5 Ways Social Media Enhances and Inhibits our Lives

Recently I felt compelled to take a break from social media, specifically FaceBook, where I have both personal and professional pages.   I had begun to compulsively check my phone for the latest posts from old friends and animal rescue sites and I wondered what unseen consequences I might be facing from falling into this habit.

Over the years, I’ve worked with clients around all kinds of unforeseen pitfalls to computer screens and internet access.  Despite helping couples re-direct their marriages away from the betrayal of internet porn addiction and kids figure out that their underachievement at school had more to do with their distraction by computer games than their parents’ “unreasonable” expectations, the most poignant and heartbreaking consequence I’ve seen is much more ironic.  Many times, teens and adults come in to see me around the loneliness and rejection they feel because of social media.

What a double-edged sword social media can be!  On the one hand, it allows us to connect with friends new and old, far and wide.  On the other hand, it can become just another way to feel alone in the crowd.  I’ve found myself thinking and talking about this duality many times over the past several weeks and thought I’d share my thoughts.  Let’s start with the good news!

5 Ways Social Media Has Enhanced Our Lives:

  1.  It’s nice to re-connect.  We are a mobile society and it seems like increased exposure to other cultures and parts of the world through the internet encourage us to expand our horizons even more.  Social media lets us stay in touch, share our lives, and find old friends no matter where they may be.
  2. It’s a great way to market.  That’s what I’m doing by writing this blog, after all.  By having easy and instant access to the endeavors and successes of our connections, we automatically have them at the top of our minds when it comes time to make a referral.
  3. It’s an easy way to learn.  Try googling online classes.  The options are endless and endlessly interesting.  While many of us work better with the accountability and focus inherent in showing up to a class, that’s not always possible or convenient.  The internet allows easy (and often free) access to myriad subjects, helping us toward personal growth.
  4. It increases our awareness of the world.  Consider all the social issues and social action causes you know about now that you didn’t know about 20 years ago.  Our awareness of the state of the world is only limited now by our willingness to look at what our friends post on social media and our own curiosity.  It’s all available to us if we want to know about the plight of animals in captivity, cancer research and fundraising, third world health concerns, etc.  All we need to do is look it up on the internet.
  5. Let’s face it, most of us love a cute baby or animal video.  Humor, laughter, relaxation,  and beauty are all important to our development, just as focus, passion, and purpose are.  So go ahead, share those adorable videos!

5 Ways Social Media Inhibits Our Lives:

  1.  Where did the time go?  It probably went into watching all those cute animal and baby videos!  Moderation is the key but it’s easy to get distracted and then find yourself late for work or find that you got almost nothing done that you intended to.  Do you need to find a way to limit your time on social media?
  2. It’s a public forum to spread fear and negativity as well as a platform for public shaming and bullying.  The other day, my friend called me to tell me how horrified she was to find someone dear to her slandered in social media.  Even I’m guilty of sharing “helpful” words of caution about scary topics without investigating their veracity.  When we are connected to social media, we are constantly bombarded by information and opinion that raises our blood pressure regardless of whether it’s true.  How many shaming, bullying, hate-mongering pages exist on Facebook which promote destruction of property or persecution of a person or people based on their beliefs or skin color or other personal trait?  While abhorrent to most of us, those pages exist because there’s an audience for them. We often get exposed whether or not we seek that information or opinion.
  3. I’m so jealous!!!  Life is busy;  We’ve got kids.  We’ve got bills.  We’ve got jobs.  We’ve got laundry to do.  It’s great to see our friends’ exciting lives and travels unfold via social media but sometimes it’s hard to fight that annoying little bit of envy and a sense that if we aren’t having “that” kind of fun, our lives aren’t being lived right.  It brings keeping up with the Joneses to a whole new level and it’s constant.  There will always be someone posting about having a great time in some exotic location while you’re stuck there doing something onerous.
  4. “I felt more alone than ever so I took down my page.”  That’s what one high school senior told me after falling into isolation and depression.  Adults feel that loneliness, too.  Clients mention re-thinking the depths of their friendships after seeing pictures posted on social media of gatherings that excluded them.  I’ve posted about bullying before and social media is an easy platform from which to target someone.  While exclusion isn’t bullying and it isn’t targeted to someone specific, it’s still painful and can lead to feelings of abandonment, depression, and sadness.
  5. Superficiality can pass as “friendship”.  Sometimes superficial is fine and better than nothing.  I certainly have no expectation of being close friends with all of my contacts.  Problems arise and feelings get hurt when previously close friends suddenly are too busy to be available for any real time together.  Since all of us are busy, actually getting together takes a degree of willingness and follow through.  More and more, clients are discussing their sadness about the distance they feel when social media becomes a substitute for real connection.

As a long time science fiction/fantasy fan, I’ve watched and read numerous portrayals of what happens to society if we become too dependent on computers and machines rather than real, face to face relationships.  Unfortunately, as a therapist, I’ve seen some of that fiction become fact.  The internet is a double edged sword, wielded one way it helps us connect.  Wielded another way, it pushes us further apart.  If you are struggling with this issue, please consider coming in.  Talking things out can help.

Here are some other perspectives: