Why do we have such a love/hate relationship with social media?
I am a millennial. I have been at the forefront of the social media revolution and have observed the changes in social media that have occurred the last 10 years. Not only changes to the way platforms operate, but also the perceptions towards them. What I have noticed is the large amount of people looped into the social media world, but bitter towards it too. Countless times, I can recall a conversation with someone about how toxic social media can be, and yet hours later there they will be on their phone again.
We can all relate to moments of feeling that social media has more control over us, than we do of it. I think that is where most of the bitterness associated with social media usage stems from. I often still catch myself: putting the phone on the table when I am out for coffee with a friend, scrolling my Instagram feed when I am watching my favourite show, or checking Facebook when I am trying to finish an assignment. It's frustrating to observe this side of myself, that feels so automatic and conditioned by technology.
We are in a tug of war with ourselves and social media right now. Never before has there been so many opportunities to connect and share our memories, opinions, and special moments. On the other end, we also know the negative drawbacks to overwhelming media consumption. Through all the online connections, we have steadily grown into a common disconnection. With the constant updates, the convenient instant messages, and continuous social validation, we can easily lose touch embracing our non-digital experiences. Technology can become the cloud that blankets the real world around us, creating a constant pressure to share, compare, and keep up with our endless digital feeds.
Professor and philosopher, Marshall McLuhan once said that “we become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” His ideas were a cornerstone in the development of media theory. His premise was that the medium of a message (medium being the channel in which a message is received), influences the interpretation of the individual. This means the way we exchange our thoughts, opinions, or perspectives through an electronic message can carry a very different meaning than being face-to-face.
We can see how this theory reflects in the use of social media. An online profile shifts the way we share information about our life, which also changes the meaning we make from that information. If your news feed is anything like mine at the moment, you will see an abundance of 20-somethings' life events unfolding. The contrast is vast. Everything from babies, to graduations, to tequila shots. It can be pretty overwhelming when scrolling through and seeing peers living "their best life". The stark reality is, the life we see is only a version of it. It's a version created by the channel that we are consuming. Imagine if any one of those posts you saw, you had a real conversation about it with that person. Most of us would acknowledge there is more than what meets the eye. That perfect selfie might have took hours to find the best lighting. An adorable baby can also stay up most the night crying. Graduation was fun, but student debt is scary. A snapchat at the bar, doesn't show the pain of a new breakup.
The other reality is, because we can see these online versions of other peoples' lives happening around us, not only are we quick to compare and feel negative towards our own, we are also quick to assume we know the status of their happiness, well-being, and success level. I think this is what leads us to a greater feeling of disconnection. People are less inclined to reach out in the ways that matter, because they saw your most recent post and gave you a "like". Must mean that you both are still friends, right? Emojis and likes are nice, but they will never amount to the value of sharing laughter, a hug, or even a cry with someone else. The problem is, the more we post and the more we update, the less the people we care about will feel the need to check in with us. We get so distracted by creating an online identity, we lose sight of who we really are and what we really need.
What we need is to get back to the basics of human connection. Know that everyone is feeling the effects of this technological revolution. We should also know this new digital reality can be used to guide human connection like never before. Powerful social, political and economical movements are using social media as a tool for advocacy. It can assist people in times of tragedy and disaster, creating a vehicle to fundraise and show support. It can also help people like me, share their voice and their art.
The root of this article is not to abandon social media, but rather encourage mindfulness towards how it is used. Notice the way it affects your mood, energy, and focus. If it's becoming more obvious that it creates dissonance in the way you feel about yourself or others, perhaps it's time to detox from a digital world. Take some space. Turn off your notifications. Activate grayscale screen. There are many options out there, but most importantly, acknowledge the feeling of disconnection and harness it in a way to feel connected.
With a healthy mindset towards social media, more of us can utilize the endless potential it has to influence what our world looks like. Let's bring back the social part of social media, and recognize life is not all that it seems, even if it is easier to edit now. Social media might be here to stay, but the way we define what role social media has in our society is up to each of us.