Social Media Makes Us Sad — But That May Be a Good Thing
How our collective loneliness due to social media may be the stepping stone to a more connected culture.
The research is clear — social media makes us lonely. Even the perceived feeling of happiness, while we scroll through our timelines, is fleeting as we inevitably compare our lives to those of others, trying in vain to become the “perfect” human. We continuously distort ourselves to the point of losing self-recognition. We become depressed, apathetic, and start to become defensive after not meeting our unattainable goals, thinking “This is so unfair, why does this have to happen to me?” Black Mirror’s chilling depiction of a world dominated by likes and the need for approval is a future that isn’t looking so satirical anymore.
And our social media use makes sense. Humans are innately social creatures. We seek relationships and easily empathize with others through our ability to reason that if we have abilities, goals, emotions, and feelings, then other people must have them as well. We are built to do this.
So when social media came along, we started to see the obvious merits in being able to communicate with others over long distances almost instantaneously. We felt more connected than ever. But what we couldn’t have known is that interactions on social media are only a fraction of what real, human, in-person interactions are. Our brains thrive on real interactions, and social media just can’t fulfill those needs. So it’s no wonder we feel isolated. We replaced genuine interactions with misconstrued, cherry-picked, seemingly perfect interactions and our brain couldn’t make sense of it.
Imagine taking a journey into nature, feeling the dirt compress beneath your feet as you stop to take in the expansive landscape that the world has to offer. Being aware of the incredible ecosystem of plants and animals that thrive independently of you. Feeling the beauty of all your senses coming together to create the experience you have in front of you.
Now imagine this experience is instead simulated in a virtual reality realm, where you see the same scene instead through a computer’s recreation of it. You physically move your head, and the perspective in your virtual headset changes to match your movement. It feels real. But it’s not real. It’s just pixels on a screen. Even the most high-resolution immersive experience that technology could ever offer would never feel real enough. Your brain is missing something. The experience is devoid of meaning.
This is analogous to social media — the interactions are just caricatures of what real human interaction is. Your brain is craving what is means to see someone, to hear someone, to physically be present with someone else. Social media just can’t offer that. And so you naturally get lonely.
But this isn’t a bad thing
Research shows that the more confident we are in our beliefs when we finally realize we made a mistake and that we were wrong, the more beneficial that correction is to us. The harder we fail, the more we learn.
With social media being such an obvious failure to our brains, starving them of the rich social experience they crave, it then becomes apparent how great of a learning experience social media can become.
Diving deeper, we begin to fully wrap our minds around the core problem at hand — the desire for external sources of gratification. We’re ingrained as humans to find things that satisfy us. We buy newer and newer cars, seek the latest clothing brands, make new friends, all in the hopes to satisfy our primal urges to feel like we’ve succeeded, to feel accepted and loved. Social media has been the band-aid to this issue, catering to our human needs in a cleverly deceptive way. But time ultimately won. We are beginning to collectively look at what social media has really brought out in us.
And as a society we are practicing mindfulness and self-acceptance more than ever in direct response to this. People are changing for the better. The issue of social media may just be the greatest catalyst to human change in the modern era by putting us face to face with our flawed need for external approval rather than looking within and finding happiness inside.
Why is this important?
Think of every tragedy in the history of humanity. The thousands of wars that we have fought, the millions of people that have been murdered on account of their beliefs or ethnicity. All of these events have one thing in common — one group of people thinking that they are better than another group of people.
This simple fact is so deeply rooted in our core as humans, the need and desire to feel like you’re “right” or that you fit in. The need to be superior in one way or another. Social media is just a mental parallel to the physical wars that have devastated us for millennia. We have been waging an intellectual war on each other, and realizing this truth is the first step toward freedom.
So what can I do?
The immediate issue is easy to correct. Simply stop being so attached to social media. Trade your online interactions for real interactions. Many people have taken a “detox” from social media and been surprised by how their mental health improved.
The more complex issue is the problem of seeking external gratification. Even if you give up social media, your brain is just going to start looking for the next best thing to keep it stimulated. As long as your core beliefs are the same your brain will continue to play the same vicious game on you.
Mindfulness is one of many practices that will enable you to break free from this game. By watching your thoughts and feelings come and go, you begin to create “space” between them and you. Between the conscious and unconscious. You begin to see these thoughts as just clouds in a sky that you are the observer of. You begin to see that your desire for gratification is just a desire created by your subconscious, and you can let it go. You become happy with what you have in the present moment. Many articles and books have been published on the art of mindfulness, and they can be extraordinary guides on your path to healing.
You may be surprised at how your quality of life can change when you give it a try.
“Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.”
― Amit Ray
- “Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over” https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db325.htm
- “Learning from Errors.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27648988
- “Humans Are By Nature Social Animals” https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25395
- “Online Social Networking and Mental Health” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/
- “Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5904786/