Social media is a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it. On one hand, it basically created a whole world in the palm of your hand, allowing you to communicate with whoever you want, wherever you may be. But on the other hand, it pushes you down the rabbithole of mindless scrolling, as it presents you with a highly curated version of other people’s lives as well as various clickbait content that would keep you on your phone for hours. With that, social media ends up defeating its own purpose of allowing users to stay connected because it creates an endless cycle of posting, sharing, and reacting to content, which consequently reduces the amount of time people get to spend with their friends and family. Social media might be making us feel more disconnected than we realize, and here are some of the specific reasons why.
Human interaction is reduced to numbers
When you change your Facebook profile picture or post a new photo on Instagram, you will likely get a flood of reactions and comments in your notifications. A handful of them would come from your friends in real life, who are people you actually know and talk to on a regular basis. The other half might come from your FB friends and IG followers, who are your acquaintances at best. You’ve talked to them before in surface-level conversations, but you would never message them out of the blue to confide in them or send them a funny meme you found. However, you technically interact with them regularly online because they like and comment on your photos, and you do the same for them. But at the end of the day, you still don’t know them enough to call them your friends because they’re just among the many numbers reflected on your social media profile.
Reactions, comments and follows are transactional
It might be addicting to watch those numbers increase, which is sometimes the reason why we react and comment on the posts of our acquaintances. Of course, there are exceptions because it might just be a reflex of our thumbs or we might genuinely appreciate the post enough to react to it, but when we hit “like” on the profile pictures of people we barely know, aren’t we expecting them to like our profile pictures in return? The same logic applies for Instagram. Why do we follow the accounts of people who are pretty much strangers? They might be celebrities or lifestyle bloggers who we’re interested in or they might be acquaintances who we expect will follow us back when we follow them. This turns reactions and follows into the new currency of friendship, which snowballs into a matter of being perceived as “popular.” We’re become so obsessed with increasing the numbers on our profiles, that it’s unclear whether we’re truly befriending people on social media or we just want them to contribute to our follower count.
Conversations are more difficult
This point might be ironic given that the purpose of social media is to make communication easier, and that may be true in situations such as casually messaging your friends or coordinating with your groupmates, but it’s a little more complicated if it’s a serious conversation. For example, if you choose to apologize to someone through social media, it’s easy for them to write off your apology as “scripted” or “insincere.” It also becomes difficult to get honest opinions from your friends because they might spend a long time filtering their responses before sending them to you. There’s also the matter of not responding “the right way” to a message, as there might be people who assume you don’t care about them judging by the length of your message or how long it takes for you to reply.
There are just so many unwritten rules to social media messaging, some of which include saying “oki” instead of “ok” to not give the impression that you’re mad, not using punctuation marks to avoid seeming intimidating, typing “hahaha” in all caps to make it sound sincere instead of sarcastic, and not leaving someone on “seen” for too long. There are a lot more rules than that, and they’re also different for everyone, which is why social media messaging feels less like a chance for connection and more like a landmine that you have to tiptoe over to avoid conflict.
Catching up with someone becomes synonymous with scrolling through their feed
These days, it’s hard to miss what people are doing because it’s always being shared on social media. It could be a benefit because it means you’re always updated on what your friends are up to, and you’ll have plenty of topics to bring up the next time you talk to them. However, it could also mean holding off on catching up with someone because you feel like you already know everything about them, and you’re too distracted with scrolling through their feed to send them a quick message. This could go on for months and months until you realize you’ve drifted apart from them despite being updated about their lives. There are times when you do intend to reconnect with someone, but you’ve watched them become more and more like strangers through their social media posts, that even the mere act of pressing the chat button starts to seem intimidating. There are also times when you grow envious of a person’s lifestyle or achievements, that you actively avoid getting in touch with them because you feel like you don’t have anything to show off.
Social media might have revolutionized communication for everyone, but it created a world where numbers matter more than genuine friendships. It gives people the illusion that they know someone well despite rarely talking to them, it allows reactions and follows to be traded like currency, it turns conversations into a minefield of unspoken rules, and it allows people to present a perfect picture of their lives, which becomes a source of insecurity and envy for others. For something that was designed to help people stay connected, it certainly achieved the opposite effect.