The Internet, much like any other usable apparatus, is a tool to either procure information or to communicate with others, and in and of itself, is neither good or bad, it merely is. How it is used is what affects that analysis and determines it’s ‘value’ or ‘harm’ as the case may be. The same can be said about Social Media, it depends on how it is used that determines whether it is good or bad. And in this day and age, from laptops to tablets to smart phones, there is no shortage of ways for Americans to occupy their attention online. This ‘all-access entertainment’ started with the television of course, which they didn’t call ‘the boob tube’ for nothing, but now it’s portable and available at the touch of a finger.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my own use of and relationship to Social Media via my ‘smart’ phone and wondering if it’s so smart at all and whether or not Social Media is adding to or detracting from my life and the living of it. For time, of course, is finite, and whatever one devotes their time to takes away from something else they could be doing. And full disclosure here – I love Social Media – because as I’ve written about previously, I love warring with liberals on Twitter. But sometimes I love it too much, and being as I am both ever-curious and a news & political junkie and don’t want to ‘miss anything’ happening out there, I admit, it’s difficult for me to be apart from my phone and the access it gives me.
It’s no accident, of course, that I and millions, probably billions, of people feel this way, it’s actually one of the desired outcomes, part of the business model. In fact, one of the creators of Facebook, Sean Parker, now regrets it, saying ‘We created a monster’, as he admits one of the main purpose of which is to get people ‘addicted’ to it. And though not entirely conclusive, some scientific studies seem to back him up, indicating that Social Media can in fact be an ‘addiction’, in that it creates a ‘dopamine’ effect like some drugs. So much so that several of the creators and Executives of ‘Big Tech’ machines and programs in fact, don’t even let their own kids use them. That tells you something.
Consider the fact that there is an increase in pedestrians injured or killed because they were looking down at their phones, and hundreds have died taking selfies. I remember being shocked when I read that, I mean can it really be that people are actually risking their lives to either find out what’s happening on Social Media or taking pictures to put on Social Media? The answer is yes of course, and it’s pretty disturbing. In addition to this, mothers of newborns or toddlers own use on Social Media is affecting their children’s brain activity and socialization, not to mention how the increasing use of ‘technology babysitting’ is. One poor 2nd grader said to his teacher ‘If I had to tell you what invention I don’t like I would say that I don’t like the phone. I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day. I hate my mom’s phone and I wish she never had one. That is an invention that I don’t like’. Social Media is often called a ‘time suck’ for a reason after all, and there are probably millions of children who would say the same thing – how terribly sad.
Generations and societies tend to be cyclical, such as in America, where we went from the free-for-all mentality of the 60’s and 70’s to the conservative era of the Reagan years, and now we’re back to a kind of ‘anything goes’ culture now, with issues such as sex, exhibitionism (Instagram anyone?), drugs, etc., especially in this Social Media era. But people don’t seem to be happier now with the ‘world at their fingertips’, and in fact seem less so, and are starting to question the effect of smart phones in their daily lives. From whether workers should be required to be tethered to them after work hours, to whether they’re affecting interpersonal relationships, to whether children should use any of what O’Reilly calls ‘the machines’ at all. And the answers are: no they shouldn’t, yes they are, and probably not, respectively.
This is what I’ve been thinking about in relation to all of the latest news and on culture on Social Media and how much attention I want to spend on it. How important is it? Is it worth spending my time on it? How much, if anything, can actually change as a result of my knowing about something. Naturally, as both a columnist and a Strategic Communications analyst, I need to be up to date on what’s happening in the world and the culture about me, but to what degree? I can get bogged down in the latest Twitter outrage, get lost scrolling with that Social Media smart-phone crook-neck, then come to my senses and think ‘Well I’ll never get those 2 hours back again, I should stop wasting time on stuff like that’. Can you relate?
Obviously smart phones, Social Media, and technology aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s worth considering how important the minutiae they contain is and whether there aren’t better uses of this one life, year, month, day, or hour we’re given. Not to mention what’s on the airwaves of the machines we’re so attached to. Maybe it can wait, and some sunshine and exercise would be better for my spirit. Maybe hanging out with a friend is more fulfilling than telling that celebrity just what I think of the stupid thing they just Tweeted. Of course, I’m not yet convinced about that last one, lol, they are pretty ridiculous after all.
Seriously though, what is a valuable use of time in this era of mass and instant communication, and what are we willing to trade for the moments we’ll never get back? I certainly think about it, and it’s an interesting question to ponder.