Why Social Media Today Isn’t Actually All That Social

woman slouched over computer with coffee cup in hand

the tweet got you beat?


Duh. Of course you are. How could you not be? You’re a social kind of guy or gal with an interest in the world. You have some friends, or maybe even a ton of them, who you want to stay connected with, and you also have lots of quirky little one-liner jokes, inspiring thoughts, photos or posts of your dog/children/tacos/holiday sunsets that you want to share with your social network — and the rest of the planet as well.

You’re a social media superstar, or maybe just an aspiring novice. Doesn’t matter. You’re a part of the digital revolution. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (even if it isn’t as cool as it used to be), Reddit, StumbleUpon and hundreds of other platforms and yet-to-be platforms are yours to master in an unyielding quest for a more refined, perfect, and complete social media presence.

The problem is, when you step back to take a look at all of this social media goodness, and then take the time to really think about it, social media kind of sucks. And it doesn’t make you all that social.

Full disclosure here: I do use social media on occasion, because, well, that’s just how I roll. Sometimes I’m into it, and sometimes I’m not. That being said, my own personal feeling on the subject, in conjunction with various studies I’ve read, have led me to the conclusion that the ”social” part of social media is something of a misnomer — or at the very least, a usage of the word that varies quite a bit with its meaning in the past.

Being a social person and projecting a persona or viewpoint across social media are two very different things. My guess is that some of the most successful users of social media, like Twitter (celebrity accounts excluded), are some pretty anti-social people in their real lives. Maybe that’s because they spend all of their time chained to a device, constantly updating their status, or coming up with clever things to say online. Rants (a bit like this one), trolling, and finding common ground with other like-minded denizens of the Internet can become a full-time job. Actual engagement in non-digital interaction with other living, breathing people? Not so important when you’ve only got fifteen minutes to compose the perfect 140-character tweet before the digital world moves on to the next attention-grabbing phenomenon.

Social media promised us a lot of things — like a better and more democratized world, for example. Remember how it was trumpeted as the tool that helped catalyze and then fuel the Arab Spring? No one is talking about how wonderful that movement is right now, although you hear plenty about how varying groups, from violent religious radicals to conservative (and fairly racist) anti-immigration parties, are using social media — often with a lot of success — to recruit new members and get their messages across. That’s democratization for you: Idealistic youngsters full of hope, and the jerks of the planet, all battling for the hearts and minds of as many people as they can possibly find via Twitter or Instagram. People who genuinely believe that hashtagging a certain phrase is the equivalent to participating in a social justice movement and “making a difference,” admittedly. So there’s that.

Facebook, according to some studies, causes people a heap of anxiety. Too much texting or time on Twitter can affect a student’s academic performance. “Facebook depression” and online Tumblr groups redefining what depression is and isn’t are just a couple of ways social media can mess with the heads of developing adolescents, as well as the adults responsible for their well-being.

Social media can be an important tool, or even a fun hobby to play around with, but at the end of the day, maybe it isn’t as “social” as the term would lead some of us to believe. Like a lot of forms of communication of the modern age, and even ages past, social media is simply a way for other people to influence us, tell us what we should think or believe (according to their worldview) — and in the era of rampant consumerism, a method to get us to buy a lot of crap that we don’t need.

Anyway, social media is here to stay. I use it, and so do you. That’s all right, as long as we understand that it isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be.

Hey, that last sentence might actually make a pretty good tweet…

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