This Isn’t How Social Media Was Supposed to Be

According to Bloomberg, Social Media Are Driving Americans Insane

Before we dig into this, the headline deserves an aside. Because does author Deena Shanker mean that Americans are in the process of going insane, thereby implying that they weren’t already? Or — keeping in mind who millions of Americans recently voted for — does she take it as given that Americans were already very much insane, in which case they’re now going more insane?

Anyway, to the heart of the story. It turns out that folks who obsess over checking their social media accounts are experiencing greater stress. The lede might be a bit,um, misleading, for the people suffering the worst are ‘those who check their work email all the time, including on weekends, making this just another story of your permanent tether to your job.

But there’s something more interesting here. With overall social media use up, stress levels have risen. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Social media is about connecting and it was supposed to be about understanding. That’s the not happening. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In spite of Facebook’s efforts, social media is not connecting us, it’s fragmenting us. Of course, Brexit and the U.S. presidential election have contributed both to the spike in stress and to the divisiveness we’re seeing online in the West, but those exacerbated the problem; they did not create it.

What if we take that increased fragmentation as part of the cause of Americans’ heightened stress? Here’s where things get nifty. We know people crave connections and yearn to be heard and understood. Social media provides a unique and unmatched platform for that. But in using that platform, seeking ways to fulfill these very human needs, we drive ourselves mad, constantly checking and posting updates.

OK, so maybe this is a UI/UX issues.

But here’s another possibility. Media has a way of objectifying. The people we see on Facebook, Twitter, TV, and in print all too often and too easily become things. Perhaps in our cracked yet natural efforts to remain up to date, connected, adored, followed, liked, heard, and understood we do more than objectify others. Maybe we objectify ourselves.

Social media had so much potential. It still does. But this whole insanity thing at least raises the possibility that in pursuit of connections we’ve taken a wrong turn.