Oh social media. You are the most loved/hated tech development on the planet. Sometimes you fill us with hope when you broadcast inspiring mantras or memes that have us nodding or giggling. Other times, you give us major FOMO and leave us feeling lonely and unloved. This cognitive dissonance was the hallmark of my life the past oh, decade. I finally took a good, hard look at my social media usage this past year and asked myself some tough questions. How is social media affecting my mood and psyche? How can you reduce social media usage while still being social? Have we as a society forgotten how to connect IRL?
The Psychology of Social Media
Years ago when I was in Middle School, I had no sweet clue what my contemporaries were doing on the daily. The only way to find out of Sara had Samantha over without me was to cruise by her house on my bike and peer into the windows (no, I never did this). Or listen to them brag about it the next day at lunch while I morosely ate my sandwich and cried in the bathroom stall (I probably did this).
Social Comparison Orientation, or SCO, is the varied way people compare themselves to others. Studies have been done to determine the correlation between SCO and self-esteem, self-perceptions and more.
A post written by the Director of Research and a Research Scientist at Facebook brought up an interesting point in why many people use social media. They stated that many use it for “social research”- you know, like when you wonder if your kid is the only one who didn’t go away for Spring Break (*raises hand*). Or if other people look like they have their sh*t together when you are falling apart (*guilty*). Or cruising all of your high school friends’ profiles to see what they are doing before your reunion (totally guilty for my 10-year, didn’t succumb for my 20-year- go me!).
Active Use vs. Passive Use
This Facebook article dives into the types of social media usage and how one type can be more positive than the other. They classify usage as passive (scrolling endlessly through your “friends” photos & posts) and active (commenting on posts and engaging with others). Participants in the study found value in scrolling through posts of previous interactions, like photos they were in or conversations of which they were a part.
Loneliness and Connection- My Story
I am taking a deep dive into what it means to have true connection in life, how to actually create lasting relationships in your 30s, and explore loneliness and the issues that come along with that emotion. We moved to our current town almost 6 years ago, and I was 2 weeks away from giving birth to our second child. Our first was two and a half years old. He went to preschool one day a week and I was too overwhelmed with kid #2 to truly connect with the other moms at the school.
Another factor is that the preschool my son went to is quite a bit different than I expected. I remember showing up to info night alone, wearing a black leather jacket and biker boots because I was in the mood that day. All of the other moms (and I mean 100%) were wearing white pants, colorful printed tops and the exact same enamel bracelet. Yikes. I have always celebrated attire as a form of self-expression, and was taken aback with this scene. I foolishly made a rash judgement and dismissed this crew as people with which I probably wouldn’t fit in.
My kids moved around to different schools almost yearly because of various circumstances, so I was never able to truly connect with other parents. I started to feel incredibly lonely and disconnected from the community around me. This is an incredibly difficult situation for a (mostly) stay at home mom since socialization in the work place wasn’t possible. One school that my kids attended was private. Once parents found that we weren’t continuing to send our children there beyond Kindergarten, there was a definite shift in socialization and attitude.
How Social Media Made Me More Lonely
I started using social media more and started to feel kind of connected by becoming “friends” with people who I vaguely knew. They might like something I posted, and I would try to craft witty things to share. I would post photos of activities with family and friends, thinking this made me look like I had the life I wanted. I thought this was helping my loneliness when in fact social media usage just left me feeling hollow and even more left out. I never shared my feelings of loneliness online because, c’mon, I thought that just screamed LOSER! Who is in their 30s and can’t make friends? I kept seeing photos of groups of women out together, hearing about book clubs, listening to conversations about plans they made.
Sure, I had friends, but most of mine lived scattered around the state or country with a few local. I was reluctant to try to connect in person to new friends for fear of rejection. I thought that everyone already had their friend groups and wouldn’t want me tagging along. I was a bit hopeless.
This past year I started using social media less and reaching out for in-person meetups more. I discovered a group of moms at my son’s elementary school who I adore. We can have honest conversations about how difficult life is, but still know how to kick back and celebrate the good things in life. I even joined the PTA (eek, a big deal for the former rebel in me) and have enjoyed watching fellow parents advocate for a better educational, social and emotional experience for our children. I also found a unique organization called Across the Table where people from all walks of life share their experiences- check it out here.
