Is there a disconnect?
Most of us use social media not only every day but several times throughout the day. Some of us are even on it for hours at a time. We are definitely more connected to people that we might never have met without social media and that is a great benefit. However, are we losing sight of the important role that actual real-life relationships play in our lives?
It is not uncommon to see on social media all of the awesome and amazing things that our friends are doing. As we all do, the online version of ourselves most often isn’t the whole picture of who we are. Everyone tries to paint themselves in a good light. This simply isn’t true in real-life relationships. To those who you are genuinely close with in real-life, they know you not only when everything is going great, but even more so when things aren’t. They are there to offer support and encouragement. While this can be given online, it doesn’t feel the same as when given in person. Having that physical, emotional connection is an ingrained human need. We are all complex individuals with our own thoughts, emotions and opinions. This showing of our ideal self on social media versus our actual self of who we really are and the discrepancy that we feel between the two can make us prone to experiencing negative emotions, such self-esteem issues, anxiety and self-contempt.
Another concern in regard to relationships and social media is that we, as individuals, are increasingly obsessed with what other people think of us. When we post something, we will check back multiple times to see how many “likes” it received. If it doesn’t get as many as we hoped for, then we usually feel depressed. A part of this means we also try to have as many friends as possible to help increase the number of potential “likes.” Unfortunately, this means that it is about quantity of friends, not quality. The other component the need for all these “likes” generate is our growing need for instant gratification in the short term in the form of external validation from our friends. In real-life this expectation is unrealistic and unhealthy. The interaction with a friend that is physically present is typically sincerer and we have a deeper, longer satisfaction with the exchange than we get from online interaction.
When are obsessing over online lives, it doesn’t allow us to be truly present in the moment where we and who we are with. If we are worrying about what to post, why hasn’t liked my post, which picture should I take, how can we actually focus on experiencing that moment that will never come again? Say you’re out for a hike with friends and you’re so busy trying to take the perfect picture to post, that you don’t even know what you missed in the way of the scenery or just enjoying the moment with your friends. Wanting to share the experience with people who aren’t with you is understandable, but it is important to pay attention to what is happening as it is happening.
Does all this mean that you should quit social media and go back to the “dark ages”? No, you just need to find a better balance between your online life with your real life. If you are going to take time away from what you are doing to post something (basically interrupting your experience of that moment), make sure that it is worth it. Make time where you put your devices away and have some time without them. We all need a mental break from social media. This is especially good at meal times, spending time with friends, being outside or just sitting quietly by yourself. If you are at a concert or enjoying the day at the beach and want to take a picture to remember the moment, do it! Just wait to post it until later…stay involved and continue to enjoy yourself. Social media will still be there after you’re done. If your friend was with you and took some awesome pictures, have them send the pictures to you after the event. All too often we are so absorbed on our phones looking at social media, we miss the opportunity to interact with real-life people. These people might be amazing to talk to and could become a really good friend but we’ll never know. Everyone has a story and most people are willing to share but it requires taking an interest. Elderly folks are the best…they have the most intriguing stories and are excited to share them. You can learn so much just by being present and asking. The temptation to check social media is always there because of the accessibility from our phones, it never goes away. Our phones serve multiple purposes beyond being a phone and this is why we rely on them for a lot of things, like alarm clock, calendar, camera and so on. If you are finding the distraction of social media too difficult to resist every time you use your phone for something else, you might want to consider using a specific item for each need. Use an alarm clock that’s sole purpose is to be an alarm clock or camera that is just a camera. This can help, but is definitely not a cure-all.
Social media is here to stay, but it is up to us to manage our use of it. We need to be more aware of the frequency and duration of the time we spend on it. We DO have control over how much time we spend on it each day. Remember, wherever you are, whatever you are doing be present in that moment! Nothing says it better than a quote from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”