OPINION – Six years ago, logging onto Facebook for the first time was like stepping into an exciting, though relatively uncharted, territory.
Before long, the novelty of sharing online links, images, and personal milestones gave way to the practicality of connecting with others. Social media provided a way to network and to create commerce as well as a way to stay in touch with family and friends.
Staying in touch with family became a simple matter regardless of the distance between us. The ability to share photos and videos made it possible to know of birthdays, graduations, marriages and everything else that was going on in the lives of loved ones.
It was also astonishing to reconnect with individuals I’d known since grade school and to discover who they’d become and to meet their families through their posts.
The honeymoon with social media lasted a long time.
Over the years, however, the recognition has slowly set in that something rather unhealthy is taking hold.
For starters, Facebook uses complex algorithms that learn to reflect a user’s preferences for the types of items that will appear in his or her news feed. While we may find comfort in Facebook catering to our ideological preferences, it has the net effect of isolating us from the real world in an echo chamber of our own making.
This leaves us isolated from differing points of view that could enrich our understanding. No one grows wiser by hearing only what they find comfortable to contemplate.
Then there is the troubling series of experiments carried out by Facebook in early 2012 on nearly 700,000 of its users to see if their emotions could be manipulated.
In these experiments, Facebook tweaked the news feeds of its users in an effort to change the users emotions. It worked. In fact, in worked so well that the change in emotion spread to the friends of those users.
That was nearly four years ago and one has to wonder what else they’ve been working on since then.
Social media discussions have always lent themselves to a certain lack of civility. We tend to communicate in much more poisonous terms online than we would use in a face-to-face discussion.
Divisive issues become even more divisive as memes, half-truths, and fearful all-out rants become a substitute for original research and rational discussion.
Social media seems to feed this trend by creating an arena in which arguments are driven primarily by emotion rather than a desire to make an actual difference.
If we crave a daily dread supplement, we will find it in abundance on our social media feeds.
Just note how quickly symbols such as a rainbow flag or the French flag begin popping up on users’ profile pictures following highly emotional events.
Empty words and images give the impression that we care without requiring us to take substantive action. This is less a judgment of social media posters than a reminder that such postings do more for our own egos than they do for actual victims or causes.
Blogger Joshua Fields Milburn writes:
We must do more than exercise our Twitter fingers: a hashtag and a photo alone will not solve the problem, and they can be dangerous because they ape the form of real action.
If we wish to make a real difference, we should be willing to pony up some cash to one of the legitimate charities or organizations that are in place. Likewise, we all have time, attention, influence and creativity that can be put into action.
The more time I spend around social media, the more I’m beginning to recognize the negative side effects that accompany long-term use.
Time spent surfing social media seems to pass differently than time spent doing productive things. What begins with the intent of taking 5 minutes to check one’s Facebook feed can quickly turn into an hour of wasted time.
I can’t be the only person who has awakened in the middle of the night with the perfect response to a comment someone else made in a Facebook discussion the day before.
As much as I love to interact with friends on social media, I find myself measurably happier when I take a break from the virtual world and experience real life.
There is a positive effect to limiting one’s time online; it drastically reduces the amount of gratuitous negativity we’re likely to encounter. The unhappy trolls who inhabit cyberspace are as ill-equipped to function in the real world as a fish is on dry land.
When we spend more of our time in real life, it’s easier to keep company with individuals who live to help build one another.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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