Friday, April 6, 2018

The good and evil of social

In the spring of 2006, when I was just accepted to college, my high school senior classmates suggested I sign up for Facebook.com.  (Facebook dot com.)  Way cooler than MySpace, Facebook needed a .edu email address to join, and it was the cool new place for college kids to be.

By 2011, after collecting hundreds and hundreds of Facebook friends, I grew tired of the superficiality of those internet connections.  What used to be life updates and real-time invitations to dorm events changed to shared news stories, memes, game play requests, and invitations to buy multi level marketing products I am definitely not interested in trying.

Facebook wasn’t a collection of friendships anymore, not really.  It was a collection of acquaintanceships, and when I realized that’s all they were, it dawned on me that I didn’t have to keep them.  Superficial relationships aren’t bad, but they also aren’t something I want to spend my online time on.  I’d rather invest my time in something that invests in me.


Here’s where it gets real.

Your social media activity triggers your body to release the chemical rewards your brain gets when you have positive interactions, when you accomplish something, or when sharing physical contact with another human.  When you have a positive interaction with social media, you get the same physiological rush that comes from interacting with people in real life without interacting with people in real life.  It’s basically the crappy, fake porn version of sex, but for your social life.

Call me traditional, but this doesn’t seem like a good thing.  The science behind the legitimate addiction people develop is real, and precautions should be considered to make the time we spend on social media thoughtful and intentional instead of compulsory and constant.  The key is to use these tools as tools, not as pacifiers, escapes, or indicators of personal worth.  (Awareness of your own addiction levels helps, too.)  I appreciate how Facebook helps me find interesting events to attend, how Instagram helps me learn most of my foraging skills, and how Pinterest helps me collect creative inspiration for my home, but once my social media goals become social media-focused, I’ve missed the point.


This past week, I joined The Plywood People for a talk about platforms.  Eric Brown, founder of Whiteboard.is, shared his thoughts on using social well and using it poorly.  Social media was originally designed to facilitate real life, not to be real life.  The goal of social was always to enhance real relationships, connect people who live far from one another, and to better the tangible.  If we forsake the tangible (real life) in favor if the intangible (social media), we’re doing it wrong.  We’re missing out on the purpose of living.  We’re choosing hollow rewards over fulfilling relationships and experiences.  And in that way, we’re actually contributing to making the world a darker place.

Focus on tangible wins.  Keep this in mind the next time you tap “Follow.”  Lives aren’t changed by retweets or drip campaign emails.  Invest your time wisely in something that invests back in you.

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