Psych Major - Purdue University Global. Writer. Philosopher.
What Are the Pitfalls of Social Media?
To put things into perspective, let's remember that the internet has only been a feature of the modern world for about twenty-five years. It was only fifteen years ago that the public began to use it for social purposes starting with email and chat rooms. Eventually, it evolved into modified web pages that provided people their own space to exist and interact with others like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
People often forget or fail to realize that the internet is, in fact, a place that exists in time and space. It's not a place that you can find on a map or see with the naked eye, but with the help of special technology, we can step through that rabbit hole. The ways in which we can do this is expanding every day. It's a digital, computer-generated, psychological dimension tailor-made for the human brain. This particular characterization is highly under-recognized. We are social animals, inside and out. Our emotional circuitry and physical health remain at the mercy of a social dynamic. Needless to say, we suffer in isolation. Having someone one click away seems like a huge advantage for our species.
What if we haven't properly stabilized or habituated to this new technology? Along with the internet came a new set of rules that eliminated the necessity for inhibition altogether. We've stripped away our ethical obligations and have begun to pioneer a new plane of human existence—one where old rules of candor and civility no longer apply. This has created a precedent for the worst parts of ourselves to manifest without any deterrence. Perhaps some believe certain behavior is inconsequential because it's "just the internet". It's not just the internet, it's a very real place with real consequences. This goes even deeper than cyberbullying. We're talking about a force that holds our attention so well that we are often unaware of the amount of time that passes. It's unequivocally becoming the dominant social reality.
In the following article, I aim to discuss some of the pervasive problems that I've observed and learned for myself.
The Illusion of Self
One of the perks of social media is that we can creatively augment a representation of who we are. First, we carefully select a mug shot that captures our "uniqueness". It centralizes the focus of the domain that we inhabit. From there, we decorate around this center with abstract extensions of what we would like others to associate us with. Cover art, accolades, etc.
We also share specific patterns of intellectual content. One of the best ways to paint a picture of who we are in relationship to the world is to help others categorize us. The classic "don't put me in a box" doesn't apply here. Talking about what we're interested in and what we believe sharpens an onlookers idea of who we are. Articles, media, music, memes, etc.
If one can find the time and inner resources to orchestrate a living, functioning, internet persona it then becomes a responsibility. You've essentially given birth to a polished version of yourself. Now you have to raise it without it becoming a monster.
A few problems:
The more we bend the truth about who we are and what we're capable of, the more we believe that bending the truth is the only way to be accepted. What's more, it replaces the responsibility of improving ourselves in real life. Why bother addressing your flaws when you can fool the world into believing you don't have any? As tempting as it is to embellish, try to keep your internet persona as congruent as possible to your real self. It's better to be a person with a few quarks than to be a person no one can trust. Besides, it relieves the burden of trying to live a double life.
It's in our best interest to help people notice the best aspects of ourselves. Sometimes we forget that the most salient representation of who we are is how we act. For example, if Billy is well known for sharing inspirational quotes about humility but speaks pretentiously to others, then dissonance grows between image and character. People notice this. The entire idea of Billy collapses after so many obvious contradictions. All that work for nothing on top of zero credibility.
Every once and a while, life strikes a blow and our weaknesses bleed through our channel, leaving our dirty laundry dangling on the news feed. People remember these slip-ups more than they do the happy moments in your life. Not to mention that your embarrassing, cringe-worthy moments reach hundreds of people at a time thereby amplifying anxiety tenfold.
Most of Us Are Addicted
I'll just start by pointing out that the word "addiction" and its definition has been severely exhausted and conflated over the last decade. A good example is someone who might enjoy a particular food dish and claim that "they're addicted" or the food itself is just so "addicting". This may be true at the neurological level—to some extent—but it dramatically under-represents the tragic nature and suffering that characterizes most experiences of addiction. Whether it's alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or pornography. These are life destroying addictions.
The internet is no exception. But it's difficult for people to accept that addiction can affect everyone. It's a widely held belief that addicts are a special, albeit unfortunate, type of person with a disease or genetic predisposition. When, in fact, anyone is capable of succumbing to unhealthy behavioral patterns. Many with vices such as coffee or sugar fail to realize that it's the same biological process as methamphetamine addiction, only with fewer consequences. The more we enjoy or find something to be a necessity, the less we're willing to believe that it might actually be destructive.
Media corporations use this understanding of what keeps the brain interested and design their technology to capture and hold attention for as long as possible. It's not a conspiracy, it's basic economics. With every notification and message comes small bursts of positive emotion and reward.
The best way to think about addiction is by looking at how any behavior causes disorganization in your life. If you find yourself wasting 20 hours a week checking Facebook, you're sacrificing 40 days a year that could be spent with loved ones or building a more fruitful career. Can anyone remember how much time we set aside for socializing before the internet? It probably didn't come close to 20 hours a week outside of work.
