Young, middle-aged or old, our lives are in many ways controlled and informed by social media platforms.
We learn about our news from Twitter and Facebook. We are obsessed with the lives of our friends, celebrities and complete strangers. Younger people use Snapchat to send pictures and videos that disappear after a set amount of time.
And with the prevalence of smartphones, social media has infiltrated every moment of our day. Our phones are no longer utilitarian appliances but such a part of our lives that they never leave our side — day or night — due to our fear of missing a message, picture or news update.
Is this social media world an improvement in our lives or the beginning of our society’s downfall?
It is hard to remember a time when people were not seen looking, holding, texting, listening or smiling at their phones taking numerous selfies. Phones accompany us to doctor’s appointments, food shopping, family dinners, restaurants, weddings, sporting events — basically every place we go.
What are the implications? It is not unusual to hear criticism of their addictive qualities. Many individuals have abandoned writing and other traditional forms of communicating. Talking to others has seemed to be replaced by texting.
It would be nice to find a balance between using traditional technology, such as writing thank-you notes or saying hello to a friend on the phone, and texting and sending messages on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
A concern grows when individuals develop an unrealistic view of the lives of others that they follow on social media.
We may believe that our friends, family, acquaintances and total strangers are living “perfect lives.” We view others’ lives as superior as their postings demonstrate ongoing enjoyment at parties, exotic vacations and popular restaurants. We become absorbed in their lives no differently than viewers of soap opera or reality television.
The result, unfortunately, is that the social media follower develops an unrealistic world view and often views her life as inferior to her “friends” that she follows on social media.
Why do people feel the need to post images of so many aspects of their lives? Are they actually living the lives that they portray? Social media may just be a way to create a false reality, a version of ourselves as we want to be seen.
Every generation and time period in history has adopted new technology. The introduction of the television,
personal computer and the internet is no different than the social media craze.
It does make sense to worry about the obsessive quality of social media. Individuals have always strived to be like the famous people they followed in magazines and now on reality television. Reality TV was the precursor in many ways to the social media phase.
The main message is how to maintain balance in our lives. The goal is to develop this balance while incorporating technology, traditional communication and a realistic understanding of others’ lives.
There will continue to be new forms of technology. And we will continue to need to find ways to challenge their obsessive allure while optimizing their value. JN
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center. This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.