Social Media Culture & Harm Reduction

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-6-2020

With great technology comes great… not responsibility unfortunately. More like a large amount of people playing around with advanced technological gadgets and learning to develop a whole new set of social skills.  The social skills of the virtual world are not be confused with the social skills we learn from our home environment and/ or our peers in school.  No, this is something entirely different. One can also argue that it is deeper than just an ‘addiction’, rather a new culture: Social Media culture. A land with less rules, access to any/ all people from different walks of life, different areas around the globe. In addition, access to an incredibly large amount of information, validity to be determined…

     To respect my goal for this blog, I will continue to dive deeper into this social media culture– The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. What are we collectively gathering and doing? Staying in touch, interacting, creating our own personal style and image through pictures and words, self-advocacy & other people advocacy, researching, judging, formulating new thoughts and opinions, creating jobs, exploiting others, preying on others, self-medicating boredom/ loneliness/grievances and/ or mental health conditions.  I can guarantee I’m missing some things from my list, because there appears to be no limits to how far humanity can go with this highly innovated social culture.  

As a social worker, I am realistic when it comes to people. People will absolutely continue to do things that are fun, helpful and entertaining to them. Social media is not going away. Neither the incredible things we get from it nor the horrendous things that stem from it. It stays, because humanity is no longer interested in a life without it, it’s cemented in. So instead of hyper focusing on abstinence, a method proven to have failed in both the efforts to reduce teen pregnancies and illicit drug use, let’s educate ourselves. Let’s talk about this new social media culture: the good, the bad and the ugly. My focus for the sake of our mental health, is to discuss where social media hurts us the most, and what we can do about it.

Expectation/ Reality Mismatch – Yes, most people have cell phones and social media. No this does not give us the right to expect that our peers, friends, coworkers answer our phone calls, texts, instant messenger’s, snap chats and or DM’s etc. All individuals still have a right to privacy and solitude if they so choose. On the other end, if someone find’s themselves highly anxious/ stressed due to constant demands from their family/ peers via the virtual world, they must take accountability for the sake of their mental health and implement some boundaries. Fortunately, boundaries are easy to make via the social media world vs a job or household setting. The phone device literally allows us to alter it accordingly! We have the power to shut off our phones in most cases. It isn’t “the chance of an emergency” that keeps us tied to our phones 24/7. Rather, it’s a heightened sense of obligation, responsibility and guilt. Unless someone is in the military, a doctor on call, or an emergency responder they are not the ones to be called in an emergency anyways. Many people may choose to obligate us or expect that we “are on call 24/7 since we have a phone”, but that does not change the simple fact that we have our freedom of will and can choose to not be on call 24/7 for friends, family and coworkers. The world can bleed us dry if we let it.

False sense of Reality – Unfortunately, we have a lot more to compare ourselves to in this virtual culture. There’s the woman with the hourglass figure and perfectly shaped large ass, and not a blemish in sight. There’s the guy with the incredible abs with all the time in the world to work out. There’s the mom who got abs just five days after she popped out her tenth baby. There’s the person who reported to have worked 80 hours a week but never looks tired and his apartment is always clean. There’s that incredibly perfect family with the perfect home and they are always smiling… wow, how are they always so happy? These “perfectionistic” social media posters can often jab at the insecurities of others. This is to be expected, we cannot change how “perfect” other’s want to appear online. We can’t even blame them! In most cases people in the above category may want to project positivity into the world. Or maybe, some of them do not want to show their vulnerabilities. Some may also feel insecure and in it for the likes/ comments and validation. Whatever the case, no one is perfect, no matter how perfect they appear online. Also remember that we do not post/ record ourselves all day everyday… the average person is not a Kardashian. Sometimes people project a false sense of reality, remembering this fact can help us alleviate some shame. If we are doing our best and trying to be good people, in most cases, that is enough.