Overall, stress can be attributed to internet use as well. Being roped into juggling so many extensions on your device is painstaking and tiresome, especially if you've managed to generate an average number of "likes" on any given post. The anticipation of reward and criticism occurs simultaneously, creating the perfect storm for stress and anxiety. It's helpful to take a step back and assess whether it's worth the negative impact on your physical and mental health.
The issue of addressing this problem at the level of public health is similar to that of alcohol consumption. It's so widely accepted and used that the entire population is willing to turn a blind eye to its catastrophic potential.
Your Phone Is Trying to Control Your Life
Discourse Is Always a Mess
It's a pretty safe bet that everyone who's participated in online forums has had at least one nasty disagreement with another. With anonymity, it's even easier to take off the gloves and fight dirty. If you're at all skeptical about the pervasiveness of this problem, turn your sights to any number of YouTube or Reddit comment sections. It's an absolute bloodbath of insults, harassment and dehumanization.
The reasons are pretty simple. Many people struggle with some form of pain, complex, trauma, or self-esteem issue. If given the reigns to a whole a new identity, one might overcompensate by wielding as much authority or revenge on the public as possible. Even those who are relatively stable can be triggered on any given discussion. There are a few factors that bring out our ugliness:
- It's public. If someone criticizes us on Facebook we appear foolish to our friends and family. Then we feel obligated to puff up and stand our ground.
- All the things you've wanted to say to someone can come out much easier behind your device. You may not feel the consequences of this right away but it causes just as much damage.
- If we notice something on the feed completely incompatible with our beliefs, it's nearly impossible to ignore. Depending on either temperament, it will undoubtedly turn into something regrettable. The worst part is: it's likely to be someone you care about.
In contrast, the internet can be an excellent proving ground to see how well you can keep your composure under fire. Without tone, inflection or body language, so much of what is being said is lost from the get-go. If we perceive someone as combative or condescending, it's much harder to pull our punches. Consider this a test of will.
If you find yourself lured into a long, drawn-out argument online, remember that you're being observed by people outside the conversation. This should be incentive enough to demonstrate how well you can handle conflict. Much easier said than done, right?
Sometimes these conversations devolve into just trying to have the last word. Seeing as though it's public, no one wants to be left looking silent after a comment lest others believe you're stumped with nothing more to say. Here we have pride keeping us from removing ourselves from a fruitless quarrel. Virtually no one ends up conceding to the others point of view nor does hardly anyone admit fault where it is due. Instead, we commit our entire intellectual faculty to this particular issue.
Before you know it, hours have passed and you can think of nothing other than what your next response will be. You have to keep checking your phone and all this is happening when your children are trying to get your attention or you're at work! Time to abort. More often do we finally walk away from these threads feeling like garbage. It's not worth it.
Jessie Watson (author) from Wenatchee Washington on February 17, 2018:
I've had my finger on the pulse of internet etiquette for many years now. Unfortunately, the time has come to announce the death of civility and reason altogether. The only reason Hubpages is relatively calm is that most people here are over the age of 40, write to earn a little extra money, and do their best to elicit a large following. But I've managed to find a sweet spot for productive discourse. No strings attached. If there's anything anyone should take away from this article is that this lack of inhibition bleeds out into the real world. I think that pretty well characterizes what we're seeing day to day.
Leland Johnson from Midland MI on February 17, 2018:
Wow! Great hub Jesse. So much of what you said lines up with a book by Nicholas Carr called "The Shallows." It's how the internet is literally changing our brains. I also appreciate your use of humor. The "someone on the internet is wrong" meme made my wife and I laugh out loud.
Jessie Watson (author) from Wenatchee Washington on January 02, 2018:
Much appreciated, Tamarajo. I've removed myself from every standard SM platform as well. Years ago I noticed what was happening sociologically. My friends would come around less. They would cancel get-together's more often. Then data starting coming out indicating a huge spike in social anxiety among the younger generation. Couldn't help but correlate that with use of devices. Some research already has...
Moreover, the feeling of emptiness and loneliness on SM was all too harrowing. I always logged off feeling like something was missing. Not to mention that I spent half the day doing nothing of particular interest. It was like gazing in to the eyes of medusa. I was frozen and my sense of agency dissolved.
Granted, I've had issues with impulse control. Not everyone will experience this but its important to recognize that when you introduce something that powerful to an otherwise "ill" society then it's going to produce undesirable outcomes en masse. The same goes for firearms, without digressing too far.
Tamarajo on January 02, 2018:
Spot on Jessie. I deleted my FB account a couple of years ago, my Google+ a year ago, and Twitter about six months ago. The only thing left is Instagram and I'm getting ready to get rid of that for all of your above reasons.
Great job uncovering the underlying problems with these types of social formats.
I'm a confessed gadgetaholic with much work left to be done in this department.
A sincerely enlightening read.