Social Media and Shallow Connections
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 25, 2019
Our mental health demands more than status updates from swarms of friends. We need a trusted companion to begin the healing process available from connection.
Life charges at a break-neck pace, Last night, a kind couple in the neighborhood stopped by to introduce themselves. They saw us at church the previous week when I escorted my parents to their favorite flavor of worship. It was nice to know more about the people living on the corner down the street. Along with the invitation came the string of invitations to church events. We gave a polite, “thanks for the invite, maybe we’ll go.” Most likely, we will pass on the chili cook-off and real socialization. After all, we have those 356 friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that need more attention. Keeping up with the minions of the status updates takes serious time and energy. If we commit to something more concrete and demanding, we will surely miss out on the masses of superfluous and shallow happenings around our social world.
Times have changed. My childhood belonging needs were basically formed and filled through well-time recesses—running, playing and interacting—with a small group of classmates. After school and deceptive completion of homework, I ran, played, and interacted with an even smaller group. Once I went home, that was it. Their lives and my lives were essentially disconnected until the next day at school.
As our children become more and more connected at a younger and younger age, new complications of belongingness emerge, new skills must be mastered, and new motivations applied. We are still in an infantile relationship with technology. The instantaneous gratification of connection is ever present; not real connections or deep intimate conversations but reactions and responses to the silly non-sense we post on-line for all our friends to see.
"The instantaneous gratification of connection is ever present; not real connections or deep intimate conversations but reactions and responses to the silly non-sense we post on-line for all our friends to see."
I acknowledge there is some blind and misguided bantering here from an old fogy from a past generation that doesn’t completely understand. Obviously, the childhood relationships on the playground didn’t include philosophical discussions or intense commitment. Neither does those nonsensical political conversations over a beer tend to generate deeper intimate connections.
Yet science, however, does point to some concerns regarding the instantaneous connections and responses common to social media. There is a dark side. Many studies indicate an increase in discomforting emotions—notably irritability, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy after visiting a social media site. (Abel et al., 2016).
In our quest to belong, competing for attention among our peers, we are faced with a never-ending competition. A pressure largely not present before the Smartphone. Pre-social media, we could routinely escape the pressures of social engagement, lounging in our pajamas, and drinking a cup of hot cocoa without wondering how our night of leisure competed with those 356 friends. Now, we can hardly bare to take a sip of our hot drink without first glaring into the flickering screen for the latest update from Jenny’s evolving wild trip in Vegas. While Jenny is getting strings of comments, laughs and approvals, our fragile sense of belongingness slips.
Jenna described this social dilemma in her New York Times Article: “Suddenly, my simple domestic pleasures paled in comparison with the things I could be doing.” (Wortham, 2011).
Our everyday moments can’t compete. With a large group of social media friends, inevitably at least a few of them will be doing something more exciting than us at any given moment. Add to this the natural inclination to enhance the presentation of experience to delight and gain approval from the following hordes and our reality appears boring and worthless.
Belongingness attained through the continual rush of instantaneous connections, positive reactions and doting smiling faces is delicate, easily disrupted with the next post, or indifferent response. We can enjoy the benefits of social media connections but must learn to draw upon more sustaining connections beyond our foray of social accounts. Instead of constantly worried how our experience measures up to the experience of others, we need the quietness of enjoying a moment for the moment’s sake, without seeking approval or likes to measure its worth.
A somewhat paradoxical finding is a correlation between increased use of social media and loneliness. In an age of constant connection, we are experiencing a surge in loneliness. Our psychological well-being is at risk. (Huang, 2010). Social media provides a psychological outlet. A pretend attempt of connection to secure a sense of belongingness. But our constant impulsive draw, fear we may miss out on something, pulls away from the activities we need for real connections. We need to be accepted in our mundane ordinary lives, away from the spot lights and glitter of enhanced images, and cropped highlights.
In a blunt statement, Diana Fosha writes:
The unbargained-for consequence of the safety afforded by an isolated, exaggeratedly self-reliant way of being in the world is the development of psychopathology-specifically, a loneliness and emptiness of suicidal proportions. (2000. location 1095).
She suggests the answer to this loneliness is intimate connection. “Painful feelings, borne alone, can be unendurable; together with a trusted companion, they can be borne, which is the first and crucial step in their eventual transformation” (Location 1195).
Social media isn’t the answer to our belonging needs. We can utilize these connections in a life enhancing way, but when the connections provide an escape from normal social anxieties, succoring us into a constant measuring of our worth, comparing our experience to the fake, overly enhanced experiences of others, we lose. Our constant draw, afraid to miss something in the game of connection, we sacrifice the relationships we need most—the intimate and accepting lover that is thrilled to be a part of our ordinary life.
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Abel, J. P., Buff, C. L., & Burr, S. A. (2016). Social media and the fear of missing out: Scale development and assessment. Journal of Business and Economic Research, 14(1), 33-44.
Browne, B. L., Aruguete, M. S., McCutcheon, L. E., & Medina, A. M. (2018). Social and Emotional Correlates of the Fear of Missing Out. North American Journal of Psychology, 20(2). Retrieved from Questia.
Fosha, D. (2000). The Transforming Power Of Affect: A Model For Accelerated Change. Basic Books. Retrieved from Kindle
Huang, C. (2010) Internet use and Psychological well-being: a meta Analysis. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social networking. 13, 241-249.
Perrin, A. (2015). Social Media usage: 2005-2015. Pew Research Center. October 2015.
Wortham, J. (2011, April 9). Feel like a wallflower? Maybe it's your Facebook wall. Retrieved January, 2019.