The Social Media Paradox
The upside to Social Media
We live in an age where everyone is creating their own content, mostly about their own lives. This is an incredible gift in that we can connect with, reconnect with, stay in touch with, and even meet other people all over the world. We can create online communities. We can peer into the lives of people from our past without them even knowing. We can go to a You Tube channel and instantly have someone talking to us, about whatever it is we choose. We can publicly complain about a company and have them directly respond to us with an apology. We can collect recommendations for a good plumber in record time. We can talk to our friends without calling them. We have access to 24/7 entertainment in the palm of our hands. All of this is pretty fun. So why is it that in a time when it is easier than ever to comment and connect, we feel more alone, more unhappy and more disconnected and polarized than ever? The rates of depression and anxiety have peaked. And herein lies the great social media paradox, all the advantages come with a dichotomy.
The Downside to Social Media
Comparing Your Life to Others’
The first downside is obvious when I hear my client’s measuring their lives in comparison to what they see represented on social media. I’ve caught myself doing this as well. This is why it is important to remember that the content we are viewing of our friend’s lives is what they want us to view, and that they think we want to view. The accomplishments, marriages, babies, vacations, and the delicious hamburger they ate for lunch. But for those of us watching from our couches in our pajamas, our less exciting lives just don’t seem to measure up. This creates the illusion that everyone else is happier, more successful, and more social than we are. Feeling you’re missing out on things in life that others are enjoying, that you're less likeable than others, or that you’re not as accomplished as others, are all thoughts which turn into beliefs and lead to depression and anxiety.
And I’m not only referring to comparing your life to your peers, but also the models and celebrities who are so entertaining to follow. These people may have even created a career around their social media presence, and have mastered the art of filters, photo shopping and sets that look like their home. They get paid to make us think they use products so that we think we need those products. We start to think that is how we should look, and if we don’t, well that is just one more way in which we are lacking. And if we can’t afford the nice things those people are living with, then we just aren’t good enough. This creates an incredibly unrealistic standard in which to compare ourselves to.
A second downside of social media is that we have become extremely disconnected. Although social media helps us to be superficially linked with a higher number of people, we are actually not connecting at all. A delayed comment or “like” on a photo is nice but nothing can take the place of the energy of a live human being in the same room with you. Someone who is choosing to be present with you and responding to you in real time. Holding space for each other, exchanging body language, laughing together and hello/goodbye hugs are all aspects of relationships that help us to thrive emotionally. Thus the false sense of connection created by social media is dangerous, especially when it begins to replace going out and experiencing our own lives with people we enjoy. We are left living vicariously through the lives of those we admire, and feeling worse about ourselves and lonelier than ever.
A third downside to social media is that it is addictive. Most people check their social media as one of the last things they do before bed, and as one of the first things they do upon waking. Some people feel such a dependency on their devices that they develop anxiety if they go too long without checking to see what they have missed. Scrolling mindlessly through feeds is now a way to turn off our racing thoughts, pass the time and escape the present moment of our lives. This is a new form of self medicating. And viewing is not the only addiction but also posting and sharing. We have all seen people who are so busy taking photos and writing witty comments that they are not even experiencing what they are trying to capture. There is also the compulsive checking one’s post to see how many likes or responses they have received. When such behavior feels out of our own control, it has become addictive.
The final downside I want to mention is the use of social media as a new platform for bullying. For kids who are still in school bullying has gone beyond shoves in the cafeteria. Bullying now follows the victim home through embarrassing photos, pages dedicated to degrading them and public persecution the whole school can participate in. Unfortunately for adults the bullying continues. It is often hidden as rude comments and criticisms or even putting down entire groups of people. Perhaps the anonymity one can hide behind makes it even more prevalent. Using social media as such a platform can ruin lives and serve to divide us as a society even further.
There is no turning back as far as what has been created and what will continue to evolve over time with social media. But what it comes down to, so that we are not left depressed, isolated, mindless and divided is HOW we are using this technology. We must consciously choose who and what we want to see and hear, and know why. Does it make you feel good or bad? We must question our thoughts about what we see. We must not let followers replace real friendships. We must control our usage, so that it does not control us. And we must commit to posting only what we would openly say to someone’s face. And intend to unite instead of divide with our participation and our voice.
If you would like to learn more about this topic and how it may be impacting you, contact me at Alyssa@AlyssaRand.com