Social Media & Self-Awareness

Guest post by Christian Robert Shockley:



With a few taps, I can see what some guy in Finland ate for breakfast. His shot will be composed beautifully—an aerial view of the heart shaped foam in his cappuccino, nestled up to a crisp, white plate bearing a mouth-wateringly perfect, buttered croissant.

Coincidentally, he can see my breakfast as well. It’s almost the same meal (substitute cappuccino for tea and add a clementine)—same aerial shot, artfully askew.

The above is a reduced, slightly sarcastic, and hopefully-not-too-pessimistic version of what we experience daily.

In less than a decade, we’ve created an astoundingly elaborate social structure in which individuals invest intimate details of their lives in hopes that total strangers (potential new friends, sure) will think their lives are interesting.

Yes: social media provide unheard of networking power. I have multiple friends who share their work through sites like Instagram. They’ve gained business and received helpful critique from their peers. That ability is amazing.

But how many of us really need this kind of continually expanding social network, and (in some cases) minor fame? Does that much attention harm our ability to see ourselves rightly? Does it break down our social networks made up of people with whom we interact in the flesh?

We’ve each kind of become our own paparazzi, capturing ourselves with our own cameras to document the most interesting bits of our lives for the interest of strangers. Maybe the culture of celebrity looms so large that we’ve got to create it for ourselves now. We’ve redrawn the boundaries of what ‘private life’ means. We’re our own privacy-invaders, sacrificing intimacy for attention.

I’ll be interested to see what social psychologists in forty years say about social media’s impact on our social structures. I imagine that they’ll see devastating repercussions, if not in my generation then in the next. But I don’t want to be a doomsday prophet. I don’t believe social media are the real problem. I think they are only a vast, colorful, virtual embodiment of what the real problem might be.

It’s not bad to be captivated by beautiful, witty, or interesting things. The impulse to share these things is natural—compulsory almost. We want to share with others what makes us laugh or what devastates us or what stirs that intangible feeling of wonder that makes being human really, really great. But as with anything good, too much of it will hurt you. And too much of social media may just be psychological and social arsenic: difficult to detect, lethal.

To be clear, I’m not telling anyone to remove themselves from social media. I’m inviting us each, including me, to be a little more aware of what we’re doing and where it will lead us.

The impulse of our generation is to fill empty spaces with a feeling of social connectedness. When there’s a lull in conversation, we reach for the phone. To fight this impulse is to admit that there is greater in value in investing in those around us than there is in knowing what others are doing.

Let’s examine our investments of time and emotion in social media and weigh the returns. Let’s notice that investments with the people around us in time and space will yield more value for them and us, and that these personal, real investments often (maybe always) require us to step away from our connectedness (which might mean turning off our phones when having dinner with friends and family).

Let’s keep capturing beautiful things in pictures and words. But, maybe a little more often, let’s keep these moments for our own enjoyment, or share them with those with whom we live and see and care for in real life.

We each decide how we use social media and how we care for those around us. No one can make those decisions for us. So pause for just a moment. Take time to know yourself before you share yourself. Decide whom it is you want to love. Share your time and space with those people.

Header image from Piñatas of Joy

Christian Shockley