Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Youtube, Instagram, WordPress — odds are good that most people have an account set up on at least one of these websites. I, in fact, have an account on all of them. So, why are we, as a society, so into social media? When did it become so popular as to include people all over the world, of all ages and cultures and interests?
The benefits of using social media are numerous. These sites enable people with common interests or purposes or beliefs to interact. I have had the pleasure of meeting several people online that I would never have been able to meet any other way. I can learn new skills, discuss my ideas, promote myself, and broaden my circle of acquaintances. I can support and encourage my friends, and console or commiserate when it is necessary. I can feel like I am a part of something big.
This is a detriment. Social media is, at least in my life, beginning to replace other interests or hobbies — there is not enough time in my life for everything I love to do. I check my sites several times a day, scrolling and commenting and liking and reading other peoples’ posts. I watch a video online, and it links to another video, and another. Time gets away from me. Playing my instrument, practicing my calligraphy, sketching a picture, reading a book, playing a video game, crocheting an afghan — all my other hobbies take a backseat to updating my status online.
It gets worse. Studies are suggesting that the longer one spends on social media websites, the more unhappy he or she becomes with his or her own life. It seems that people become envious of the lives they see presented to them (not to confuse this with the lives their friends are actually living, which, daily, are likely just as boring and uneventful as their own). In fact, many people are now, whether intentionally or unintentionally, dishonest about what they show on their sites, showing just the positives: they post pictures of their vacations or slim themselves down with photo-altering programs or write about their job promotions or update about how their husbands are the sweetest men in the world because they got roses for their birthdays.
By themselves, none of these things are a terrible misrepresentation of someone’s life, and I delight in the joy of my friends. The problem comes when one only posts about the exceptional things that happen to them, in an effort to make others think their entire lives are exceptional. “Look how skinny I am in my bikini in Aruba! I could afford this because I got a promotion at work, the day after my husband sent 32 long-stemmed roses to the office to celebrate my amazing and enviable existence!” See the problem? Sadly, social media becomes a contest, rather than a celebration.
The concept of social media site is sound: interact with old friends; make new friends; easily, inexpensively, and quickly keep in contact with people you love, even if they live across the globe. Unfortunately, in practice we see that websites dedicated to human interaction, unfortunately, are at the mercy of the humans who interact. They have become a safe haven for bullies and trolls, who enjoy spewing hate with few (if any) consequences. They have fueled a rampant case of widespread narcissism, where one’s self-esteem is now determined by how many followers/friends/likes/comments one has. They have granted fanatics a sounding board from which to promote their controversial arguments, with little regard for the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of others. They have enabled people to post pictures of others which are unflattering or embarrassing, without their consent, sometimes even anonymously. They have, ironically, ended friendships.
In effect, social media is a double-edged sword. It is a fine balance between responsibly utilizing it and abusing it. It is an expectation that everyone uses social media, but it sometimes becomes a chore. Even when I am interacting respectfully, I am still constantly assailed by arguments, updates, and images that are snarky or untruthful or outrageous.
I can’t block out the negativity completely, but I can contribute positively by creating or resharing inspiring and encouraging messages. I hope that will be enough. Peace and love.