You may be familiar with the process of getting to know someone through social media.
Perhaps you’re using Facebook right now to stalk your future roommate and peers at college.
Through casually ‘stalking’ people on these various social platforms, you can get a pretty good idea of what social circle they are in, where they went the past weekend, what religious and political standing they identify themselves with or what their relationship status is. Or so you think.
Needless to say, the fast and simple ways of communicating with others in the 21st century have altered how we interact. The various mediums of social media such as facebook, twitter, instagram and snapchat have provided peepholes in which we can peer-however briefly- into the life of someone else.
To a large extent, online users have the ability to orchestrate their persona. We often forget that as we passively scroll through our feed, what we see is simply only a highlight reel of other peoples’ lives. The pictures, tweets, posts and snaps that people publish are only minuscule fragments of much broader and complex human beings.
In the midst of the social media hype, we become acutely conscious of how we are perceived by others through our every post, tweet and photo. The carefully crafted quasi-character that is displayed to friends and followers can be misleading as people look to social media as a way of validating themselves.
It is natural that we enjoy seeing our post liked, a new follower and a tweet ‘favourited.’ However, the instant gratification from these online actions bolsters our awareness and obsession with this popularity contest. Consequently, we can be left feeling perpetually insecure and anxious about our status.
In the same vein, social psychologist Dr Susan Newman, PHD, spoke on this topic: “The more ‘likes,’ ‘retweets,’ etcetera, that some people receive gives them a feeling of importance. They represent a form of reassurance that they are recognized by a large number of ‘friends’ in spite of the fact that they may not really know most of them.” This phenomenon is perhaps all too familiar. While a boost in ego and self-esteem may not be such an abominable thing, one cannot allow genuine self-worth to correlate with how many likes or followers one has. People can admire us but how many of them truly know us?
Moreover, a researcher at The University of Michigan conducted a social experiment and concluded that narcissistic adults used social media platforms to “control others’ perceptions of them”. Narcissism is an innate part of the human condition but social media has provided a fast measure to indulge in the approval of peers through such ‘rewards’. Psychologists have often linked our dependency on social media to the addiction of a drug. The ‘quick hit’ that we experience when we feel recognized and praised through these avenues (online and mobile) is not only fleeting but can also be deceptive.
Of course, social media does have an advantageous place in our modern culture, but when many young people use these platforms as guides to their self-worth, this causes disruption and disillusionment to reality. Often, the socially crippling side of social media is easily glanced over when we live in this culture where a passive consumption of other peoples’ lives is of the norm. The false interpretations of other people, our reliance to keep up with the latest gossip and our desire to be acknowledged on these realms have become startlingly ingrained aspects of this day and age.
We may be more connected than ever, yet our generation faces the growing threat of isolation. What happened to the old fashioned way of actually talking to someone face to face to get to know him or her? Yes, social media has given us more outlets for communication but saying something online or through text will never hold the same sincerity and legitimacy as saying something in real life. We can like posts and comment cute emoticons to show ‘support,’ but how often do we actually offer our time and help? We are bold on virtual realms but struggle to hold real conversations in reality. We hide behind this virtual persona instead of building our true character.
At the end of the day, regardless of how much time we invest in social media, our virtual footprint holds an infinitesimal weight against all that we are and all that life has to offer. Life happens pretty fast; if you don’t look away from the tiny glowing screen, you might just miss it.
Restuccia, Danielle. “Psychology of social media and narcissism: Are we self-obsessed?” December 4th 2013. Web, Voxxi
Stein, Emma. “Is Social Media Dependence A Mental Health Issue?” May 7th 2014. Web, Huffington Post
Image Credit: Wilgen Gebroed, Flickr Creative Commons