I am scared of social media.

For three weeks, I have lived entirely sans social media. For four years, I have trash talked social media. But for the first time ever, I am a little bit scared of it.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine forwarded me an article called Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction (thank you, Alex!). The story, from the New York Times, is both fascinating and horrifying. In it, a 17-year-old kid said the following:

“Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and
you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

For years, I’ve looked for words to express that very sentiment. I’ve never quite pulled it off, nor could I say it any better than he did. Let’s face it: he’s right. But that somebody who uses and loves Facebook is the one who said it is incredibly alarming.

When a way exists to put forth zero effort and come away gratified anyway, why would the general public put forth effort? The existence of that ability lowers every bar. It conditions us to settle, and to feel satisfied after settling. It’s like Mark Zuckerberg told the whole world that a dollar bill is as good as a hundred, and the whole world believed him. So not only does the whole world feel good about having a dollar, but it stops wanting more, stops aiming for more and forgets the value in having anything more. The industry, which also capitalizes on our culture’s unfortunate obsession with convenience, robs us of depth, effort and patience. It makes them obsolete.

What might that mean for the relationships and communication skills and work ethics of the future?

That’s the scary part.

That’s the part that says “screw you, pal!” to almost everything I have ever valued.

Click here to read the story from the New York Times.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Arleen,
    I am almost agreeing with you that most people do waste their lives posting that they are bored on facebook, but I see another way that social media can be used as a powerful tool.

    1. I use social media to keep track of the dearest people in my life who live far off like my wonderful sisters.
    2. I have a few friends who post insightful comments, quotes, and videos. These powerful ideas make my life richer and I am thankful to be able to hear from them so regularly.
    3. It allows me to communicate with a large audience of people I wouldn’t have been able to reach.

    The tools we have can be used for great good or they can be wasted just like any tool. The next questions are what is the impact of 80% of people under 20 wasting all their time, whose job is it to teach/motivate them to spend their time more wisely, how do we teach/motivate them to spend their time more wisely.

    I’ve personally decided to take action and encourage every kid I meet to work hard, but I’d love to hear other peoples comments on all these quesitons.

  • I feel you, Bett! And while I do believe that there are benefits to using social media (i.e. connecting to people with whom connection is otherwise impossible, an easy way to keep in touch with people who move away, a way to market yourself or your stuff to a great mass of people in one shot, enrichment by the insights of the quotes and videos other people post, etc.), I still don’t feel obligated to use it.

    As for reasons why, I could type for hours but I’ll sum it up quickly: In my opinion, social media is to relationships what fast food is to nutrition. It’s not necessarily bad in moderation. It makes you feel (full) like you’ve gotten what you need (nourishment). But when compared to what you really need, it’s insubstantial.

    Additionally, I’m not a fan of what Linda Stone calls “continous partial attention,” which is something that social media like Facebook and Twitter essentially cause. To quote a blog entry by Stone, “Continuous partial attention and multi-tasking are two different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses. When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. Each activity has the same priority – we eat lunch AND file papers. We stir the soup AND talk on the phone. … In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition. We’re talking on the phone and driving. We’re writing an email and participating in a conference call. We’re carrying on a conversation at dinner and texting under the table on the Blackberry or iPhone. … Continuous partial attention is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis. We are always in high alert.” (To read it in full, go here: http://lindastone.net/2009/11/30/beyond-simple-multi-tasking-continuous-partial-attention/)

    And in answer to your questions, the impact the misuse of social media will have on the people and the planet will be pretty devastating. Realistically, though, none of this will change unless everything changes. It’s fine for psychologists to say, “We need to teach kids to find balance in their use of social media!” but to tell an entire generation of kids to learn to balance and manage time and prioritize is probably not going to work when so much in their lives indirectly makes balance obsolete. (i.e. when there is fast food, Netflix instant watch, parents who always answer their phones, unlimited text messaging plans, iTunes and other things that make it so kids can get exactly what they want exactly when they want it, it erodes a person’s ability to wait. And being able to wait is absolutely necessary for somebody who wants to practice balance and set priorities.)

    But in our own little parts of the world, I do think we are all responsible for a) first being examples: using social media wisely if we use it, managing time and working hard, etc. and b) then teaching these generations to do the same. How do we do that? Good question. I don’t have the whole answer, but I think we have to make it clear in our actions and our words that another way of life is possible — one in which we don’t have to be constantly tethered to social media and can still function successfully.