Being Social. The trade-offs.

http://www.stevecutts.com/
Author/Illustration Copyright: Steve Cutts

Social media as we know it today, emerged in the late 90s of the last century. Between the years after and now, it not only grew and evolved into an epidemic. It practically exploded to the extent that humanity completely lost control over it.

Oh, no! Just another article against social media. There are so many articles on this topic! People hate social media. People love social media. People believe in social media. Or ignore it. Others are sceptical about the damage it inflicts on our societies. Everybody has an opinion. And thanks to the exact same social media, everybody can express their opinion easily. This is what makes opinions redundant today. My opinion does not matter. Yours does not matter either. You can continue reading. Or not. It does not matter. Because what I have to say about social media is not important – it is MY interpretation of it. What’s important for you is YOU. If social media helps your business or your personal well-being, if it does not ruin your relationships (to other human beings, not just romantic ones), if you are not addicted to it and it does not impact your mental state in any way, this is great. If it does, this is not so great. But nobody else can change that for you. No matter how many “likes” you get online or how many people “follow” you. Here someone will probably jump in social media’s defense claiming that it is no different than old times’ newspapers and books which our parents used to read so religiously back in the days. It is just what is trendy now. Well, this is not a worthwhile comparison at all. First, I honestly doubt that any book will make you feel less worthy because you have not been to an exotic beach nor will it make you multitask social networking with driving a car. Second, social media started out as a tool that was supposed to ease people’s lives and enable them to do things they weren’t able to do before. However, the fairy tale has gone really bad. Social media is just a tool no longer. Tools serve people, not the other way around. The pure fact that I am sharing my concern by using a digital medium is indicative enough and drives me nuts. Third, try explaining how positive social media is to the parents whose children are clinically depressed because nobody likes them on social or what’s worse, who took their life because of lack of “approval” from their peers.

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I quit Facebook 2 years ago. Not because it was damaging my self-esteem. It was just wasting my time in pointless scrolling through useless information. Luckily, I never had Twitter or Instagram or God knows what else. Ever since, I’ve been trying to convince the people I care about to do the same. So far, everybody agrees with me that social media can be harmful but they agree passively. They “like” the idea but do not take action to actually change the situation. Have I completely stopped using social media? Clearly not. I still use WhatsApp and Messenger! I have LinkedIn. Today it’s difficult to completely stop using digital communication. But we can still use it wisely. Social media works for ME, my mental health and daily routine do not depend on it. Still, I believe that social media in general comes with some serious side effects which we embrace blindly and don’t even realize exist, let alone question. But who am I to judge? Everybody has a head on their shoulders and they should be able to use it as intended. Speaking of this, I always laugh when somebody starts criticizing Mark Zuckerberg. He is just making money. As far as I know, he is not forcing anyone to go on Facebook. A drug dealer is less guilty than a drug addict. The former just takes advantage of the weakness of the latter. It’s unethical, I agree. But it’s a choice WE make ourselves. Nobody else should be blamed for our own choices. Maybe it’s a choice we made consciously, not because it is trendy and “everybody does it”. But it is still ours.

What exactly are we trading off when we overuse social media?

As scary as it may sound, we are trading off our ability to be human.

We sacrifice our relationships.

Direct communication is overrated, outdated and boring today. It’s easier to text someone and leave in the middle of the conversation and this will not be perceived as rude. It’s more convenient, it requires less effort. Today we don’t speak, we communicate through chat. As a consequence, our ability to express ourselves suffer. Our vocabulary is shrinking, our spelling is far from right, our words are disappearing and are being replaced by abbreviations and emoticons.

Because we have access to so many people, we tend to give up relationships more easily. It’s harder to trust each other. We become paranoid because someone misinterpreted something they saw on their  friend’s social media account. And instead of going to straighten things up face-to-face, it’s “normal” to go behind people’s back and secretly check their online activity. But then you get only half of the picture. And it’s usually biased.

We sacrifice our human values.

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What we cherish now is not what our grandparents used to cherish. If we cannot afford the newest mobile phone or a fancy car, we feel left out from the society. We are anxious that we do not possess the same things that our neighbour does. We compete with each other. We compare ourselves to the others. The result is, we distort our values and attribute importance to transient things instead of to people. We take things for granted. We take people for granted. The never-ending scroll is opening up so many fascinating landscapes that other people have seen and experienced, while at the same time, it is destroying our self-awareness. It’s breaking our connection with ourselves and it’s setting us apart from the reality.

We sacrifice our time.

Research shows that in 2017 we spent 135 minutes per day on social media which signifies an increase from the previous year when we used to spend 126 minutes per day on social. This is 2 hours and 15 minutes a day! But it’s not only about the how much of time, it is also about the when of time. We need to be able to draw the line somewhere. While you are driving a car, it’s not a good idea to socialize online, while you are having a meal with your family, it’s not a good practice to chat with someone who is not in the room, while you are on a holiday, at the beach or just having a good time, it’s not necessary to notify your social network that you are there – just enjoy it. The fact that you will post a picture on Facebook or Instagram, will not increase your happiness. But it will rob you of the chance to share the experience with the people who are actually present there with you.

We become cruel and cynical.

When somebody spends more time in the digital world than they do in the real one, they become immune to human emotions like empathy and kindness. It’s disturbingly common how many people will take out their phone to record when they witness a fight in public or any other dramatic event for that matter, instead of try to help resolve the situation peacefully.

We become depressed.

A lot of people seem to be easily affected by the lives that others demonstrate to be having online. Evidently this leads to quite a few people experiencing self-confidence issues and self-pity because their own lives are not as glamorous. First, not all we see online is true. Second, comparing yourself to others and what’s worse, letting them (their opinion and their “achievements”) define how you feel about your own life, is mildly said unhealthy. It is toxic. Certain people “resolve” this situation by unfollowing their so-called friends. But is this a remedy? If something makes you feel bad, burying you head in the sand is not going to solve your problem.

Media (traditional, social, digital, whatever) sure does not contribute to changing this. Whether a woman buys Meghan Markle’s dress, does not mean that she’ll become more beautiful or look like the former actress. Don’t misunderstand me. I like Meghan Markle. I just hate how media uses celebrities to manipulate people. Not only because it’s cheap but also because celebrities are people too. But this is a topic for another conversation. I guess it’s just easier to control someone if their attention is constantly pulled away from what’s really important in life.

What’s the solution?

I have found a solution for myself – I have limited the use of social media to a minimum and what’s more important, I treat it as a tool. You have probably found your own solution. In case you believe you need it. If you don’t, that’s your business. As I said in the beginning, everybody has a head on their shoulders.

Imaginary friends, imaginary values and shallow goals are not going to make you worthwhile though. Or resolve your poor confidence issues. Don’t agree with me. Take action.

After all, opinions are redundant. So is mine.


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