Wiki­media Commons

I remember con­versing with a friend about bananas several weeks ago, munching and spec­u­lating about where our bananas come from. Com­pletely mundane, yet appar­ently mem­o­rable.

But I can’t remember any­thing that I saw on social media yes­terday. In my 36 minutes on Twitter, six on Facebook, and five on Snapchat (Thanks, iPhone Screen Time), I cer­tainly enjoyed, appre­ciated, and chuckled at some content. I don’t remember a darn thing. The ben­efits of social media are exag­gerated, and we should reduce our usage to seek out more genuine engagement, however mundane.

Social media promises to bring people together by sharing infor­mation and ideas, granting them heretofore impos­sible glimpses into the lives of family and friends. But it risks pulling people apart more than it brings them together.

Our capacity for genuine friendship did not explode as expo­nen­tially as our online engagement. In ye olden days, we remained friends with people only if we main­tained a sig­nif­icant con­nection. Social media gives us the illusion of having more friends and engaging more broadly than ever before, but these super­ficial engage­ments give infor­mation, not con­nection, and they come at the high cost of foregone engagement with real people.

Knowing that a friend remodeled his kitchen, without showing any of the hall­marks of abiding, rec­i­p­rocal, or self-sac­ri­ficial friendship, pla­cates us into fake friendship. But a real con­ver­sation — a quality round of ques­tioning and sharing — seals a con­nection and a worth­while engagement. If a real con­nection isn’t pos­sible, then the infor­mation might not have been worth knowing in the first place.

Using social media in the presence of others is a strange sin of which I am fre­quently guilty but only occa­sionally ashamed. The oppor­tunity cost is high: Every minute of unnec­essary detachment from my sur­roundings is a lost minute of human inter­action – an activity as healthy, natural, and nec­essary as eating and sleeping. So while social media created new ways to interact, it simul­ta­ne­ously erected imped­i­ments to engagement with those around us. We should spend the short time we have at Hillsdale doing worth­while — and mem­o­rable — things

Social media also pro­vides infor­mation and news: A well-curated newsfeed can direct a user to a plethora of quality content. But if inter­esting articles and eye-opening per­spec­tives are what users seek, they should take advantage of other mediums — news­papers, blogs, and other sources that survive on the strength of their content, not on the addic­tiveness of their platform. The internet is full of things worth knowing, the best way to find these things isn’t by scrolling through Twitter.

The best antidote to the ruinous presence of social media in our lives is mod­er­ation, not faith in its virtues or total deletion. Facebook is a modern-day address book and an invaluable event orga­ni­zation tool; having it keeps one from feeling like a pariah. It enables us to know and see things we oth­erwise never would have — somewhat like printing presses spreading books across medieval Europe. We should remember, though, that content on social media is often note­worthy for its value or bril­liance in real life. “The Mona Lisa,” author Seth Godin points out, “has a huge social media presence. Her picture is every­where. But she doesn’t tweet. She’s big on social media because she’s an icon, but she’s not an icon because she’s big on social media.”

We should enjoy social media so long as it enriches, rather than dilutes, our real lives. Remind me I said that if you see me scrolling through my phone in Saga, munching on a banana that probably came from Guatemala.

Joshua Pradko is a senior studying American Studies.