Have you ever noticed yourself trying to multitask on your phone? Sometimes it’s a horrible feeling to have, noticing you’re not giving your undivided attention to the people around you. You may be noticing how often you’ve neglected your friends, parents, spouses, siblings or even your kids to skim through Facebook or watch a list of Snapchat stories. Social media is becoming all too common in this decade, a new way of life so to say.
Does social media have its benefits? Of course! We can keep in contact with relatives and friends who live far away, plan parties and special occasions, even keep up to date on current events. According to the Pew Research Center, about 5% of adults used social media in 2005, 67% in 2012, and about 70% today. This large gap and increased percentage allows us to know that social media is more prominent, allowing us to connect to the worlds around us. However, are we really connecting?
As a therapist, I hear stories of parents’ frustrations with the amount of time their kids spend on Facebook. Often I am told by teens that their friend started ignoring them on all social platforms and now they are feeling alone and disconnected. I will hear clients say ‘she didn’t say my name, but I just know that post was about me!’. These comments and emotions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes the negative effects of social media.
Many of my clients experience anxiety and stress related to social situations, low-self esteem, and comparisons to “Instagram superstars”. What’s missing and what is the cause? According to the Global Web Index, consumers are spending an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes on social media or messaging platforms every day. This has increased by 45min over the last 5 years. Add that up and you’re looking at almost 16 hours a week. That’s huge! Two hours a day that we could spend at the park with our kids, walking the dog, having lunch with a friend,, or taking part in that long lost hobby. How many times have you said, “there’s just not enough time in the day” or “I’m too busy”? I know I’m guilty of this! It’s kind of crazy when you think about how much of our life is consumed by social media.
Now that you understand the impact social media has on time and relationships, I want to tell you more about basic social and relational needs. Making in person connections is extremely important in maintaining close relationships and fulfilling our need to be included and loved. Christopher Bergland describes the best way to maintain real and authentic relationships is not through the internet, but through face-to-face interaction. Social media is a great way to keep us in touch with long-distant friends and relatives. However, the only true way to keep relationships strong is through physical, face-to-face contact in real life. Many individuals may struggle with the thought of going to a social gathering and fear trying to make meaningful connections. Try reflecting on your feelings related to social outings. I bet at one time or another you may have been worried that you won’t have anything to talk about, that someone may be judging you, or maybe that you’ll be an outcast because you don’t know anyone there. It’s okay! It’s happened to us all.
The 7 Desires of Every Heart by Mark and Debra Laaser point out our need to be heard and understood, to be affirmed, to be blessed, to feel safe, to be touched, to be chosen, and to feel included. This list of desires sums up what we fear we will be missing during a face-to-face meeting. Social media can be easy to control and quick to predict. It allows us to seek out specific places we can get these needs met. For many individuals it’s much easier to back out, block, or ‘unfriend’ someone on social media when we experience these fears. There’s no guarantee your needs and desires will be met in any situation; however, no one will have to see the pain when we can just hide behind a phone or a computer.
We can always seek out quick fixes and groups on the internet to feel included, heard, affirmed, and chosen. The reactions of other individuals are hard to predict and hard to handle in real life. The constant worry of other’s reactions is enough to keep us away from the things we want to do. Take some time to reflect on your needs and desires. Are you feeling heard? Have you felt acknowledged, not through social media but in real life, for your accomplishments or for just being you? Have you been able to experience joy from a hug or a hand to hold? We all want to be included, and nothing can substitute the feeling we get when someone makes an effort to connect with us. So, are you getting fulfilled through social media or is fear standing in the way from making meaningful and real connections with others?