By Susan Guillory
Social media. It’s become ingrained in how we live. When we have a happy moment to celebrate, we post an announcement to Facebook. When we eat an exceptional meal, we share it with our Instagram followers.
But despite the fact that social media use is at an all-time high, it’s actually working counter to its purpose: to make people more social. It has, unfortunately, put up a bit of a barrier between people in the real world: 35% of people communicate less with friends in real life…because they can follow them on social media.
If you can give a quick thumbs-up to a friend’s post about her new job, why would you bother to invest the time to catch up with her over coffee? And yet…that real-life interaction is so critical for us as humans.
Social Media is Actually Making Us Unhappy…
Scan your Facebook feed, and you’d think that you’ve got some pretty joyful friends…but their updates don’t reveal the whole truth. This one posted a photo of her adorable puppy (who just ate a $400 pair of shoes). That one updated her relationship status (with a guy you know she fights with constantly). Another posted a photo of a happy group of friends (who only see each other once a year).
What social media seemsto reveal can make us feel inadequate: 60% of people are jealous when seeing others’ (perfectly curated) posts. We feel like our lives fall short of everyone else’s perfectly-Pinterestable homes, flawless beauty, and adoring relationships.
Why do we measure ourselves against the façade that others present on social media? And for that matter, why do we feel the need to edit out the negative in our lives to present a not-so-accurate view of our world?
If social media makes us so miserable, why do we continue to use it?
Dating Apps Are No Better.
Another technical crutch our society relies on is the dating app. Online dating has created this alter-ego environment where people of all genders feel like it’s okay to act differently than they would in real life.
Ask anyone who’s spent any time on one or more dating apps if they’ve ever been catfished, and the answer is likely yes. People set up fake profiles for a variety of reasons, from boredom to scams, but on the other end is a person who has hope that this could turn into a relationship. It’s all too easy to put on a persona if you’re hiding behind a screen. You don’t have to really be responsible for your actions.
The fact that online dating is pretty much based on superficial swiping (despite those sites and apps that have in-depth questions and profiles to counter this) has resulted in 1 in 10 people quit dating apps after 3 months. Certainly, some of those may have found love, but others are just sick of the ghosting and the fact that very little of their interactions result in IRL meetups.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
Social media should foster in-person connection, not replace it. We’ve become lurkers, checking in on people from a distance, without really interacting with them.
If this were 20 years ago and you wanted to check in with a college friend, you’d have to call her, not Facebook stalk her. But that requires too much effort for most people these days, unfortunately.
So what happened? Where did we derail from the original intention of social media? One cause is simply the vast amount of data coming at us. It’s become information overload.People have gamified getting as many followers as possible, and that results in thousands of status updates on your news feed. It’s simply not possible to engage with anyone for more than a few seconds.
Also, social sites have had to find their purpose over the last decade, and that purpose is overwhelmingly to make money. The more time you spend on social networks, the more money they make. So who wins here??
Let’s Put Respect Back into the Equation.
How can you not only better respect other people on social media (and in real life), but also respect yourself more without having to go all hermit and live in a wifi-free cave?
Comparing yourself to every duckface selfie girl on Instagram will result in lowering of your self esteem. But what happens if we take the comparison factor away? Can you scan your social feed and feel happy for your friends and their news (also taking into consideration how curated it may be)? Can you separate your own self worth from your Instagram feed?
Limit the time you spend on social sites. If you hop on, set a time limit or have a specific goal in mind (to wish a friend happy birthday). Surely you have something better to do with your time than watch endless videos of cute baby sloths!
Pick one person a day to really interact with on social media. That means more than a passing thumbs-up. Scroll her feed and see what’s going on with her, then message (or even call! Gasp!) her to catch up on what’s going on with both of you.
Rather than following everyone that follows you or following random people, focus on people that you really want to connect with or learn about. Keep your Facebook friends circle tight: if you haven’t interacted with someone in the last year, unfriend (or at least unfollow) them. Don’t feel obligated to connect with high school friends decades after graduation or your mom’s neighbor’s daughter. Be picky about your social circle online just like you are offline.
And speaking of offline: take it there. Find events and common interests that will get you out and meeting new people or reconnecting with old friends. It may take some effort, but if you deliberately pull back from watching so many mindless videos, you will have more time for coffee dates and meetups.
Be deliberate in how you use social media. Consider: what do you want to get out of it? A distraction from life? The chance to connect with friends and family who don’t live nearby?
Social media can be a wonderful tool…if you don’t use it as a replacement for real-world interactions. Find a balance between the two, and stop comparing your life to what you see on the screen.