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.