I am about to date myself but I believe it was the rap group Whodini who in the early 80’s asked the question, Friends, how many of us have them? Judging by social media counters all of us have more than any of us could have ever imagined. However, hidden beneath the casual social commerce of likes, pokes, comments, and tweets are real people whose social lives are only as good as their capacity to cultivate relationships in the real world. And now psychiatrists and sociologists alike have begun to notice a conflict between the world of social networking and real social interaction. But it doesn’t take a genius to notice. All one has to do while sitting in a restaurant is take a casual scan of the room. You will undoubtedly notice no shortage of people eating with some gadget on the table and their noses buried in the screen, while supposedly spending quality time with the person sitting across from them. But staring at the top of someone’s head is hardly quality time. And on it goes as they text and type eagerly communicating with someone who is evidently more important than the partner sitting across from them. Welcome to the 21st century. What has happened to us? Why does this modern social phenomena have such an ability to draw us away from human contact to favor a technological form? And moreover why does it appear to be addictive for so many?
It has been said there are three people we all must consider in life. Who we are, who others think we are, and who we want others to think we are. It is my opinion that social media appeals to the latter. That is to say it offers to a person a wide stage upon which to feign any character they so desire. Any person uncomfortable with who they are can project to the world any number of images they deem more appealing. You can be single while married or vice versa. You can present yourself as funny, smart, trendy, deep, and oh the ever popular sexy! That seems to be a favorite. And this is quite alluring as it caters to two basic human elements. First the desire to be accepted and second our enormous propensity to be nosy. So it offers to those thirsty for esteem a never-ending well of attention. But this attention is much like bait that when taken springs a trap that locks them in a world of pretense. And the flattery that comes with having their thoughts and images affirmed in the court of public opinion, whether truthful or not, becomes very intoxicating. But it’s a dangerous notion to be accepted for being someone you know you are not. So it is no surprise to see people blame social media for being involved in the break up of marriages and friendships. Not to mention suicide.
It seems our preoccupation with social media is undermining the ingredients for social fulfillment. We are becoming shallow in the sense that nothing is so sacred or important that the urge to tweet or post is unwelcome. Whether it’s during church, time with family or even work, nothing is off-limits to the social media monster. People have even proven that operating a motor vehicle is not enough to quench the desire to socialize. It’s as though people would rather post about their life than live it. We would do good to ask ourselves, when was the last time we became so engrossed in something we forgot to post it? For some it seems no experience has value unless it can be shared via social media. And when did we get the idea sharing so much was healthy anyway? One of the important features of any successful relationship, romantic or platonic, is exclusivity. The knowledge that there is exclusive information known only between the parties involved creates trust. But when you participate in something that encourages sharing information communally like social media, fear of private information being disclosed openly or in “code” can only lead to apprehension and distrust.
All of this is not to say that social media is evil and there is a devil in the machine. Neither is it to allege it has no great potential for good. The ability to interact, network, and share positive information with people all over the world can be extremely beneficial. I suppose the moral I am aiming to convey is that no invention or innovation attempting to connect us can rise above our capacity to connect ourselves. So, in a culture where social skill and self-respect are scarce social media struggles to meet its proposal to bring us closer and becomes just another mirror reflecting how distant we really are.