Last night, I saw a group of teens huddled at a table in a restaurant that was hopping with great music and food. Instead of downing milkshakes and causing a riot, these kids were completely focused on their phones. No one was talking, giggling or even making eye contact. Yet, their fingers moved at lightning speed across their screens. Had I just witnessed new-age communication at its finest – or worst?
A recent study says that there are now more than 3.1 billion social media users in the world.¹ With just over 7 billion people populating the earth, nearly half of the planet is now using social media to share their latest escapades, family photos, or simply what they had for breakfast. But, was this the true intention of social media when it was created?
At its best, social media allows us to share memories and highlights with others who can’t be physically with us. However, a study that was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that men and women ages 19 to 32 with high social media usage felt more socially isolated than those who were not online as frequently.² So, why does something that was created to connect us actually end up doing just the opposite?
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses,” you understand that many of us care a whole lot about what other people think, how they look, or what they own. Social media encourages us to compare ourselves and flaunt our social status to anyone who will listen. And, let’s face it, people tend to feel bad when comparing themselves to others. Worse yet, social media has become an addiction for many. In fact, neuroscientists have shown that recognition by our peers activates a release of dopamine in our brain.³ That means, we’re chemically rewarding ourselves each time someone responds positively to our posts. Although it’s not as intense as a cocaine hit, that wonderful feeling leaves us wanting more.
Have you ever used a photo filter? Most of us have enjoyed making a blemish disappear or a wrinkle fade into oblivion. It’s fun to see our younger, prettier side emerge, and it’s even more exciting to see the reactions from friends who feel obligated to shower us with compliments. While it may be harmless to post your latest vacation photos or make the zit of the century a little less obvious, the truth is that we create a reel of life’s highlights. My guess is that you’ve never shared a photo of the mess your dog left on your new rug or the failing grade you got even after pulling an all-night study session. Those moments are so real, and yet, we have no desire to pollute our personal pages with negativity. When others see only our shining moments, they begin to wonder why their lives aren’t as beautiful and fun filled.
While social media certainly has its benefits, it seems to me that it’s left our youth unable to socialize. We keep our phones in hand just in case we’re needed – or the perfect photo opportunity arises. And while it’s easy for us to say “don’t believe everything you see,” it’s difficult to do that when scrolling through hundreds of photos that showcase a perfect existence. Unless people begin embracing themselves once more and accepting the good, bad and ugly that life can bring, social media will continue to torment our society. The next time you decide to check your Instagram or Facebook page, ask yourself first, “Is this really worth my time?”