The new buzz is that social media is bad for us. It makes us more depressed, more lonely, and less likely to have real friends. A former Facebook executive in user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, eventually left Facebook because he was deeply concerned with how it was ruining our fabric of important social interaction.
And where were the articles reporting his decision to leave shared widely? Social media.
Social media may be the root of our social ills, including our ability to interact in person. But, with that said, let’s not lose all hope. If we lost all abilities to be human, then plenty of coffee shops and places for social outings would have closed down by now. That does not dismiss the fact that we use different types of platforms as an unprecedented way for us to organize the types of relationships in our lives.
I am not here to tell you whether or not social media is great, a necessary evil, or something to avoid altogether. That is a personal choice in which you weigh your pros and cons. What I am here to tell you is if you are not taking quality time to have real human interactions, even if it is with just a few awesome people, you miss out on something essential: a support system. If your debates and educated discussions are not happening at public forums or in the comfort of your own home, you have missed amazing opportunities for experiential learning. Here are signs you should look for:
1. You only speak on social media apps to your friends living far away, rather than picking up the phone and calling
Sometimes, a lot more can be said over the phone than typing into a message box. While many of us are not living in the same cities all of the time, or may now operate on our friends being far away, hearing their voice is wonderful. For me as an expat, my Sunday morning chats with my best friend on the U.S. west coast are like going out for brunch. While I cannot wait to see her in a few months, hearing her voice even if we are thousands of miles away makes me realize our true friendship.
2. You base your opinions on “something you read on Facebook” – or the comments
Fake news is not suddenly a thing because it was there all along. It did not happen only when Mr. Trump was (gulp) elected as president. It developed over time when humans in social media world began confusing memes with real news. Reality check: memes are never news. They never were. I have sat through conversations where I listened to someone express an opinion. When I asked what shaped that opinion, the only response was: see this Facebook group. All I could say to myself was – no. Just. Stop.
3. You are checking social media while you are at a social gathering
We may all have been guilty of this at one point. I decided that the best way to avoid this was to put my phone in my purse and to leave my purse at another end of a room where it may be difficult for me to get to. Sometimes, if I am meeting with just one person for dinner, I keep my phone in my car. There is no point of even going to any social outing if your phone is in front of you. If it is, you may have missed the opportunity for a new best friend, a game-changing professional contact, or the love of your life.
4. You know little about the people behind the photos and updates that you peruse in your newsfeeds
You only have 150 real friends. All of those 150 friends may not even qualify to be in your closest circle, nor even in your sympathy circle. Everyone else is pretty much an acquaintance or contact you keep on hand. While that sounds bleak, I will not tell you to go purge your Facebook friend list (unless it really helps you). I will tell you to spend less time wondering about them, and more time being with at least five percent of your “real friends.”
5. You know deep down that you feel jealous of everyone’s images of only fun, happiness, and unicorns
Jealousy is hard to admit. Some may express it (not so) jokingly as “I am so jelly of your great travel photos!” or “I am living vicariously through you.” As many of us have heard many times, behind those photos are real lives. Nobody wants to put their problems on display. This does not mean you come up with strange scenarios of everything bad that can happen to a person to make yourself feel better. It is a sign to nod, smile, and have your own photos of fun, happiness, and unicorns with people.
Sometimes, a social media cleanse is just as good. I personally try to take one for a few months per year. I never regret it. Otherwise, if that is not possible, you have some conscious decisions to make about your time.