We have become accustomed to our lives on Facebook. There are people, businesses, personas and even pets on Twitter. Snap happy lives sprout content daily on Instagram and Pinterest. We accept there is certain amount of fantasy and self indulgence, but is social media really making us social? Or is it just another way for us to make ourselves heard, even if only to an audience we can pretend is there?
Disinhibition on the internet was a subject Patricia Wallace looked at in detail, before we even had Twitter, Facebook or even the amount of blogs about the place. In her breakthrough book, “The Psychology of the Internet”, Wallace talks about how we adopt personas and characters and lose our inhibitions when greeted with a keyboard, a screen and a topic or person to comment to. We become another person. One without the usual standard grace and an odd kind of fearlessness. One that is very much capable of being a right royal arsehole.
Even though her book pre-dates Facebook by almost a decade, I cannot help noticing just how many people, even when using their real name and photo with only real connections to speak of, adopt personas and play around in the murky depths of emotions that do not normally find their way to the surface. We lose our ability to connect with our fellow human beings as we are de-sensitized by a cold, glowing screen.
Goodbye self, hello projection
It appears to be acceptable to make fun of people who cannot spell. Or to air personal problems, angst and grievances in public as that covert aggression we’d normally save for the whispered moments gains an open audience as a status update. It’s OK to scream “you’re wrong, plain wrong!” if the values do not align with our own on that status update, to insult and deride.
Social media usage normalises taboo actions.
It is OK to tag someone in a message for all to see when bearing souls. To stalk old partners and make weird sorts of inside jokes comments that others feel so terribly awkward about. Or to talk about political preferences, sexual positions or even toilet habits to have something to say. Arm chair philosophers battle it out over what the universe really means when tragedy strikes. The people of loud yet untidy reasoning find an audience amongst those who love a good catch phrase and a juicy little meme.
Journalists are cheerfully jumping on the band wagon and using groups as a means to count numbers for or against ideas. Beware the placement of your tweet lest it be gleaned as a quote and end up as tomorrow’s news. You will be quoted as though the journalist spoke to you personally. Your voice will be counted, even in satire, as a deliverable fact.
But how much is this real and realistic, and how much of it is pure attention grabbing? And why do we keep feeding this insatiable need for 5 seconds of fame with the next link, the next click, the next scrap of inauthentic life?
Where will it all lead?
Teenagers, having never really known life before the internet, are no longer tying up the phone with their friends, are typing it up instead. Social media usage is taking over real world connections.
The more someone spends near a computer for a job, the more likely they are to be interested in social networking. The more your job is tied to social media, the more relevant it becomes.
But should we be changing who we are for social media? Should we be sharing every detail? And what of children, who have no ability to object to their entire life being displayed online- what of their rights in years to come?
Social media is and will continue to be a way for us to communicate, share our lives, and satiate that little desire to leave a scrap of ourselves on some little dark corner of the globe. But should it really replace actual interaction? And should it be to the point where we change the way we behave to fit around the technology?
A time for social media usage. A time for space
Social media is an amazing invention, the internet even more so. But it is important to remember that it is the tool and we are the people who use it. Not the other way around. We don’t need to be so hyper-connected. It probably isn’t that natural. There is a beauty in peace, a beauty in a hand written card or a cup of coffee without the accompanying photo on Instagram that cannot be over-stated.
And there is a wonderful feeling to be had in keeping what we do to ourselves. We know that we will fight about politics and religion. And we know we will always find a debate we can poke. But that doesn’t mean we should.
Perhaps that cafe shop is quaint. That sky can be a wondrous blue. But can we remember a moment in time from the place within our memory and from the warmth of sun on our skin as opposed to the picture and the check-in that accompanied it?
Your social media usage challenge:
Looking to kerb your social media usage and improve the health of your online relationship with the medium?
For one month, I challenge you to
- Turn off the notifications on your phone
- Leave your phone at home one evening when you are out with friends
- Delete one frequently used social media app off your phone
- Declare one day a week social media free
And see what happens. Catalogue that difference. Ask yourself:
- Do you miss anything vitally important?
- How do you feel when you begin the process?
- How do you feel after a month?
- Have your connections suffered or have they become richer?
Ensuring that our social media usage is healthy and adds value is up to us. It begins with boundaries.