We all use it. We use it to check up on what our friends are doing, to share pictures and videos. Some use it to voice their opinion, to criticize society. Others connect with former and future employees, or try to get job offers.
No matter why and how you use social media, a fact is that you use it. It has become part of our daily lives, our daily routine. But have you asked yourself about the impact of these media? What are social media doing to our lives? If you’ve ever thought about these questions, and I’m pretty sure you have, this article gives you an insight into how social media is affecting your life. Read ahead!
First, I want to start off by ripping the title of this article apart. We talk about social media as it is an independent medium that we participate in. However, social media is not just a platform with algorithms and tools. Social media are people. We are social media. Anything you see on these platforms relates to friends, family, or other people or pages you follow. So if we say that social media is influencing us, doesn’t this mean that others, the aforementioned people, are influencing us? We decide who want to be in touch with, whose information and life updates we want to receive, so in other words we decide who influences us. If you didn’t have any friends on Facebook, your feed would be empty and “social media” would have no effect on your life whatsoever. Technically, social media is not affecting us. Its users, we, are affecting and influencing each other on these platforms.
So when we talk about the effects of social media, we are actually talking about how our participation in social media is affecting us. According to the Mindsight Institute Executive Director Dr. Daniel Siegel, we use a different part of our brain when communicating on social media compared to communicating offline. We don’t need and, thus, use nonverbal expression when we connect with others online. His concern is that we will have a problem as soon as social media is replacing face-to-face communication because we will obliterate our use of nonverbal signals. While I agree with most of what he is saying and I really encourage you to watch the video where he talks about social media and brain activity, I don’t believe that social media will ever replace face-to-face communication. We are craving true human connection and we are experiencing emotional connection only on a surface level when we communicate online, as Dr. Siegel points out. Social media cannot satisfy this desire; so why would we give up on something if the substitution is not good enough?
But on the other hand, then why do we use it? I wish I knew the answer. I think we want to feel connected 24/7. We want to be informed and know what is going on all the time; which is a paradox because while we check up on our friends online, we miss out on our real-life surroundings. It is a vicious circle. Social media disables us from feeling and being present. Have you ever felt great after visiting Facebook or Instagram? Have you ever thought to yourself “omg, this moment was incredible”? I don’t know about you but I haven’t. All wonderful moments happen when I put down my phone. Swimming in the ocean, looking at the stars, watching a sunset, taking an airplane to an unknown place – these are the things I tell my friends about and not that I saw a picture of a dog on my Instagram feed.
A big problem with social media is that we feel like we are doing something while in real life we are sitting in front of our screens wasting our time. When it comes to activism, social media is a great tool for reaching a big audience and creating awareness. However, people are diluting themselves if they truly believe that they can change the world through their screens. Yes, it is true that you provoke people to think about certain issues but the question remains if a call for action on social media leads to a definite action in the real world. Prof. Dr. Bradley Wiggins, the head of the Media Communications department at Webster Vienna Private University, refers to social media activism as micro activism. It is good at getting things started, like spreading information and sparking interest, but it is bad at sustaining it.
Social media are merely creating a virtual reality which we need to be aware of and counteract by deliberately putting our phones aside for some time.
What do you think? In what way is social media affecting your life?