Mind manipulation – We all get mind manipulated at some point. It happens to the best of us and sometimes it comes from a source we could have never imagined. I am not here to discuss any views or beliefs I have. I’m here to remind us all, how vulnerable we truly are when we are online absorbing information. Whether we are five years old or 100 years old, we can be manipulated, easily. Filtering is necessary, and so is knowing that no matter how hard we try; we cannot filter everything out. Be on alert and cleanse when possible. Know that some people simply use social media to exploit or alter the views and/ or actions of others for a gain. Think about how often we may simply read a headline and upon reading it already have an emotional reaction even before we read the article? Think about how easily one can “push another’s buttons” in a virtual argument. Think about the key board warriors and the trolls who’s sense of purpose involves being a ‘cyberbully’ and crushing another person’s self-esteem/ confidence. Filtering and critical thinking skills is a must.

Miscommunication – “What did this person mean by this text?  Why did they send it with an explanation point and in all caps? Are they mad? Are they yelling at me? I hate texting, call me instead. That person hates phone calls, so I guess we will never talk. Why did this person like 20 of my pictures at 3 am in the morning? She didn’t DM me back but then I see her on Facebook posting!  Wow she must be ignoring me on purpose. I’m friends with them, but I saw a picture that they were hanging out without me! Why wasn’t I invited?” It’s silly, it’s juvenile, yet we are all guilty of it.  The virtual social culture enhances miscommunication. Many report frustration and anxiety over the abundance of communication outlets. Many more are confused as they try to decipher a person’s social media behaviors in their own mind with their own perceptions. We must find our way through this miscommunication, learn to clear up our confusion. In some cases, we may find that our virtual world does not fit in with another person’s virtual world. Maybe when the organic connection is severed, there is no connection left. Sometimes we grieve a loss of friendship when we switch to a strictly social media culture.

Flakiness/ Letdowns- It has been researched and proven that people have become more flaky and fearful of commitment due to social media. We would assume that since we have all the connections possible to reach out to each other, that it would be opposite. We texted each other five days in a row with the same plans of meeting up on Friday, then Friday comes, and now my friend won’t answer and does not seem interested in hanging out. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the popularity contests still exist in the social media culture. Maybe my home gathering/ party sounds fun to my friend… 2 weeks ago. However, in that two-week timeframe they learn about 10 other parties that sound a lot more appealing/ fun. Maybe that day comes and said friend would prefer to rest and is more exhausted than they could have predicted. Then, because of the convenience of clicking buttons, it is that much easier to cancel via instant messenger. It’s okay because “we aren’t standing up our friends”, we are simply cancelling or changing plans with a few clicks. There is absolutely such a thing as being a poor friend in social media culture. If we are repetitive in our flakiness and letdowns, we will slowly but surely grow more isolated and agoraphobic, as a nation.

Distraction/ Procrastination- Why in the world… with all the advanced communication networks, online shopping, Grubhubs and Seamless and Uber eats and more… we seem to be losing out on time? Rushing like we never had before. It feels as if there is never enough time in the day. The social media culture is highly addicting, and if we are not careful it can waste A LOT of our time. I’m talking waking up and Facebooking and IGing until 12 pm. I’m talking clicking our ways into destroying our time that was originally allotted for chores. When humans get sucked into something fun, addicting and better than what they have around them in the flesh, this is what tends to happen. Sometimes priorities change because of it. Unfortunately, there are some people that have gone as far as prioritizing their online game above their infant’s life which led to nutritional neglect/ death. This can sometimes become, a very serious issue. Again, social media isn’t going away and again, we cannot expect abstinence from it anymore than we can expect abstinence from fast food, coffee, alcohol, shopping, TV, gambling, crack and so on. Harm reduction is going to be the key here, balance is also going to be the key. Not everyone will become an addict and primarily, what most of us need in our lives is balance. Balance our social media culture with our organic life culture. Find whatever dosage we may be allotted to use so that we may thrive in our new lifestyles; virtual socializing as a PART of it. Key word, part. Not all.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

3 thoughts on “Social Media Culture & Harm Reduction

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