If you believed social media was a flash in the pan, it’s probably time to admit you were wrong.
“Social media” is essentially any computer-supported technology that allows you to communicate and share ideas and information through virtual communities and networks.
Until 2011, less than half of the nation’s population used social media. Today, 81 percent of the population has a social networking profile of some sort, according to Stastita.com, a statistical research and analysis firm.
Given the expanded communication capabilities afforded by mobile technologies, the general definition of “social media” has expanded to include anything from participating in text messaging groups with friends to using online news aggregators to job-seeking via online communities.
Social media has many upsides — expanded, efficient and rapid communication. It has decentralized information sharing. It has built bridges and brought people closer too.
There also is a downside, say educators, employers, psychologists and others. According to Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and relationship expert, social media use may create higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety depression, narcissism and decreased social skills.
“The narratives we share and portray on social media are all positive and celebratory,” she writes in a Huffington Post article. “It’s a hybridized, digital ‘Keeping up with the Joneses.’”
If I track friends via social media with increasing regularity, I might begin to believe “everyone” — except me — is in a great relationship, takes five-star vacations and lives my “dream life.” I might begin to wonder what the heck is wrong with me, which can lead to depression or worse.
Silva’s explanation reflects sentiments shared in a variety of recent news stories that highlight growing concern about the seedier side of social media. In particular, experts point to the level of separation social media tools provide.
The extreme case is Michelle Carter, convicted late last week of murder because she sent texts that encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide. Overall, virtual friendships have become the norm for many.
A Kaspersky Lab study shows 42 percent of social media users admit to feeling jealous when a friend’s posts receive more attention than theirs. Meanwhile, 58 percent said they were embarrassed or upset because a friend posted something they didn’t want made public.
Social, moral, religious, political and other cultural shifts are now attributed to social media. The low cost, speed, efficiency, connectedness, anonymity and level of remove provided by computerized, mobile technologies can desensitize us to the full impact of our words and actions. We know there are people on the other end of these communication platforms, but it can be easier to ignore the potential pain inflicted by what we type, post and send.
With all that said, social media isn’t the real issue; it’s the red flag that tells us we have an issue. There is a bigger, older problem that likely took hold when humans stopped wandering, established communities and freed up time to scrutinize our neighbors.
We’re bored. We don’t pay enough attention to what our kids are up to. We are afraid we don’t measure up. We want more. We’re lonely. We need to treat each other — and ourselves — better. We’re stressed. We’re insecure. We wonder why we never feel like we have enough. When no one is looking, we sometimes hurt others.
Social media didn’t cause this. It is spotlight on our individual need to gravitate toward the best versions ourselves.