Social media looms in the background of all of our lives. Those of us who are on social media face the daily onslaught of headlines, timelines, updates, and minute-by-minute dramas occurring globally. Even those of us who aren’t on social media are usually around other people telling us about social media. On social media, we have the illusion of socialising- most of the time, however, we catch up on ‘news’, we read the thoughts of countless others, we expose ourselves to criticism, we write down mundane pieces of our lives. But many of us are not actually socialising. We’re shouting into the air, around hundreds of others doing the same. Rarely are we having conversations, or asking others about their day, or interacting with people.
Parasocial relationships (a term which here applies to the illusionary relationships between screens, where one party usually feels part of a relationship, and the other perhaps does not) are pervasive. We comment on celebrity profiles, even when we know their management runs the page. We rattle out complaints in YouTube comments sections, even when we know they will be deleted or forgotten amidst the 3,000 following comments. These attempts to engage often lead nowhere. After a while, we start to feel isolated, without really understanding why. We’re so connected, how could we possibly be alone?
Yet, we’re more alone than ever before. With thousands of us continuing to work from home (in many cases, a necessity now), we exist with social media in the next tab over- all day, every day. Sure, we have iMessage, WhatsApp, Messenger- all to keep us somewhat in touch with people actually in our lives, but we are often far more present in the realms of colourful timelines, and insta explore pages. Documentary, The Social Dilemma, tackles this by considering the algorithm as a few people behind a huge screen, competing for pieces of our attention- challenging us to stay engaged with social medias through careful reminders and personalised updates.
The reality is not so simple. There are no mysterious figures behind the screen of social media. Nobody there, monitoring what we do and getting back to us with what we want. Often, only neat pieces of code and algorithms which consider the time we spend on different topics- feeding back to us the things which can ultimately gain advertisers the most revenue. We’ve become the product.
But when it comes to the question: should we delete all our social media? It seems almost laughable. The world runs on social media- so perhaps, instead, we should reconsider how we use social media. We should direct message our friends, call the person who just wrote a tweet we enjoyed, we should invest our time in relationships more than we do in likes. All of this is possible when we step back from the screen and look at how we use it.
Is it time for you to reconsider how you use social media?
Featured image: Nathan Dumalo via Unsplash.