How many times in the last hour have you checked in with any Social Media platform on which you have a profile? Once? Twice? More than 10?? Studies show that people between the ages of 18 and 64 currently spend an average of about 3 hours per day on Social Media sites. That’s a little over 11 minutes each hour, figuring a 16-hour day. That works out to an average of about a minute for every 5 minutes. And that equals almost 20% of our waking lives! If we are going to dedicate that much of our precious time to something, it would be wise to understand and evaluate the quality of our experience.
There are many benefits to using Social Media. It allows us to connect with friends and family who live far away with whom we might otherwise not be able to connect quite so regularly. We can easily share photos and milestones in our lives, keep a nearly instantaneous up-to-dated-ness on current and newsworthy events, and engage in dialogue with people of differing cultures and ways of thinking. However there are some significant downsides to Social Media, most notably its impact to relationships. Generally speaking, it seems that Social Media is negatively correlated with the quality of relationships. Thus the higher the usage, the lower the quality of the relationship. And vice versa. So what are the reasons for this? I believe they can best be summed up as follows:
1. Validating Relationships on Social Media. Sadly, there is a whole cohort of Social Media users who don’t believe a relationship ‘exists’ until it is publicly identified and denoted as such on a social media website. Public validation has long been a part of marking the extent of commitment between 2 people (think weddings!) but this is taking things too far. Even a wedding isn’t a true necessity to confirm the existence or depth of a relationship; the only thing you need for that is the mutual private agreement of the only two people who are actually in the relationship.
2. Over-Sharing. Some people share everything – and I do mean everything – on Social Media. Sharing too much of oneself with too many people in any context has been linked to low self-esteem and a need for validation from others. Part of what makes a relationship special is knowing certain things about one another that nobody else in the world knows. It’s called emotional intimacy. Sharing too much online can take away from that, and in the worst case can even alienate your partner if he/she is naturally a more private person than you are.
3. Comparing and Competing. Think of Social Media profiles as mini-movies. When we browse feeds on sites like Facebook and Instagram we are seeing the user’s ‘final cut’, which represents the best (and sometimes highly finished) snapshots from hours on end of the footage we call ‘life.’ Think about it: People are only posting the good stuff online. The most flattering photos, the most joyous of moments, the milestone accomplishments. But we tend to generalize in the moment, and assume their lives and relationships must be ‘perfect’ (and, by virtue of comparison, that ours is lacking). This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and life dissatisfaction, causing us to perceive problems in ourselves, or our relationships, where there may actually not be any.
4. Unhealthy Boundaries. Since the rise of Social Media, there is an increasing tendency for people to retain a ‘connection’ to past loves where they may not have in the past. This has led to all matter of negative issues, from flipping through photos of your sweetie looking tanned and happy on vacation with his/her ex, to Social Media ‘stalking’ (i.e. never really letting go), to public commentary meant to shame/humiliate/show that you have ‘moved on’ (except that when we’ve truly moved on, we no longer have the urge to prove it). In fact, recent research has indicated that heavy users of Social Media are more at risk for feelings of mistrust and jealousy in their relationships, and in the worst cases, infidelity.
So what to do about all this? Do we have to put the axe down on Social Media? Not necessarily. Just be honest with yourself. Do you need to define your ‘status’ on Facebook? When you post something specific to a Social Media site, ask yourself what your reasons are. Are you posting and then refreshing the screen every few seconds to see how many “likes” you get? If so, you likely have a need for social proof and validation that should be a warning signal to you to cut back. Discuss with your partner what each of you is and isn’t comfortable with having posted online. Also, take note of how you feel immediately following the time periods when you have been browsing Social Media sites. Do you feel normal/the same? Or do you feel less adequate, like you don’t measure up, or that your relationship or life is boring? If it’s the latter, it’s time to cut back or stop using altogether.
At the end of the day, it is the relationship that we have with ourselves that is most precious, and which stands to be tested by Social Media. And anything that adversely affects that relationship will invariably trickle down into all other relationships we maintain in life. It stands to reason then that we nurture and protect it to the fullest of our ability.
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