In recent weeks a number of well-known people have announced that they are tired of the social media: British pop singer Ed Sheeran no longer wants to “see the world though a screen”; Australian teenager Essena O’Neill informing us that “social media is not real life”; and Napster co-founder Sean Parker warning that “social media is feeding our narcissism”.
It isn’t hard to see what has happened: the social media are a new phenomenon that have spread rapidly, while at the same time undergoing a variety of transformations. We started using instant messaging services, and soon found ourselves hooked on MySpace first, then Facebook or Twitter, without necessarily understanding the difference between each of them.
I’ve seen adolescents using Twitter to send the same messages they’ve just sent on Instagram and WhatsApp, seemingly unaware that on some sites messages are private, and not on others. At the same time, the nature of some services has changed: Twitter started out as a way to tell your friends and family what you were doing, but is now for sharing news, bright ideas, or comments about what’s going on in the world. Things are changing at warp speed.
Sadly, there are people out there whose lives really do revolve around the social media: teenagers and others old enough to know better who can’t take their eyes of their smartphone screen for an instant, whether alone or in company. Similarly, many people suddenly grow tired of the social networks and need a break, or do so because they have published or shared something they wish they hadn’t.
What we need to remember here is that the social networks are just a tool: they aren’t good or bad in themselves; the question is about how we use them. Ignoring the people you are with because you’re texting your friends is just bad manners. Anybody who needs to disconnect from the social networks has probably been “over-connected”. Everybody believes they know more about the social media than anybody else: there are 181,000 social media ‘gurus,’ ‘ninjas,’ ‘masters,’ and ‘mavens’ on Twitter. The social networks can help stimulate debate, but they can also stifle it, leaving us over-exposed to the influence of those around us. As said, this is a rapidly changing environment, and there are no certainties. We need to accept that it will take us some time to get used to the social networks and learn how to use them properly. For some, that will mean disconnecting from them for a while, thinking about how to get the most out of them, and then reprioritizing. In the meantime, there’s no need for all this drama.
I’m sure that Ed Sheeran will return shortly to Instagram, that Essena O’Neill will see that it is possible to have a healthy and more sincere relationship with the social networks, and that your children or younger brothers and sisters will benefit from not being allowed to use their smartphone during meals and if, while with family and friends over the holiday period, we all spend less time staring into screens and more time listening to the people around us. Which doesn’t of course mean that from time we can’t take a few photographs and share them with friends on the social networks without “living our lives through a screen”
We don’t need to reclaim our lives from the social media, we just need to learn how to use them in moderation.
(En español, aquí)