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Socially (Media) Destructive

When I joined Facebook in 2008, I was excited about the opportunity to connect with old classmates, family, friends, and co-workers.  It was a way to reconnect with people I’d lost touch with other the years or whom I wouldn’t have reconnected with it weren’t for Facebook. None of really knew how to use it. What do you post?  Pictures of our gatherings, pets or kids and brief headlines about what we were doing or pictures of what we made for dinner seemed to be the idea.  However, it quickly became evident that comments could be misunderstood and taken out of context or intended meaning was lost.  Without a voice to express our tone and inflection, words became lost in translation.  Minor conflicts developed because of the inability to portray inference in typed conversation or comments.  And then we began to see the unfiltered and unrestrained opinions in posts and comments. Quickly social media evolved into platforms of competition and divisiveness.

Has the use of digital communication technologies, mainly social media platforms, caused us to be less empathic towards each other in online communication?

Lifestyles and culture continue to evolve as we further immerse ourselves into digital life.  Humans remarkably adapt and evolve as conditions necessitate.  We are built to handle change.  However, the effects of digital life have created a cultural phenomenon having no precedent. Our very own distinctive identities have been reduced to phantom digital personas stripped of any authentic self.  We wander through endless posts and feeds searching for meaning.  We post our daily ins and outs in the hopes someone is paying attention and clinging to the notion that we matter in the sea of chatter.  But just as we skim over the waves of communications, we also become lost in the massive digital world.  Our communications and relationships changed form, making way for less substantial relationships, meaning, and purpose.  The catch is that we choose to engage in the digital world.  Our survival isn’t reliant upon our participation. Why are we devaluing ourselves, each other, relationships, and our time and how to do we stop this before our culture shifts any further?

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Screenshot: Twitter – @itsWillyFerrell

Digital life thrives on the need for attention and inclusion. We post to get attention: to get “likes” and other affinity clicks, followers, friends, supportive comments, and views. But the need for attention isn’t enough. We want to feel connected. But then we are still we alone.  The constant internal drive striving for more affinity and connection acts as an addiction. Some experts believe that social media attention seeking and the fear of missing out (FOMO) is an actual addiction based in mental health.  Like addictions to drugs and alcohol, social media or digital life addiction causes that rush but then just as wicked of a crash.  The high makes us feel important, connected.  The crash causes anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

The issue of society and communication in the digital world is highly complex.  Much like the political, global, and societal issues we try to navigate in the physical world.  The answer to how we can change our course is just as complex.  You can’t change the haters, the ones who intend to harm others. However, you can change yourself or at least become aware enough to be mindful about your own reactions and behaviors. In an idealistic world, we’d all live by the golden rule.  Since that is not possible, I offer one piece of advice, stop.  Stop thinking everything deserves a response (let alone an instantaneous one), stop thinking you and/or your beliefs are more important than someone else’s, and stop letting everything you read or hear control you.  Stop and regain your sense of self.

We could close all our social media accounts and remove ourselves from the participatory parts of digital interaction but most of us won’t.  The fear of missing out (FOMO) drives our continued slavery.  All the reasons we participate in digital culture boil down to that.  Somehow the digital world created a prison that we desperately strive to remain in.

However, the draw we have to digital life despite its negatives speaks more to what is lacking within ourselves.  The positives we perceive outweigh the negatives because we could walk away, and we don’t.  Then it is safe to assume that the problems of digital life are within each of us independently of each other.  Sherry Turkle reminds us in her book Reclaiming Conversation (2018), “Some of the most crucial conversations you will ever have will be with yourself” (p. 319). The communications that are reflecting positives and negatives within our digital communications begin within ourselves. To change the digital communications culture, we must first change our inner dialogue.  We must take back control of our emotions and reactions by addressing our repressed demons.  And then, consider taking a break from social media to regain our true sense of self.

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Screenshot:    Instagram  – @abcnews

Author note: This blog is comprised of excerpts from my research paper for the Fall term of ENGL745: Communication Strategies for Emerging Media taught by Dr. Daisy Pignetti. (University of Wisconsin – Stout)