About 9 years ago, I joined Facebook.
At the time, it was the second social media platform I’d joined after Myspace. Honestly, I wasn’t really that interested in being a member.
But everyone in my life was joining it, so I did too.
Within about 2 years, I found myself using social media almost every day. Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun.
Through Facebook, I had acquired a new level of understanding about all my friends. I knew where they went, what they thought, even what they ate. I also now had a platform to publicly share my opinions, passions and everyday happenings.
Initially, this was a cool new thing, but soon enough it just became the new norm.
A holiday now required tagged photos and checks-ins. A new relationship required a status change. If we met a celebrity, an autograph no longer was enough: we needed a selfie to show the world.
Today many of us obsess about sharing our lives and opinions online. We covet likes and followers just as much as we want a hug from a loved one.
I believe this is because in some ways they feel like the same thing.
Abraham Maslow gave us the hierarchy of needs way back in 1943, in which social belonging and esteem needs are a big part of what makes us a healthy human. Now with social media, we are able to get a ‘fix’ of social interaction and esteem with a few clicks.
I’ve come to see that social media is an exaggerated form of social bonding. It’s essentially a social video game. We don’t know why we want to do it, we just want to. The sensory experience of being connected to hundreds (or thousands) of people at once is too much to resist.
But despite the allure, it somehow lacks the real feeling of connection we need. It provides a short-term boost but quickly leaves you feeling empty.
I believe this is a reason so many of us are constantly checking our social apps. We believe that one more fix will somehow add up to fulfillment. But the truth is, real relationships need real life to blossom.
A plethora of psychological reports show that many people now have a heightened level of anxiety after using social media for extended periods of time. Similar to someone playing multiple hours of video games, we become over-sensitized. More of the same has less of a thrill.
There is a tendency to ‘compare and despair’, to feel like we are not living as exciting a life as those around us.
Social media can also create a form of false intimacy. Because it is actually easier to express ourselves virtually, we tend to do it more often than we realize. When we get responses to our sharing, we feel validated. At least for a while.
We typically share the ‘offline’ world with our friends and followers online. If we are having an amazing time in the real world, there is an urge to share the experience with those who aren’t there.
Yet it is very easy to miss the moment when you are too busy capturing it.
Don’t get me wrong: I am very grateful for all the connection and camaraderie social media has brought to me.
I guess what I’m saying here is that we are living through an interesting time. It’s been less than a decade for most of us, but technology is altering who we are on the inside.
As we march towards augmented and virtual reality, it will be fascinating to see how much our virtual personas take over the real person we believe we are.
What I do know is that for me, returning to the real world as often as I can is extremely rewarding. When I experience life through my own senses and stay in the moment, I come away feeling alive.