Moral of the story is- I was pretty hopeless and lonely at one point. Am I still lonely? Yep, damn straight I can be on occasion, but it is getting less and less with decreased social media usage and increased real life interaction. I still use social media, but don’t endlessly scroll and compare my life to the highlight reel of others.
Brené Brown on Technology and Connection
If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown (and are interested in vulnerability, shame, courage and empathy), please read some of her work or check out her TED talk. She is a researcher whose honesty, dedication to the truth and humor I believe can truly benefit everyone in their quest to self-discovery. Here is her take on tech from her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are*:
Technology, for instance, has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe we’re connected when we’re really not- at least not in the ways we need to be. In our technology-crazed world, we’ve confused being communicative with feeling connected. Just because we’re plugged in, doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I didn’t!
Using Social Media for Good
There are definitely some common benefits of social media usage. I get the warm fuzzies when Facebook brings up photos that I have posted in the past on that particular day.
If I need ideas or recommendation on a trip, I can crowdsource in minutes. Sometimes a friend or colleague will post a glorious tidbit of info I didn’t know about them, or a compliment about me. I love finding out about new events that would interest myself or family, and honest feedback on products or services.
Tips on Reducing Social Media Usage and Negative Effects
- Unfollow, mute or snooze people. Do whatever you have to do to not see things that annoy you, make you feel “less than,” cause you to compare yourself, or worse. There are ways to not offend or piss off people you are connected to- you can do this on the sly. At the end of this post, I created a handy guide on how to do this for most social media platforms.
- Move social media apps to a different screen on your phone. I shifted my top ones to screen #3 so they weren’t the first thing I saw when I unlocked my phone. I then added more productive and positive apps to the main screen- Kindle, Pinterest (which I use as a search engine), and my Podcast app.
- Make in-person dates. Talk to your real friends in real life. I promise this will be more fulfilling and won’t leave you hollow.
- Find different ways to connect. Here are 101 Ways to Reconnect with Your Partner that I came up with.
- Bring the positivity. Make someone feel good by posting a positive comment on a post of theirs. Love their outfit? Tell them!
- Create a group text. Do you crave conversation? A few groups of girlfriends and I have group texts, and I often hop on with random comments or questions. We all reply when we are available. This helps me with things I would have gone on social media to ask. Here’s the difference- I completely trust my group text friends’ answers. I know they carefully consider their responses AND take my feelings into account. Social media can be full of people looking to shame you or one up.
- Send a private message or text to someone. Last weekend, a friend of mine texted me that she saw my TV segment and thought it was awesome. I absolutely loved the private text and the fact that it was just between she and I, and she was thinking of me. It wasn’t broadcast on social media, she just wanted to let ME know.
- Learn to be truly happy for others and express that. Here is how I make the effort.
- Share photos/videos with those who would appreciate them. Last week, I had a video of my 5 year old daughter Charlotte dancing to Ice, Ice Baby in her underwear. IT WAS HILARIOUS. Did I post it to Facebook? Nope. I don’t think she would appreciate that…but I knew my friend who thinks Charlotte is her spirit animal would. We both had a laugh. I text photos to my mom almost daily because I know she misses being a part of my life since she doesn’t live locally. People on social media don’t need to see 10 photos of my children reading to each other, but my mom? I could send 100 and she would still want more.
- Time yourself. Don’t fall down that timesuck scroll. Literally set the timer on your phone for a reasonable amount of time and stick to it.
- Take a break. On our trip to Colorado, I didn’t open my social media apps once for a week. It was GLORIOUS and I truly didn’t miss it. Because I was busy. Actually living life instead of taking photos and posting about my life.
- Facetime a friend. This is the modern day version of phone a friend. I love Facetiming my cousin in California because I never get to see her gorgeous face in person! Seeing someone’s facial expressions and hearing their tone of voice/voice inflection completely changes the way you connect.
- Google Chat. My group of girlfriends I made during my first job out of college have done the Google Chat thing. We all live in different cities and plan a trip each year together, but we miss that face-to-face connection.
Cheers to admitting that we can all be lonely at times, but still striving for that personal connection!
*Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City: Hazelden Publishing, 2010. Print.