Disconnecting from our antisocial media

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By Dave Masterson

When historians analyze our time, perhaps nothing will define our generation as markedly as the advent of social media. In a little over a decade, social media has dramatically altered how we interact with each other.

We are only beginning to understand the way that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have changed not only our cultural norms, but also the way we view ourselves.

Numerous studies have linked use of these sites to increased anxiety and depression, as well as narcissistic and compulsive behavior.

If that sounds crazy, take a second to think about it. How many times did you check your phone today? 20 times? 50?

How often have you caught yourself mindlessly flipping through photos of someone that you haven’t talked to since sixth grade?

Didn’t you feel a little bit jealous when you saw photos of your friend’s Caribbean vacation? Aren’t you just a little bit proud when your Instagrammed party pics accrue 50 likes? Don’t you feel a bit self-conscious when nobody retweets your “hilarious” Twitter update?

Due to the preliminary nature of the neurological research available, scientists have been wary to postulate reasons for the correlation between social media-use and mood disorders.

I don’t pretend to be a scientist and, admittedly, I e-mail, text, and Facebook every day.  But if I may be so bold, I have a few ideas about why social media has done more harm than good, and why it has dangerous implications for the future of humanity.

Take a look at Facebook. Facebook purports that it connects you “with your friends and the world around you.” Let’s be serious. How many of your Facebook friends are really your friends? I mean people that you can call at 3 a.m. in a tight spot. Five? If you’re lucky, 10? How many do you even regularly interact with in the real world? Maybe 100?

That’s the trouble with Facebook: it immerses you in a false reality — a voyeuristic world that bombards you with the intimate details of strangers.

The irony is that very little of what we see on our News Feeds is real.

Every clever status update and every Instagrammed photo projects images of ourselves that are carefully cultivated and ultimately misleading. Nobody puts up bad photos of themselves on Facebook. Our profiles are what we want to be, an idealized portrait of ourselves.

A failure to understand this underlying reality is what can make some users anxious or depressed as they click through a friend’s photos. When everyone else’s lives look perfect, you feel bad about your own.

Perhaps most disturbing is the breakdown of social norms in the virtual world. This has been well-documented in the rise of “cyber-bullying.”

Face-to-face human interaction is generally dictated by codes of civility. We filter what we do and say based on our social environment. All of that disappears in the virtual world.

Safe from witnessing the pain of their victims, bullies torment with impunity. Couples break up over text message to avoid seeing the pain in each other’s eyes.

Even the innocuous status update can breed narcissism and flagrant over-sharing. Did 900 people really need to see a picture of the cheesecake you’re eating?

Empathy, civility and basic decency can deteriorate rapidly behind the glow of a screen.

What frightens me the most about social media is how it steals the present from all of us — how it distracts us from living in the moment.

Human beings are predisposed to worry. We are constantly planning our next moves, anticipating what tomorrow will bring. Social media only intensifies this anxiety.

It inundates us with a constant barrage of information, urging us to pay attention to everything until we can pay attention to nothing. It asserts that the actions of hundreds of acquaintances are relevant to your existence, when in reality so little of it actually affects your life. Worst of all, the real human interactions we have suffer as a result.

When was the last time you had lunch with a friend and didn’t check your phone? How many conversations have you had over text message when you could have called or met with the other person? People can’t even enjoy a special moment without whipping out their phones to record it.

In our frenzies to document everything in our lives, we forget that taking in the sensations of the present will make far better memories than an Instagram post.

I admit that social media has its merits. Friends and family separated by distance can communicate more easily. When used appropriately, it can be a welcome addition to human relationships.

But when we invest too much in this virtual landscape, social media becomes antisocial.

We waste our time trying to “connect with the world around us,” only to feel even more disconnected. We forget that our need for love, friendship and community can only be satisfied by investing in the people right in front of us — the ones who are a part of our present, tangible realities.

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