There are plenty of blog posts already, discussing the toxic effects of social media and electronic communication integrating themselves in our lives.
But, meh, I’m gonna talk about it anyway. I write for myself. I hope so, at least. Otherwise, I’m disappointing someone or some group of people out there.
Blogging is shouting to the world too, I guess. But this is my corner of the world, where I can do or say what I want. I’m not spamming it anywhere, or desperately trying to get on someone’s feed. If you wanna read it, read it. Again, writing for myself. Sometimes to communicate information or life events, but I don’t feel the pressure. I don’t feel judgmental eyes: instead, I only feel eyes that cared enough to seek out my little corner of the internet.
Maybe that’s the big difference between blogging and social media. It’s not trying to be social in the same way. Sure, you’re putting your writing on display, but not in an attempt to connect with others over it. It can be therapeutic, for the sharing of knowledge, or to spark controversy, but rarely does it seem to consist of pointless mudslinging or constant life updates. No dopamine-inducing like button to be seen. Just a handful of anonymous strangers pinging the site’s RSS feed. Or not. I don’t know.
It’s a weird balance between a diary and a public forum. But it has the benefits of both, in my opinion.
I’ve had a smartphone all through college, and most recently, a smart watch that pushes messages to my wrist. While it’s great to hear from friends across the U.S., I’ve never felt more lonely than when I was looking at the lack of notifications on my phone. If it catches me during a slump, it makes me feel like something’s wrong with me.
And it really shouldn’t.
While humans are social creatures, I believe having an independent set of hobbies and interests is essential for maintaining a relative amount of self-satisfaction. For better or for worse, you’re stuck with you, so you might as well get to know them! You’re always gonna be there for you, to cheer you up, so you best get to learning how.
Phones make communicating with those we want to communicate with (and those we don’t) easier than ever. But the dominating platforms want you on the platform as much as possible of course. That’s why you get everything from push notifications for Instagram stories, to the “Say hello to your new friend” default message on Facebook. Engage, speak with your friend, check up on them! More face time means more advertisement value.
But, to many, it also means more anxiety. Less self-assurance. Why is my phone quiet sometimes? Is it because I don’t have friends, or don’t have enough?
Many of my friends have disabled a majority of non-essential push notifications on their phones. I don’t really need Instagram story updates: when I get around to seeing it, I’ll see it. If I don’t see it before then, I don’t really care.
When I’m not constantly getting (or awaiting) pings, I find more things to do with the environment around me. Since they stimulate more senses than a screen and speaker can offer, they feel more meaningful and engaging.
And the smart watch makes it worse, honestly. I got this thing to track my fitness, and skip songs while I’m in the shower.
I’ve tried to limit my phone use to a handful of things:
- Keep in touch with long distance friends
- Organize meetups with nearby friends
- One-off messages, or good discussions to log
- Meet new people
What Bridges these gaps?
Instagram is still going strong, despite Facebook losing some popularity with younger users. Privacy issues aside, I’d say there’s a couple fundamental differences with the platforms.
Yes, Instagram is about pictures. But it’s more about how you interact with them.
You can’t share things you see the same way you can on Facebook. Instead of adding something else to your feed, you add it to your story. Stories are heavy doses of what one person or account is doing at a recent time. So seeing how someone’s day went, while it’s not directly a two way street, feels more personal than seeing how 200+ of your closest friends are doing, all blended together.
Sure, you don’t have to use Facebook’s news feed, but that’s the default, and at the end of the day, the defaults are all that matter. People will be pushed to use the platform this way, and the consequences of doing so are pushed as well.
What’s the alternative to sharing something on your story? Well, you can message people directly, including a link to the cool thing you found. Opening up personal messages is a much more comforting, personal experience, when we’re stuck in a world where 7 billion voices are all trying to be heard. A personal message is a greater chance that one of those individuals cares about you enough to send a thing to you, personally.
That’s not always the case, but it’s a nice thought.
There’s another platform that further encourages this nice thought. Snapchat.
While the illusion of privacy that Snapchat brings is nice as well, the default usage of the platform is person-to-person communication. Not just that, but communication through images, where it’s much easier to convey tone, individuality, and personality. Context lost on text is at times recovered with an accompanying image.
Again, this platform is not exclusively one-to-one: it has a story platform, as well as group chats. But, the most common way to respond to a story event is with a personal message, once again opening that channel of individual communication.
Where to go from here?
I really like the idea of one-to-one communication, or at least heavily “opt-in” options for catching up on another person’s life events. Most of my social media use in personal, in groups of friends, or (micro)blogging: shouting to a smaller piece of the world.
Those more meaningful connections make digital communication a little less lonely.