It is hard to know where to begin when discussing my cynical sentiment towards social media. Its a part of the social fabric as much as the pub or the cafe. I use it on a daily basis. But in general, we haven’t learnt to use it maturely and in moderation. We are like 14 year-old girls with a bottle of vodka. We don’t know how to deal with things when they go wrong and we lose the whole point of it when we abuse it. But most importantly, we sometimes allow ourselves to be seriously misrepresented by it. Is this what life is now? Posting pictures to desperately show what a great life we are leading. Why are we so desperate to prove something? Are people so insecure they feel the need to put a picture of their latest ‘gourmet’ meal’ in the faces of the friends they loosely associate with? But most importantly, what are we trying to prove?
A recent study has shown that Facebook can make people feel worse about themselves simply by checking it on a regular basis. We must remember social media is new. More and more studies are being carried out with regards to it’s impact on individuals and society, but for now, we are the guinea pigs and we should proceed with caution.
Facebook, Twitter and the like have tapped into something deep within the human psyche. I Recently read an article highlighting the fact that social media has changed relationships (and more importantly, the defunct ones) forever. Now, when you break up with somebody, unless you are willing to bite the bullet and commit social media’s ultimate insult (the ‘friend removal’) then you will have access to their lives until the end of time. We are no longer ‘cut off.’ For better or for worse, we can remain connected indefinitely to someone whom we have deep emotional connections with. When it is more difficult to sever those connections on a socially acceptable level, than to not sever those connections, we realise the game has changed forever.
Imagine it. You delete you ex from your social media sites with the best intentions of moving on with your life and making progress. Not because you’re bitter, or because it didn’t end the way you would’ve liked, but because you know it is the best thing for both of you. Because that is what would happen in real life. However, the deletion of your ex creates an instant tension when you see them in the flesh in the local watering hole, and you must somehow navigate the infested waters of Ex Deletion face-to-face carefully and tactfully in order to retain some kind of real life dignity. All because you removed them from a page in the virtual world which has, somehow, come to represent you.
And this is the problem. Somehow, that page has come to represent your identity, your personality, and everything about you. That is the front page of your life. That page is now is now the most convenient way of people checking in on what you have been up to recently. Entirely anonymously. Not by seeing you in person, not by asking you, not by somebody asking your friend what you have been up to recently. You have successfully been reduced to a number of equations and rules that come to visually represent a number of crude values in which your life can be judged by. The films you like, the year you were born and the city in which you live. You have become a series of numbers and words. You are a sequence pictures. Wait, you haven’t been tagged in any pictures recently? I guess your life sucks. Look at me, I made home-made potato wedges for dinner, then I put on my nicest dress, posed in front of my front door, then I proceeded to go out and get as plastered as usual (pictures of the latter will be discretely self-censored).
When does virtual reality become reality? If the pictures from The Big Night Out don’t get posted online, did it really happen? If you don’t get any likes, are you a loser? Of course you aren’t. You’re just not in the cool club. The social hierarchies still exist, just in a slightly different format. Welcome to the online playground.
Is there anything intrinsically wrong with social media? No. Is there something wrong with settling with it as a substitute for physical interaction and real boundaries? Most definitely. So what is so wrong with social media’s representation of us?
Mis-representation is a good place to start. Most of the time, we are not ourselves online. We show our assets and hide our flaws in a much more controlled and discreet way than is possible in real life. But our insecurities can be conspicuous by their absence. No date of birth? Maybe you’re scared of showing your age to the 18 year-old you were chatting up and subsequently added/ stalked. ‘We do this in real life,’ I hear you say. Correct. But this isn’t real life.
There is so much to benefit from social media. It’s positives are big – it can lead to a more informed electorate and therefore can make for a better democracy. But like every new phenomena that has gone before us – television, video games, smoking etc. – we must understand the negative implications of this wide-reaching sensation before it is too late.