“Three billion people, around 40% of the world’s population, use online social media — and we’re spending an average of two hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating on these platforms, according to some reports. That breaks down to around half a million tweets and Snapchat photos shared every minute,” BBC Future reported.
Every epoch of technological development precipitates a change in the social dynamics of a culture. The cultural shift of the Information Age has emerged through social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Through these, people can communicate around the world, interact with strangers or celebrities, be entertained and create content. However, as use of technology grows, time spent in the real world diminishes. Social media promotes widespread interaction at the expense of authenticity of relationships, a proper view of life and happiness.
Social media promotes surface-level relationships over deep relationships. The Child Mind Institute determined that texting is “less risky” than conversation because it puts distance between those communicating. This distance trades safety for reality. Susan Tardanico, CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance, wrote this in Forbes: “Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language. … With 93% of our communication context stripped away, we are now attempting to forge relationships and make decisions based on phrases. Abbreviations. Snippets. Emoticons. Which may or may not be accurate representations of the truth.”
Online interactions are the barest form of communication available, digitized by generic text that lacks the visual and aural nuances of face-to-face interaction. Online communication has remarkable capabilities: People separated by distance can communicate instantly. However, communication must not be exclusively online as humans are made for genuine, face-to-face interaction. Social media encourages a lack of real communication and a shallowness that mars not only relationships but also one’s grip on reality.
Social media promotes a false view of life. Cognitive anthropologist Bob Deutsch explored the importance of storytelling and creativity in life on Entrepreneur.com, proposing that social media detracts from the human narrative: “While social media ‘stories’ are certainly creative endeavors, they are made in hindsight and are linear representations crafted to project an idealized version of a person’s interests and lifestyle. It all seems a bit too tidy and curated.”
Worse than hiding or destroying storytelling, social media peddles a cheap alternative as the real thing. These false representations become the social norm. Pop and rap artist Jon Bellion writes in his song “The Internet,” “Life became dangerous/The day we all became famous/No one cares if you’re happy/Just as long as you claim it,” acknowledging the willful neglect of people’s actual condition and the rapt attention to their online presence. This standard of perceived perfection is dangerous. Paul cautions in Galatians 6:3 that “if anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.” Social media perpetuates a false view of life, a pitfall to believers and nonbelievers alike. Furthermore, social media accommodates destructive patterns in personal and social thought.
Social media reinforces instant gratification. Kevan Lee, director of marketing at social media management company Buffer, says that the “ideal character count” of a Facebook post is 40 characters, citing that “posts with 40 or fewer characters receive 86% more engagement than posts with a higher character count.” The ideal character count of a Tweet is 71-100 characters; a URL domain, eight characters; a hashtag, six; a title tag, 55; and an opening paragraph to an article, 40-55. Any additional characters and people are less likely to respond or remember the information. Social media is built on easily digestible bits of information that feed an increasingly diminishing attention span.
Even more concerning are the results of a 24-hour social media detox experiment on 1,000 students from 10 countries conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland and reported in Science Daily. Most were unable to go a day without social media, and described themselves as “Fretful, Confused, Anxious, Irritable, Insecure, Nervous, Restless, Crazy, Addicted, Panicked, Jealous, Angry, Lonely, Dependent, Depressed, Jittery and Paranoid.” These responses are comparable to those of drug withdrawal. Social media has become an addiction.
Social media is not inherently moral or immoral; it is a tool that must be used wisely. The BBC Future article noted: “As with food, gambling and many other temptations of the modern age, excessive use for some individuals is probably inadvisable. But at the same time, it would be wrong to say social media is a universally bad thing, because clearly it brings myriad benefits to our lives.”
Social media allows distant friends to stay connected, ideas to be shared, and provides a platform for creativity and storytelling. However, people must take caution when using social media, as social media is predisposed toward inauthenticity. The Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic supposedly said, “I am just looking for a human being.”
Perhaps another human being is waiting to be found just past the screen.
Emma Hasting is in 12th grade at Dayspring Christian Academy.