Back in the days when text messages had a 160 character limit, abbreviations were all the rage and flip phones were cooler than a cucumber in Alaska; the idea of social media as we know it today was a mere whisper. MSN messenger slowly crept its way into our lives, followed by the ‘LOL’s’ the ‘CUL8R’s’ the ‘BRB’s’ and the ‘G2G’s’. Then Myspace came along and opened a world of personal profiles, arguments over who our ‘top friends’ were and who had the cooler background music on there account. From there the rest is history, social media started popping up everywhere in all different constructs and took the world by storm. Growing up in this era I have experienced these developments as a direct consumer – I was one of many guinea pigs which unknowingly took place in a large market research project and ultimately led to the birth of familiar giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and their tweets, likes, pins, press’, love’s, dislikes, post’s, shares, re-blogs to name a few.
Experiences of social media in my life has ranged anywhere from amazingly useful to downright awful and all the things in-between. Many articles I have read tend to focus on either the good points of social media or the bad points. Personally, I struggled to use social media to create an overall positive benefit to my life, I tried to restrict it and fell back into old habits causing me to eventually removed it from my life (the personal account side at least). However I grew up during the growth of social media and it somehow feels sentimental to me. As such, this article will give social media a fair chance by reflecting on the good, the bad and the downright ugly aspects of social media:
Easy way to communicate with people
The way in which we communicate with each other has transformed over the last 15-20 years. It has become incredibly accessible and easy to speak with anyone in the world with an internet connection. You can e-mail, Skype, message, FaceTime, play games together, chat in forums, conduct an interview and tutor anyone, anywhere, anytime. The lack of social media would have made it incredibly difficult for me to maintain a connection with my friends I met in America at summer camp in 2014. We can share pictures, message each other and have a ‘face-to-face’ conversation whenever we like. In fact, despite the fact that they all live thousands of miles away, getting in touch with them is just about as easy as getting in touch with my friends around the corner, or the lovely old lady next door – in fact it would probably take longer to walk to the old ladies house than it would be to fire up Facebook and get connected. Communicating through social media has become so accessible, so easy and comfortable that is is with those very benefits, comes its greatest flaws.
The characteristics of social media can be represented as a microwave meal. It is great at the time, quick and easy to make but doesn’t really hold a great deal of substance and memorable moments. When we think back of some of our fondest memories we think of that amazing, tasty restaurant, laughing for hours with friends and joking with the waiters. In making communication too easy and too comfortable, we become lackadaisical with our friendships. We assume that because they are always at the end of a computer screen and that we can regularly update ourselves by seeing what they’re up to and where they’re checking in, that we are doing our bit to maintain that connection. However, this is far from realistic. Pure friendships are formed through intention, deep conversations and commitment with those we care about most. Of course, long-distances can make physical interaction difficult but even my close friends in America will take the time to sit down together and Skype. We’ll talk about what we have been up to, our ambitions, passions, fears and we will do so by being present and giving each other our undivided attention. This perhaps isn’t the ‘best’ form of communication but, given the circumstances it is a close compromise to the less meaningful interactions we tend to have on a day-to-day basis.
So sit down and imagine that tomorrow every computer, every internet connection and every smart phone suddenly stops working. Really picture what this would be like (apart from the obvious pandemonium – how crazy is it that we rely so heavily on such technology). Out of the 300, 500 or 1000+ friends that you have on your Facebook, who would you significantly regret not being able to speak to (either face-to-face or video call) within the next 30 days? I imagine it doesn’t happen to be every single 1 of your hundred’s of thousands of friends? Get in touch with those you have identified and make an intentional, commitment to those you really care about and make that human connection.
Treasured and personal memories all in one place
The Myspace and Facebook profiles I set up years ago contain a whole array of treasured memories from my adolescence. It has created a nostalgic timeline throughout my life and as such I am able to reflect on these memories and enjoy them at my leisure. Myspace in particular allowed me to take a step back in time, laugh at my old hairstyles, and reminisce about old friends who are no longer part of my life. It gives me a real opportunity to see how much has changed and where I have grown both physically and emotionally within that time. Whilst these treasured memories are something I would never regret accruing, one thing I would change is the masses of people that I shared everything with.
It’s easy to share our images and posts with just about everyone in our friends list (and anyone else who fancies taking a peek). This isn’t always our own doing either. Default settings are often hidden or difficult to get to and are set to spread the word as publically as possible and to let us know when others have (possibly unknowingly) done the same. The problem with sharing everything (apart from the obvious privacy issues) is that in takes the shine off precious memories by making it less personal. Think about a time when you have sat at home with your friends or parents and gone through an old photo album. Laughed and joked about the memories together on holiday or when you were a child playing in the back garden. Now imagine the same photo album as a PowerPoint presentation in front of all the hundreds of your Facebook friends. It doesn’t create the same treasured, nostalgic feelingsdoes it?
That’s not to say that sharing photo’s or memories digitally is inherently bad. Maybe you want to reconnect with an old friend and you have a picture of the two of you back in school. Instead of just putting it on your wall and hoping that person will ‘like’ your status, send them an e-mail, call them and chat about your old memories together. Have you ever found out that a close relative is getting married after 500 others? Ever congratulated your best friend on his new job after all their other acquaintances have done so? Maybe you are in a really bad place and instead of reaching out to a friend, you reach out to a bunch of people who don’t really know you or the background of your situation. I’ve personally experienced all these things before and even taken part in such habits. Aim to be more intentional with how you are communicating, rather than how social media wants you to behave.
