How Social Media Killed a Little Part of You

02/14/2014 03:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 16, 2014


2014 Brian Hanley

1. Social media lends us the resources necessary to manipulate our self-images. It provides us with cyber stages on which to perform new roles and shed old skin. It offers us a medium through which to transmit specific information that emphasizes our redeeming qualities, while concealing our character flaws. Empowering as it is, though, social media has become a place of perpetual and, at times, meaningless return.

2. We wander through social media for hours on end before accepting that we're lost. We compulsively refresh newsfeeds, desperate for news worth celebrating. We pathologically log in and log out of private accounts, only to log in again, and again, and again, until our bony fingers ache.

3. Like Christopher Columbus and his motley crew, we travel the socially connected Web in search of answers, but never find quite what we're looking for. Distracted by the black depth of digital content, we drift on, from site to site, neglecting to notice the ceaselessness of our odyssey.

4. As Westerners, we customarily relate to our world in linear terms. We anticipate conclusions to voyages. We expect plots to evolve and protagonists to change.

5. But social media is proving incompatible with our linear worldview. Our online experience no longer resembles the finite story with which we're familiar.

6. In a given Facebook session, too much happens for one to remember, and so, in a way, nothing happens at all. Events intersect but don't progress. People connect but don't make contact.

7. And that's okay. Our relationship with social media is complicated and ever-changing. It's balanced by contradictions pulling incessantly in opposite directions.

8. From a cultural studies perspective, social media is nothing short of a miracle. It's opening exciting new windows through which to investigate human interaction. More than that, it's informing, entertaining, and uniting individuals across geographical boundaries. It's fostering real community bonds.

9. So there's a flipside to social media. On the surface, it's artificial. That is to say, only the information that we want to share via social media becomes public knowledge. But that fact is profound in itself. It means that every TED talk we post speaks volumes about our values. Every cat meme we retweet reveals insights into our minds.

10. The problem then, is not social media. And it's not the content itself. It's our animalistic inability to control ourselves. It's the rate at which we're binge-drinking content through the beer bong that we all call social media.

The choice is now ours to make:

a) We could ignore the rapidly changing technology environment, or we could adapt to it.

b) We could deny the addictive qualities of social media, or we could acknowledge our psychological dependence on them.

c) We could lose ourselves in digital content, or we could get lost in a conversation.

d) We could Instagram the sunset, or we could disconnect and explore the natural world.

e) We could abandon social media altogether, or we could embrace, in moderation, the interactive processes that it facilitates.

f) We could cling to the impracticality of our linear worldview, or we could adopt a cyclical one.

g) For how else can we find meaning in a digital world in which there's no final destination and no objective to achieve?