The Facebook Dichotomy

| November 23, 2015 | 5 Comments

The next time you’re on the T, or in a waiting room, or on the street, do me a favor. Glance up from your phone for a second and look around. Notice that nearly everyone around you looks identical: head bent down towards a glowing screen, thumbs swiftly tapping and scrolling, headphones plugged into ears, blocking out reality. Technology is pervasive, and social media has become inextricably intertwined with the way we communicate. Statuses, likes, and retweets are now an instantly gratifying mechanism for expressing opinions, connecting with friends, and showing approval. And with the influx of new technology seemingly every day, our dependence on social media is only growing. This is not inherently good or bad for society, but it is important to be careful and aware of how we let social media influence our lives.

Social media definitely has its benefits. In 2010, I competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee (Yes, I am a nerd), and I met some incredible people there who live all over the world (notably Chicago and Puerto Rico). The magic of Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch with these people who I met in this bizarre vacuum during a week in Washington, D.C. We communicate in other ways: exchanging long, handwritten letters, talking on the phone, and occasionally even reuniting in person, but Facebook is a way for me to stay up-to-date with their lives even though I don’t get to see or talk to them on a daily basis. It’s a convenient way to be connected with people who I care deeply about but live (tragically) far away from me. I smile when I see their picture on my newsfeed, or when they share a link on my timeline, or like an embarrassing picture of me from five years ago.

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photo credit: Facebook via photopin (license)

However, there is no doubt that our societal obsession with social media is contributing to the vapidity of the masses. When I scroll through my Instagram feed, absent-mindedly double-tapping, it’s typically full of selfies posted by people who I hardly talk to but am “friends” with. I don’t care about their #outfitoftheday or their artsy pic captioned with a T. Swift lyric, but it’s clear that they are seeking validation for their physical appearance, quantified by the number of likes bestowed upon their selfie by the faceless judges known as “followers”. Again, I don’t think this is inherently bad. I don’t usually post selfies, but sometimes I just look really damn good and I want to share it with the world (and I have been known to caption a photo with an obscure lyric or two). This doesn’t mean I base my self-worth on what people online think of my face. The problem arises when this does become the case, and when our self-obsession reaches the point of a highly edited, filtered selfie every day. Social media provides a forum for people to judge the appearance of often self-conscious and vulnerable girls from a safe distance–behind the screen of their phone.

Another benefit of the prevalence of social media is the propagation of stories, news, and movements. Hashtags are now a driving force in many social activist movements. It provides a rallying point for people across the globe to unite in solidarity in the face of a tragedy, as we have seen recently with the events at Mizzou and in Paris. We can share everything from issues of injustice (be it toward races, sexes, genders, or abilities), searches for missing children or lost pets, and news stories from around the world, further showcasing the globalization of our society.

This ease of access to and sharing information has its own dark side as well. Social media allows uninformed people to share opinions in the form of memes, reducing complex issues into condensed, inflammatory statements with often no context, background information, or fact-checking whatsoever. I frequently see political opinions shared on Facebook that are offensive, uneducated, and blatantly inaccurate. It also allows well-meaning people to become “inactivists”: to use a hashtag pertinent to a social movement and then feel like they’ve done their part for the cause, even though it has accomplished nothing. Rather than just hashtagging and then scrolling on, feeling like a revolutionary, we can use social media as a platform for informed, constructive discourse intended to actively educate people or accomplish change.

The onslaught of technological innovation is never-ceasing. Embrace technology for all the advantages it brings, but embrace cautiously. Be conscious of your use of social media, don’t value yourself based on the likes on a selfie, research an issue before you share, and don’t let a hashtag be the end of your involvement in an issue you care about. Don’t let social media usage consume your life.  Appreciate social media, don’t abuse it.

photo credit: Facebook via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Science and Technology

Ellen Asermely

About the Author ()

Ellen Asermely is a senior (!) in the Pardee School studying International Relations. Born and raised in Rhode Island, the smallest but weirdest state, she enjoys coffee milk, the Big Blue Bug, and Awful Awfuls. In her free time, Ellen can be found by the ocean, eating anything with cheese on it, reading Harry Potter, or hugging strangers' dogs.

Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree with ” embrace cautiously ” when referring to technology. We all need to keep our heads up more often and enjoy what surrounds us!

  2. Victoria C says:

    Love this insightful piece! It was grounding and well written :)

  3. Kobe Yank-Jacobs Kobe Yank-Jacobs says:

    I appreciate the balanced view you bring to the topic.

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