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Tuesday, July 2, 2013
The Digital Age and social media have made constant virtual connectivity a reality, yet we are just beginning to understand its implications.
Social media is one of the technological advances that define Generation Y. Computers, smartphones, etc., offer opportunities to spend endless amounts of time checking, updating and tweaking any number of social media websites.
Does all the time spent using social media deepen our relationships with our peers, friends and family, the one promise all social media seems to offer?
Social media offers a superficial connection to people with whom we already have relationships. Social media does not connect us to those people in any deeper way. Instead of deepening relationships, social media discourages us from forming new relationships and growing in the relationships we already have.
Although social media can lead to deeper issues, it does have some good aspects. For example, social media makes it easier to stay in contact with loved ones who may be in other parts of the world. Virginia Tech junior, Jud Froelich, whose parents work with the missionary organization Pioneers, spent most of his childhood in Kyrgyzstan and Thailand. As a result, he has friends in a number of different countries.
“I have groups of people based on where I met them,” said Froelich, “I have my friends from Kyrgyzstan on Facebook but I mostly don’t see them any more because most of them are in South Korea [now], but I can chat with them every once in a while [because of Facebook].”
Despite these advantages, social media can skew reality and affect how people perceive one another. Instead of bringing us closer together, social media isolates us from those we are closest to.
In the 2011 study, “Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions,” researchers from Stanford University, Syracuse University and the University of California at Berkeley found that “people are systematically biased in their judgments of peers’ inner lives, underestimating the prevalence of negative emotional experiences.” These negative experiences, however, are not displayed openly on social media.
We typically post about positive experiences, which cause others to believe we lead happier lives than we do. When people who are hurting see the fantasy we make of ourselves under Facebook’s banner, they feel isolated. They don’t see our struggles with depression, body image and feelings of worthlessness.
“Making social comparisons when viewing other people’s Facebook profiles may affect my social relationships in one of two ways,” said Andrew Smith, a graduate student and professor from the department of psychology at Virginia Tech. “One, [social media profiles] may intimidate me from approaching them at all because I see them as being so much better than myself. Two, based in the discontinuity I experience between their managed image I’ve learned via viewing their profile, the actual interaction I have with them may be flawed.”
The façade we create online perpetuates the cycle that gives the impression we are doing great, isolating others from us, who then do the same thing.
By pretending that everything is all right, by hiding behind the cheesy grin in our profile pictures, we harm ourselves. Instead of investing in relationships grounded in reality, we settle for the cheap imitation we can find online.
I am advocating for the renewal of true relationships in the Digital Age. In a time when we are more content with frittering away countless, irreplaceable hours fine-tuning our tweets and Facebook profiles, we need to understand the danger of social media. Social media offers benefits, but at what cost?
The threats to our emotional and mental well-being are real. The isolation we have experienced after viewing friends’ profiles and their seemingly perfect lives is a reality.
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