We’ve heard so many times that social media, the Internet, technology, all together have more disadvantages than advantages. I can barely count on my fingers all the arguments I’ve heard. Things like “put that phone down!” or „Are you posting on Instagram again?” … Basically, these remarks have become a part of my everyday life – it’s like someone would say to me “hi, how are you?”. Admit that this happens to you too. More often to me, because I happen to work in this field, but I am sure that you also hear the above phrases countless times, especially from your parents. And, of course, the reaction is always the same: you leave the phone for 2 minutes, you pretend to pay attention to what is being said, but then you pick it up again to see how many likes you have gathered for the new photo posted or to check your WhatsApp.
I came to realize that social media, besides being attractive and all-consuming, can also have an enormous impact on your everyday life. I will not say it is negative or positive, but it definitely changes you. All people around us speak about this, so much so that it has become a common or ignored subject. Well, I’ll admit that I also quickly skim-read articles about social media, because I usually like to read about positive things. Today, I will show you a couple of aspects that you’ve probably heard about, but which I don’t think you’ve acknowledged yet. Maybe, we’ll succeed together (clearly I also need this) to make an objective analysis on the influence that social networks have on our lives.
The need to belong somewhere and self-promotion
Social scientists have studied users on Facebook trying to figure out why they use this network. What have they discovered? According to Nadkarni and Hofmann (2012), the use of Facebook is justified by two main needs: the need to belong somewhere and the presentation of self.
I assume that all your friends have Facebook, right? Perhaps not all, as many have closed their Facebook accounts because Instagram is more popular nowadays. The idea is that we all have at least one social network account. We do not notice the need to belong only in physical society, where we are all part of groups helping us to develop ourselves and to consolidate our identity, but also in the virtual world, where social networks have the purpose to build relationships. So far, so good, right? But what to do when we forget that we can also make new friends in the park, on the street or at the subway? There are still people who have the courage to offer you a sincere compliment in the park, sit on the same bench and start a conversation, trying to get to know you. It is very awkward, right? But what is normal today?
On the other hand, social media networks have the power to guide the way in which we want to look in front of others. Each photo shared, each posted word, indicate certain personality features, but also an image that we build depending on the expectations we think others might have from us. The presentation of self is many times unrealistic or utopian, creating an illusion which can disappoint others, as well as yourself, bringing interior controversy and frustration.
Face to face interaction vs. social media interaction
In a specialized study, McKenna et al. (2002) propose 4 major factors to differentiate Internet interaction from face-to-face one.
Less emphasis on the physical aspect
Better control over time and the rhythm of interactions
Ease of finding similar-minded people
If we take a closer look at these 4 factors, we will notice at first the positive aspects, which might improve a lot our everyday life. Less emphasis on the physical aspect? But this is a good thing, we would say. Everyone speaks about how important it is to emphasize the inner beauty, not the outer one. Indeed, here we do not refer to the first impression we have when we meet someone, because we cannot ignore the physical aspect – but we speak about photos that we over-analyse to see if we like them, if they deserve our appreciation, if we reply to the private message. We must admit that most of the times, we judge a person based on their Facebook photos: „have you seen how her hair looked in that photo?”, „But did you see her nose?” If one does not comply with the preferences, the verdict is: next.
With regards to the ease of finding similar-minded people, yes, I agree – Facebook helps us find out a user’s hobbies, his interests, favourite movies or music, all through a single click. There’s no need to know that person for years to know everything about him/her, what they like and what they dislike. Practically, it is enough to spend one hour on someone’s profile and you know everything about them. But what about the satisfaction of knowing a person step by step, that thirst to see if you guessed their favourite movie without checking their online profile? Where is that get-to-know-someone game that awakens the thirst to establish new friendships? Sometimes I feel that, instead of helping us make new friends, social networks lock us in a box with the key inside.
However, one of the main needs of us, humans, is the constant relation with one another. This is a principle that God stated since the very beginning, when He saw that Adam needed a companion - in Genesis chapter 2, verse 18 is written: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him”.
It is clear that we cannot oppose the changes that social media are triggering in our lives, but we can develop a conscious approach to how we use them. The moment we are able to control the instincts that makes us compare ourselves with other users or radically influence us, we will manage to win the fight between virtual and reality.
Ellen White talks about the influence that people around us (especially friends) have upon our lives and upon the development of the character: “The link is a mysterious one which binds human hearts together, so that the feelings, tastes, and principles of two individuals are closely blended. One catches the spirit and copies the ways and acts of the other. As wax retains the figure of the seal, so the mind retains the impression produced by intercourse and association. The influence may be unconscious, yet it is no less powerful”.