What’s Wrong With Social Media?

FoMO: “A pervasive apprehension that others might have rewarding experiences from which one is absent. FoMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”

Am I the only person wondering how it is that being so incredibly connected — technologically — to one another has given rise to such intense insecurities about not feeling genuinely included, involved, or connected ? Both web and app based social networking has had an incredible impact on our world, bringing people together in ways and to pursue goals that were unimaginable back when our network was truly limited to first and second degree connections. Facebook has changed local protests into world movements. LinkedIn and Glassdoor have transformed the hiring and job search processes. Skype and Facetime have made it possible to see and speak with our friends and family — and candidates — from anywhere in the world. And yes, there’s also all the fun of self-demolishing selfies, stunning filters for photos, and all of the positive affirmation that comes from 20–2000 people liking any given share.

These days, incoming college freshmen are connected before they ever get to school through private Facebook pages, helping them to overcome the anxiety of the terrifying first week and the thousands of people they will be meeting and not remembering. I remember the time that I couldn’t remember the name of a girl down the hall from me in my Freshman Dorm after having had two weeks of conversations with her — it was mortifying, and not appreciated. Events, groups, and campus issues were all accessible and organized because there were pages for everything, and it was awesome. I was able to sign up for events, parties, and career fairs without having to hunt through flyers — or, god forbid, ask people. And in theory I could just check the attendees list and know who I would see or remember who I had met (somehow I didn’t think of that at the time).

But when do we put our phones down? At the events? Probably not — most people are posting pictures, checking what others are doing, messaging about next moves, or just looking at our phones to avoid feeling uncomfortable for not being in an incredibly enthusiastic and phenomenally smooth conversation. I’ve been there. Social media didn’t create social awkwardness, but its ease as a buffer and distraction definitely seems to help avoid actually overcoming it. Seriously: if you were feeling uncomfortable at a party, would you steel your gaze, put your phone away and walk up to a group or person to start a conversation, or would you start checking your phone in hopes of figuring out that someone you know is there or that someone will approach you and save you the fear of initiating? What’s the actual risk, and the probable result of each? Even if you have 5 Facebook friends at the same event, do you actually know them enough to walk up and say hi, or are you still stuck in the same position?

I guess that’s the bigger issue - are these online/in-app connections actually friends? At least for me, social media provides a way to confirm, maintain, or publicize a connection that I made in person — a gorgeous guy at a party who’s Facebook friend request made me think that maybe he was interested too, my best friend and I getting to share our ridiculous vacation stories while he was in Mexico and I was in Jamaica, etc. The 2am post wars with friends were fun and reminded us that even though we were miserable about our exams, we could laugh and feel less isolated while pushing through exhaustion. But I met them in person. Even if we’d been put in touch electronically, or seen each other because of groups, Instagram likes, or local events, one of us or the situation had brought us into conversation, and we took the risk of feeling stupid or rejected and jumped into building a relationship. Side note: relationship is such a strange sounding word at this point — it stings of commitment and demanding situations and all of those things that “connection” doesn’t promise.

Anyway, I read this and I found it to be on point. A Huffington Post article series about how we use social networking pointed out that most of us are confusing social capital and social connection when it comes to social media (so much social…sorry). Doo Young Lee, author of an extensive study on college students called “The role of attachment style in building social capital from a social networking site”, explains this difference (yes I feel the need to justify this — if you’re still reading at least you’ll have something intellectual sounding from this!) He writes, “Bonding social capital builds strong links between like-minded people, such as groups of close friends or families. In contrast, bridging social capital is a pattern of resources that can be accessed through external ties with people. Bridging social capital builds weak, loose, or fragile connections between heterogeneous groups lacking internally cohesive or emotionally close relationships.”

In other words, social networks are a way of building and showing off non-committal associations with people, ones which lack the authenticity and potential of face-to-face connections. So where does the randomness of my paragraphs get us. Social media has incredible uses and serves them — sometimes. But it also provides a fake lubricant for the scariest parts of being a social human being, those that call for you to put yourself forward as yourself, in person; to be as charismatic or awkward or spazzy or whatever, as you are. We’ve always tried to be the perfect version of ourselves for any given situation, but it wasn’t always via a pre-made profile, or via pictures we take to show what we were like and who we talked to at a party rather than actually doing those things and talking to those people. Isn’t that what professional photographers are hired for? I love social media. And I am definitely not innocent of taking and posting pictures. I’ve had a (douchey) boyfriend scoff at how many photos I have up as if I was giving away too much of myself. I put them up because they capture myself and my friends in all sorts of crazy and random and sometimes beautiful situations and I want myself and them to be able to see them when and where they want to, to illustrate stories that are too ridiculous to believe, and to remind us of all the fun we had before and after the photo was taken. Usually the photo taking itself was either unexpected (by them — sorry guys) or a pain in the ass (disclaimer: I do not own a selfie stick).

But when I arrive at an event, I try to force myself to put my phone away. I’ve never met anyone when I refused to look up from my phone, and I’ve never had anyone actually appreciate my looking away from them during a conversation to check it. It’s pretty much like screaming “YOU’RE BORING”, even if you say “so sorry this is just going to be one sec.” I do forget people and names as a result of not putting everything in my phone right away or Facebook stalking the event, but I hear there are companies working on us having a solution to that sometime. Until then, my commitment here is that I’m going to try harder to do put my phone away, throw my shoulders back, head up and smile and deal with the massive discomfort of having to talk to people face to face and to discover whether they’re someone I want to hang out with every day or just a random person who I was able to have a cool conversation with and learn something from that day. If I can pull that off, maybe I can leave more parties feeling like I had experiences there that made it worth overcoming the anxiety, and fewer feeling like I have to go find the something else, somewhere else, and someone else who is having such a damn good time on my newsfeed.

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