large part of it is just people screaming, through the means of photos and other such things, ‘look at me! Look at how great my life is!’ We may be gradually losing the ability to keep quiet, about anything. Anything that we think may be even slightly interesting, if it is only to ourselves, we shout about to others, telling each other how good it is. Must we post about our breakfast? Our day out? Our parties? Why must we, though? Fundamentally, it may be due to ourselves. It is our sense of inadequacy, and our alienation with other people. We therefore feel that we need some kind of recognition that tells us we are worth something and that we are liked. The problem, though, is that most likes are just taps of a button, and nothing deeper. Moreover, we do not feel able to have a relationship with somebody in real life, perhaps due to our own feelings of inadequacy, and so we use social media to have a relationship with that person, even if it is as shallow as the breaths you take at night, because social media allows us to hide the flaws. But, the more we do this, the more we become out of touch with our emotions, and the more we become alienated from who we really are. All of our complex and mixed, tangled emotions boil down to an emoji face. If that is not shallow, then what is? Furthermore, the time we spend on our phones results in less time with other people, and soon enough, our closest relationship is with a robot who neither cares for, nor really knows us. It is a sad situation, but not an inescapable one.
There are parts of social media which are useful and worthwhile, but as a whole, it is hard to see how social media is genuinely social.
It seems that using social media less and less would be an ideal situation. This would enable us to become truly connected with the people whom we care about and who care about us, it may allow us to become more in touch with ourselves, with who we are, what we truly desire, and what we really feel, and it may help us to realise what really matters-real relationships, with real people.