Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. LinkedIn. What is the one thing that these and all the other social media platforms have in common? Each of them is a medium for us humans to connect with each other–age, gender, race, religion, geography be damned. How amazing is it that people from all over the world can communicate whenever and wherever they want? Unfortunately, things are not as rosy in reality. While many of us heavily use social media platforms on a daily basis, recent reports claim that they leave us feeling alone and isolated, the very opposite of what ‘social’ is supposed to feel like!
As per this paper in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, young adults who used their social media accounts for more than two hours a day were twice as likely to feel socially isolated than those who spent less than thirty minutes a day. The paper defines social isolation as “when a person lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others and fulfilling relationships. In the past, social isolation has been independently associated with an increased risk for mortality.”
I personally feel that the main culprit is not how much time we spend on social media; it is the inauthentic way we present ourselves in the virtual world. Think about it–we carefully curate the content we share on these platforms to flaunt how perfect our lives are. In a bid to show that we have our lives together (and to make others feel envious), we share only positive and exciting experiences. In fact, we often exaggerate and sometimes, completely concoct fictitious stories just to make others covet our lives! But then just like us, other people play the game too, and this pretence goes on and on. At the end of the day, everybody loses. Because instead of starting a meaningful conversation about our issues, we sweep them under the rug and focus on having a picture perfect life instead.
Thankfully, certain platforms like Quora and Reddit are still largely real. People here actually discuss the real issues of life with other people and get ample support too. Little wonder then that the interaction here is rich, gritty and meaningful. What’s more, trolls and bullies are generally not tolerated, all thanks to the ‘report’ button. Won’t it be wonderful if we bring over this authenticity into all our other social media channels as well? I am sure that if we share our life as it is–with all its highs and lows–we will not only do away with the pressure of trying to be perfect, we will also be able to identify who our true well-wishers are. Anybody can ‘like’ your success, but few will be by your side when you are going through a rough patch.
Another reason social media could possibly be leading to social isolation is the fact that nothing can replace face-to-face or personal interaction. For instance, when was the last time you picked up the phone to wish your friend on his/her birthday instead of leaving a generic message on WhatsApp? When did you last make time to catch up with a loved one instead of checking their life on Facebook? Too much social media usage–even if it is real–can indeed do more harm than good. Times have changed drastically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t retain some of our old ways.
Another pet peeve of mine is constantly fiddling with the phone while eating. I’ll admit I do it myself occasionally, but I know people who do it way too often. Not only does it take away from the culinary experience, it also alienates whoever is eating with you. And then there is the whole “let’s all take multiple photos of our food before we even touch it” obsession. It would probably be okay if the people doing it actually spoke to each other after they are done shooting their food. What I have seen in various restaurants is groups of people taking photos of their food, then posing with it, and then finally eating it. So much time which they could use to actually communicate and enjoy each other’s company is lost forever. The worst part is, even after the photos are taken and shared online, there’s the constant checking of the phone to see how many people approved of said photos. Talk about instant gratification!
Stop bothering about the likes and move on, because you certainly don’t need anyone’s approval to live your life. As social media professional Mrinal Dev says, “We should not forget that there was life before social media. There is nothing wrong in updating our social platforms but the problem is people are so obsessed, they are updating every single detail of their life. Undoubtedly, social media helps us connect with the world. However, we need to find a way by which we can balance our social presence and social media presence.” (via quora)
I couldn’t agree more. No matter what others do, it is upto each one of us to use social media mindfully, so that it enables us to feel connected but doesn’t take over our lives. Or else we might as well find ourselves locked away in virtual prisons.
How do you keep your interactions real in a virtual world? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credit: Nikhil Mudaliar
Mahevash Shaikh is the twenty-something author of Busting Clichés. She loves to write, draw and laugh (among other things). You can find her using words and pictures to express herself and redefine the word "normal" at www.mahevashmuses.com.