A Platform to express ideas and have a voice
Social media is revered for creating a platform to express ideas and to give us, the everyday person, a voice. We often hear about the benefits of having this voice can have. I have shared many a story to help track down a friend’s missing iPhone. Inspirational stories to and spreading the word to find the dear old ladies cat down the road. If you need to get an important message out to the masses then it does a fantastic job of this. Purely intentioned goals like these helps those who wouldn’t normally have such a voice. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Being able to spread the world so easily and efficiently can also become it’s Achilles heel.
Profit driven industries have capitalised on being able to spread the word so well. Whether it be PPI claims, buying a new car, increasing SEO traffic, spreading a particular religion or taking out a loan, whether we like it or not, this information overload finds its way to our ‘personal’ space. Whilst websites like Facebook claimed to NEVER use advertisement (remember The Social Network movie?), they have taken it one step further and begun tailoring the advertisements to what they think we desire. Anything from age, hobbies, spending habits, profession, location, where we visit, social media will know.
Let’s also consider the fact that Facebook has also created a common culture of divorces, radicalism, cyber-bullying and aggressive arguments between friends and strangers. Being able to hide behind a computer has allowed others to express a voice, that isn’t necessarily their ‘true’ voice. If you want to be mindful and ‘find yourself’ in life, social media will do a great job of promoting an artificial persona of yourself, and not always a nice one.
I’ve given social media a fairly balanced chance. Whilst I do miss some of the aspects about these technologies, for me, the negatives continued to outweigh the positives and as such, I closed my account back in January and not looked back since. Whilst I’ve reminisced about the good and the bad of social media, some things are just down-right ugly and here they are:
Never really present/phones at the table syndrome
Social media and the constant beeping and buzzing of notifications in our pocket creates complete mindlessness in our physical, intentional interactions with people. Because of this our brains find it hard to switch off and be present. Somewhere in the back of our mind we are wondering how many people will reply to a birthday invitation or who has ‘liked’ the funny picture of your cat you shared on your wall the other day. Turning off notifications on your phone is a mid-way compromise to reducing the physical prompts of social media but you will always still know that it is there. For example, whenever I lost my focus at work or was procrastinating, social media would be my vice. Distractions like this can act as a positive recharge but the quick flick through my messages would often turn into watching videos, getting wound up by last night’s pictures (where was my invite?!), and commenting on statuses for what turns into 30 minutes and beyond. The concern is that sometimes social media even takes hold when we aren’t bored, when we are interacting with people in the physical world. It can be addictive and create a background buzz when we should be listening to what our friends have to say and making memorable moments. It is a common occurrence (and I have done this myself) to leave our phones out on the table. It’s as if we are making a statement “Yes, I’m here, but if you don’t mind I’ve brought my other 500 friends as well”. We have all felt the ‘need’ at some point to check-in and tag our friends but, if you didn’t invite them (or would consider inviting them) in the first place, why do we feel such an urge to tell them all? It all ties into the next ugly side of social media. Remember: Just because it hasn’t been posted on Facebook, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
The constant need for recognition
Social media creates a desirable urge to be constantly recognised by our peers. The need for recognition is a natural thing. Whether we need a pat on the back from our boss for doing such a good job, the exhausted single mother who wants someone to just reassure her that she’s doing the best she can or the hours of sports practice you’ve put in with no gold medal at the end. These things are worthy of recognition in their own right – they take dedication, sacrifice, passion and perseverance. However, because it is becoming easier and easier to gain recognition for just about anything (i.e. ‘likes’ ‘shares’ and comments are only a click away), we thrive on this as it takes little effort from both parties involved. They make us feel good for a short while but because it holds very little substance or significance, we are soon hunting for that next recognition ‘fix’. This vicious circle allows us to half-heartedly recognise others meaning that those receiving it focus on the quantity of people, rather than the quality of the sentiment.
If used inappropriately, it can be an absolute time-destroyer
This one is an absolute killer, social media has been compared to similar indications of alcohol, drugs and video gaming. Sometimes we will scroll through out wall, watch endless funny movies, and like random pictures, without even realising we are doing it. I was going to bed at night, scrolling through news stories until late, then waking up groggy to new posts, statuses and likes. When I realised that social media was becoming more of an obsessive, addictive love relationship than a useful tool, I knew it was time to get rid.
So where do we go from here? Human connection was not made to be sat behind a computer, a tablet or a smart phone. It is in the here and now, in the real world, doing real things. Everyone owes it to themselves and their mindful sanity to try a social media sabbatical. Click here, de-activate your account, remove the apps from your phone and go 14 days without it. Don’t worry, you can get it back after that but really reflect on if your life is a better or worse place than what it was before. It may feel unusual at first, as changing all embedded habits do, but stick with it and post your experiences below. I found a great video on the effects of social media compared with real human interaction, check it out below.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll be posting some more in the coming weeks on healthy habits, yoga and meditation 🙂