As I mentioned in my blog, The Digital Age, the defining revolution of the 21st century is without a doubt our technology – specifically the devices with 4.5” touchscreens that fit in our pockets. Cell phones and social media have radically transformed how we communicate with one another, and are exceptional tools to do so.
Just over half a century ago, to communicate with someone in another country would require countless days waiting for letters to be delivered back and forth between parties. Now, it is as simple as pressing a video icon on a phone to see their face in the palm of your hand, despite being thousands of miles away. This is just one of the marvelous gifts technology has brought to our relationships, and that’s not mentioning immediate messaging between loved ones, capturing pivotal moments with DSLR-like phone cameras, and sharing them amongst friends in an eternal, everlasting newsfeed.
Unfortunately, we as human beings aren’t particularly the most… disciplined, of creatures. Without balance and oversight, social media isn’t so much social as it is selfish. It’s feeding a new “celebrated” cultural addiction, ushering everyone into a mass comparison game, and even changing our brains to our detriment.
In his book, The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani quotes another author that our interactions on social media are more with “phantoms” than they are with real individuals. While there are some who will vulnerably post about the struggles going on in their lives, that is typically an exception to the rule. Social media literally gives everyone the power to create their own customized identity, whether it is to show off the highlight reel of their lives, make up stories to come across as more “impressive” than what they perceive themselves to be, and, at its worst, create fake persons entirely.
The deeper issue, though, is Jethani finds that more and more young people are utilizing social media as the sole mediator of their social engagements with other people. He writes,
“Yet rather than encouraging healthy relationships with real people, these sites foster pseudo-pseudo-relationships through shallow identities.” – Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity
Author, businessman, and leadership guru, Simon Sinek, writes on similar findings in his book Leaders Eat Last. He adds that many use social media as their prime relationship mediator because online relationships feel real. When someone texts us through iMessage, rack up likes on a clever facebook post or major life update, accumulate more followers on Instagram, or video chat with someone across the state, our brains release the same chemicals associated with social engagements – but only in bursts. He says,
“Put simply, though the love may feel real, the relationship is still virtual. Relationships can certainly start online, but they only become real when we meet face-to-face.” – Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last
Sinek makes the point that if social media is the “end-all-be-all” for all human relationships, then why is it always better to experience a concert in person than watching it on YouTube a week after the performance? Why is it better to sit in the nose-bleed section at a live basketball game, despite having a better view on ESPN? Why go to a movie theater when you can just watch a film on your iPhone in bed? Why purchase groceries at the store when Amazon delivers it to your door?
It’s because the purest essence of the human experience happens when we’re together. It’s in embedded into our DNA. And no technological revolution can change that.