I love social media. Between FB, Twitter, and Instagram, I am regularly posting, reading, and sharing with friends and followers alike. As a writer, educator, and indie publisher, social media has proven to be a great way to crowd-source ideas, promote work, and build relationships and communities with readers and other writers. As a person of faith who is deeply concerned with social justice issues, social media has been an amazing avenue for the dissemination of information, the galvanizing of groups for activism, and the expansion of overall awareness. I’ve also laughed harder than I ever have thanks to social media (Black Twitter, specifically).
But here’s the thing:
Despite all of that, doesn’t it feel like social media also has the capacity to rip our souls out scroll by scroll?
I know. You’re probably saying, “Dramatic much, Tracey?”
But I’m serious.
In all the good it does, social media’s negative influence is just as great.
#1 – It perpetuates psychological and spiritual noise.
Nothing is ever quiet. One issue becomes another; one scandal bleeds into another; one beef begats another, and this never-ending rhetoric too often leads to a kind of dysfunctional discourse that, for those who immerse themselves in it on a regular basis, feels like a monumental shift in the way we see each other. As much as it can open eyes, it also feels sometimes like it veils them too. We don’t see each other, we can’t see ourselves, we lose all concept of context and nuance. I believe stories heal. When we share our stories in any form, it has power to heal. But online, stories can also be distorted—even manipulated for commerce (clicks). So then what was once designed to facilitate our personal and collective healing ends up hindering it.
#2 Social media fuels the need for external validation.
Sure, this is a natural trait of humanity. We all want to be heard, seen, and validated. But I think what social media has done is magnify and intensify that need by giving us regular access to likes and shares. The primary difference, I think, is instead of us seeking validation from people in our immediate, real-life sphere of influence…people who know us, those who maybe have walked alongside us on our life journeys…we seek it from strangers. We seek it from people who only know what we’ve told them which may or may not have been the whole truth in the first place. But if it is the truth, those people are still only basing their interpretations of us on a very limited amount of data coming in just one or two forms – words and images. And just as quickly as their validation is given is just as quickly as it’s taken away. Ask anyone who has been on the receiving end of a troll’s vitriol or relentless bullying. We’ve turned our lives into a trending topic. And we all know trends turn on a dime.
#3 SMAD (Social Media Anxiety Disorder) is real.
I’ll admit it: I wanted to bust out laughing when, a few years ago, a student of mine decided to write and present his research paper on something called SMAD, an illness born from addiction. I’m a card-carrying member of Gen-X so I suppose I am a generation away from really understanding the impact of this technology created by—guess who—Gen X’rs. But I’m also a person who lives with chronic anxiety and PTSD, both of which shows up in a variety of ways depending on the person, so I should know better. According to Sarah Fader and the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), “Social media anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that is similar to social anxiety disorder.” For those who live with this, just being away from social media accounts creates anxiety responses such as panic attacks, etc.
#4 – It’s changing our bodies.
I won’t speak for anyone else, but here’s my experience: my 43-year old attention-span has reduced significantly since using social media. The scrolling hurts my eyes sometimes. I get headaches when I’m on too long—you know how time gets away from you when reading EVERY THINKPIECE EVER WRITTEN—after a hot issue hits. If I’m on my phone before bed—try not to do that, y’all—I have a harder time getting to sleep. Multiply these issues times years of social media usage and I find it hard for anyone to say that it doesn’t have an impact. Plus there are studies (Google is your friend).
For some of us, this is enough to walk away or limit our usage of social media. Others are pushed into this never ending cycle of approval seeking by doing more and more to get attention. So what do we do? Social media isn’t going anywhere. I’m not even saying it should. And I’m almost certain that its value to our lives and businesses will only increase. So how do we protect our hearts, minds, and souls in the midst of interacting with it?
Here’s a few things I’m implementing in the new year:
Frequent unplugging. I think we all need a reboot. It sounds weird to think of detaching from social media as a form of self care but I think it can be. In the last 3 weeks of 2017, I unplugged significantly from social media. If I’m honest, it was tough at first. Almost a kind of withdraw. But after a few days—OK, maybe it was a week—I felt a tangible shift in my body and mind. I felt like a weight had been lifted. A weight that I didn’t really believe existed before. It was refreshing and even when I returned, I carried some of that perspective with me into the online communities I’m a part of. There are some things I just won’t post or respond to. Not because I don’t care but because my inclination is to respond to everything. And that is heavy. So I respond to the issues that align with my calling and the burdens of my heart. And I leave the other stuff to other folks. It has helped.
Diversify my news sources. I don’t mean diversify as in the types of sources we consume (BBC vs. MSNBC). I mean, the form. There was a time when I got all my news from FB. Seriously. I’m not a TV news watcher (that whole PTSD thing) so it was easier, I thought, to just wait for the latest, breaking whatever to hit my newsfeed. But because I am concerned about many issues (and especially in this climate when being a black woman who is vocal means being always “awake”), getting all my news and news commentary from social media meant that I needed to—yep— always be on social media. So now, I get my news from FB/Twitter but I also listen to radio (NPR). I enjoy podcasts. I peek at TV news channels with one eye open and one eye closed. And then sometimes…I sit in my hammock and just wait for the smoke signals. Lol. Not really, but kinda.
Expand my real life relationships. Online relationships and communities are real and supportive and valuable. I’ve been encouraged and motivated and inspired and loved greatly by people I’ve only known online. But that can’t happen in isolation. I’m doing better at investing in my real life relationships. No, still don’t expect an immediate return phone call from me because phones are the devil. But I would love to meet up for coffee or dinner or to chat about the foolishness that is our political system over a glass of wine on my porch or by the fire pit. I’m kind of loving hiking these days so maybe we meet at a trail and work out our thoughts there? These kinds of things feed my soul and are the perfect counter to social media’s many flaws.
So yeah…I’m fairly sure y’all ain’t going to run out and deactivate your accounts now because of this one blog. I’m not even saying you should or must. Real talk: I’m not. I guess I’m just asking for us all to pay attention to how this otherwise wonderful medium affects our bodies and souls–and govern ourselves accordingly.