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Social Media Is Changing Us Some More

Too hard to resist.
Too hard to resist.
Photo by Justin Patchen

“I love you Gramma,” a toddler sputters from her high chair, followed with an impromptu giggle: 201 likes.

(Two-year old grandson opens a bag of flour—it goes everywhere—and he looks up wide-eyed.): 157 likes.

In the day or so since posting, ticks begin to dwindle as does the excitement of affirmation received, and what might remain subconsciously is: Why the post about my grandson received fewer likes?

After all the comments, the positive speak, the haha’s, a social media user is left with one teeny-tiny sinking question: What can I do better next time?

And then of course, there is the user on the “liking” end, who experiences what psychotherapist Dr. Matthew Paradise says is the most dangerous component of social media: social comparison.

But that’s not all. It’s best friend: FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is the see-saw pulling users back again and again. And it doesn’t help that business strategy likely now incorporates social media and with that, an encouraged responsiveness to it.

Literally. Ben Affleck smoking a cigarette. WTF.

“In a traditional social network, you might compare yourself to tens of people. On social media you are comparing yourself to thousands, even hundreds of thousands—it invariably leaves us falling short,” says Paradise.

It’s safe to say, the 2.65 billion people worldwide who participate in social media find ourselves in a pickle.

Adolescent social media usage—there’s a train wreck in slow motion. When cyberbullying among adolescents takes place it looks like rumors, gossip on a widescreen that results in embarrassment, exclusion or worse. In the 21st century we’ve even had to invent “Cyberbullicide,” a term for suicide “Due to having indirect or direct experiences with online aggression:”

It’s devastating to think that almost 7 percent of young people have attempted suicide, that for every one that succeeds there are 100 who try—because to them, death sounds better than going to school every day amid digital whispers. At that age the internet really is inescapable.

Paradise states, “It’s ironic, kids who aren’t on social media are in some ways at a disadvantage.” The American Academy of Pediatrics defines another term: Facebook depression, which describes the type of depressive symptoms seen in pre-teens and teens that spend time on social media. FOMO is very real, and in young social circles, the fear is that by missing out on an activity, it will in some way result to exclusion. And, again, social ostracism among adolescents has proven deadly.

Back to grandma, 2006, when Facebook opened up so that anyone with an email address could join. The current @edus have never scrambled so fast to delete photos, clean up profiles upon receiving a friend request from their mother—or aunt—or worse, a past elementary school teacher.

While adults are considered to be less impressionable, less fragile—in a social media environment—are they? Facebook depression is not limited to adolescents.

Shawn McDermott, a network engineer (a tech professional who plans implements and oversees computer networks), has had a social media presence since the Bulletin board system '80s. He posts and comments every day, has a strong online persona himself and recognizes the terms "Facebook depression" and "FOMO."

“I mean for sure I know people, myself, that in person may not be as aggressive in real life as they would be online,” McDermott says.

Asinine, funny, mis-informative top-level posts incite him to react the most. “I try to point people to the facts, educate without making them angry. Sometimes if you attack, it shuts down their listening abilities and you accomplish nothing,” he says.

While McDermott admits he may be guilty of internet trolling in a fun way with his friends, there are accounts that use the power of anonymity to troll maliciously. He’s taken on a few. “It’s like wrestling with a pig in mud, you’re both going to get dirty.”

McDermott adds that when he’s engaged in negative commenting, sometimes drinking was involved, and if it was with someone he knew, he usually circles back to make amends. As for those he doesn’t know personally, well, as they say: Auf Wiedersehen, asshole.

Paradise who has been praised, but also cut down on social media relating to his appearance on The Learning Channel says, "Many in the large online fan base love what I have to say, and others cannot resist taking jabs as my short stature. I’ve been witness to the virtual mob mentality, and it takes a thick skin to put yourself out there.”

The protection of the mob, anonymity, means people act in ways, say things they wouldn’t normally express in person.

Mob mentality has been going on, I’d imagine, since Prehistoric times, though likely the dinosaurs were probably just hangry.

The convenience, capitalistic, and connective advantages of social media have positioned it to be indispensable within our society regardless of the disadvantages it serves to our emotional well-being.

Or as Paradise says:

“You will always find someone better than you on social media: prettier, stronger, faster, smarter. It’s very hard to feel like you’re good at anything because there are so many people seeming to do it better than you.”

Alas.

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