Thursday, September 1, 2016

Social Media: Computers v. Conversations

I have spent the past couple days working on promoting Insight, Outside In.  I worked up a logo, and started a FaceBook page.  At one point, I was also posting to Tumblr, but that’s fallen by the wayside.  I still need to create a Twitter account for it, and have no idea if I need an Instagram account too.  I tell you all of this to introduce the topic of social media.  When I was in school, and I am dating myself here, we had two options: writing someone a note, and the telephone.  That phone was attached to the wall, and shared by everyone in the house.  Getting a phone in my bedroom was a big deal.  Getting my own phone line and phone number in high school was HUGE!  
We have an overwhelming number of options today.  Before Facebook, there was MySpace.  Before MySpace, Friendster.  Now we have social media sites for just about every facet of our lives.  It’s hard to do just about anything without it.  I believe there is a lot to be said for social media, and what these sites enable us to do.  I have family that lives far away.  We are in contact far more often because we are all on FaceBook.  We know what is going on in each others’ lives.  We share pictures, information, and ideas.  I won’t have to explain my blog next time we are all together.  They’re being inundated with emails and FaceBook requests consisting of shameless self promotion.  (Sorry, family.  Love you!)
So let’s jump into the purpose of social media.  A highly scientific and detailed long-term study, also known as a google search, results in the definition, “Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people, companies, and other organizations to create, share, or exchange information, career interests, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”  We’ll go with that for the purpose of this entry.  First off, we are creating, communicating, and sharing.  As a mental health professional, I like all of these.  I’m all for communication…to a point.
These concepts are extremely broad.  As human beings we have certain needs.  Abraham Maslow developed a theory of these needs known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of  Human Needs.  I’ll do another entry exploring these at a later date.  First, we have our physiological needs: food, water, warmth, and rest.  Next, we need safety and security.  But right above that is belongingness and love.  We are social animals.  We need to feel that we belong and are accepted.
What’s the payoff?  Social media carries with it a random reinforcement schedule.  Will someone have liked my photo while I was asleep last night?  Is anyone commenting on my latest status update?  Or did I really hit the jackpot: Did someone share my post, and now it’s going viral?  A post going viral hardly ever happens.  It is akin to winning the jackpot on the slot machine.  It’s probably not going to happen.  But the payoff is something that touches us on a much deeper level than money: the third level on the hierarchy of needs, belongingness and love.  When we put the two concepts together, we have a random reinforcement schedule with an instinctual need being met.  Random reinforcement is the most effective reward schedule, and the internet provides it in abundance.  
I don’t believe social media is inherently good or inherently bad.  It’s like most things, it’s what you do with it.  Sites like FaceBook enable people to stay in touch and share in each others’ lives like never before.  But by the nature of web surfing being a solitary activity, it also fosters secrecy and deception.  Children have access to the world at their fingertips, and are able to learn about people and places on the other side of the world with a few clicks of a mouse.  But people who would harm those same children also have access to their targets just as easily.  A 16 year old can research colleges. This same high school student can create an online profile stating they are 19 years old, and access websites they are not psychologically equipped to understand.  Like all social issues, there’s not one easy, clear-cut answer.  What will work for one person or family will not work for another.
Early in the blog, I wrote about media saturation:  This entry was in the context of exposure to news media, and its effects on mental health.  Much of the same applies to social media.  It’s important to know when enough is enough.  For me, issues of social justice are a surefire way to get my blood boiling.  There’s certainly more than enough of it being discussed on Facebook, and just about everywhere I look.  I get to a point when I start to feel frustrated and helpless.  I feel like one person, and wonder if I have any hope of making a difference?  This is when I know it’s time to get off the computer.  I need to focus on what’s around me that fulfills me and brings me joy.  I have no shortage of ways to get my need for acceptance and belonging met. 
Lastly, social media carries with it a large of ambiguity.  A FaceBook status has no tone or volume.   It's easy to misunderstand or misinterpret what someone is saying.  There is also a level of bravado that comes with the distance put between us.  When we can't see someone's reactions, we are not as likely to take them into consideration.  There's a level of distance between us and our audience.  Unfortunately, this means that we aren't with someone to explain what we mean.  Even if it had nothing to do with the offended party, the damage is there.  
I am a huge fan of healthy relationships.  My line of work is all about them!  No matter whether it’s through a keyboard or the person sitting across from you, start there.  Let social media be about enhancing the relationships that you already have.  There’s always going to be a time and a place to branch out, but remember where you’re going to return, both mentally and physically.  When social media is prioritized over in-person relationships, it stands to reason that in-person relationships will suffer.  Connections to the world at large can better equip us for day-to-day life.  I’m going to sign off now, and go engage with people for whom I want to be present.  

Be well.

No comments:

Post a Comment