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A few weeks ago on CNÑ (CNN in Spanish that is), in a discussion about social media, an Argentinian expert on the subject predicted that in years to come we’ll view our use of Facebook and the like in the same way that most of us view smoking today. That is, a dirty, unhealthy habit that we can’t believe we actually used to find «cool and sexy».
Some people might view such an opinion as rather dramatic. Exaggerated scaremongering from the Argentinian fogey. Maybe so. The jury is still hearing all the evidence on this one, it’s not even close to being sent out in order to come back with a verdict yet.
One thing we can say with certainty is that the arrival of social media has led to a seismic change in how we communicate and interact with each other. Save for the invention for real of teleportation, it’s hard to see how more virtually connected we can become.
«Physically meeting those we might envy often allays any insecurity issues.»
That’s the crux of the issue here really: A growing virtual contact at the expense of face-to-face interaction. Worse still — for those on the social-media-is-bad side of things that is — virtual communication, or using our digital gadgets in some way, is dominating even when we are in the company of others.
We’ve all witnessed it. A group of people at a bar or dinner table or wherever, all with their heads stuck in their personal electronic devices. We shake our heads in disapproval. Yet there’s a fair chance we’ve been looked at disapprovingly doing the exact same thing on another occasion. Practically everybody with a smartphone gets «caught» at some stage or another.
A new (dis)order?
The question is, «Is it actually doing us any harm?» Well, we do now have a social media anxiety disorder. A cynic — of which of course I am not one — might say that the fact we’ve «invented» a disorder for it means very little in this day and age.
We’ve disorders for all sorts of things now where in the past they were simply conditions that required nothing more than a stern «for goodness sake lad, would you pull yourself together», or something to that effect. It’s all much more softly-softly now, for better or for worse.
That being said, as documented before, the false impression that social media platforms create of the lives of others can be quite damaging to those susceptible to the «keeping up with the Joneses» condition. «Oh look, there goes Mary on another amazing adventure and here I am stuck in my crappy job.» Or, «Bob seems to be doing great with the ladies and I can’t hit it off with a single one.»
For sure, being envious of others isn’t something new, only arriving with social media. It’s part of being human. However, our new way of interacting has made it more prevalent, exponentially so. The scale of it has been blown way out of proportion it would appear.
Physically meeting those who we may be resentful towards for whatever reason and, quite literally, seeing «their warts and all», will more often than not make us feel a little less insecure about ourselves. Social media not only takes that away but it puts us in daily contact with people who we would otherwise know next to nothing about and, I wager, care little about.
Take these (and please, do take them and send them off to some other planet) Instagram influencers. Young, pretty people — it’s highly unlikely they’ll either be the «wrong» side of 40 or not physically attractive — who make a living out of simply posting about their lives.
«Facebook and the like are dumbing us down.»
Fair play to them. They’re working the system. It’s those who follow them, who give them this platform, those are the ones I question.
OK, if it’s somebody who travels or the like, somebody who has interesting, informative snippets to share, there’s merit to that. The thing is, many of these influencers don’t. White, or whatever colour you want, trash.
Before I’m accused of being a hypocrite, I am fully aware that I play this game as well. As an unpaid blogger and podcaster, I need to use all outlets available to get the messages I write and talk about «out there». The hope is that what I do will reach more and more people, eventually putting me, brand «Wrong Way» so to put it, in a position to be a conduit for companies to advertise via me and such like.
Obviously, time is ticking on that one. Or maybe I’m already past my «use by» date. I’m just refusing to accept it. Perhaps I should go underground now, back to unspoilt nature.
Whatever the case, I like to think that I use and take advantage of social media — the ideal scenario — more than the other way around. I like to think that, that is. I could be wrong.
Light up, dumb down
We mentioned the seismic shift that has taken place with social media. As a species, we’ve gone through this before. The printing press, the advent of radio and TV. Massive game-changers. So rather than seeing the «new kids in town» as dangerous, perhaps we should take a more benign view. After all those older three, although TV to a lesser extent, in my opinion, haven’t done us any real harm, have they?
The key difference for me is that all those, in their more dominant days, were agents of positive social change and largely educational.
At this remove and considering how the majority of us currently use social media and, just as importantly, are used by them, we can’t view today’s dominators in the same light. On the contrary, they seem to be dumbing us down.
They might leave us feeling a bit lightheaded, even sick at times, but the high is worth it. Gotta light? I need my fix.
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