The Anti-Social Reality of Social Media

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My childhood was decidedly different than my teenage and adult years, and of course all the usual suspects – puberty, academics, career, relationships, etc. – have a lot to do with that. But one of the biggest differences between the childhood me and the me of today has to do with social media and the way we digest content.


Growing up, I used to listen to the radio. One year, I listened to, watched, or attended every single Red Sox game over the course of a 162 game season. I hung on every single pitch. I could recite every single statistic about every single player, and there was a decent argument to be made that I could have done the job of the General Manager.


At night, I would listen to sports radio before going to bed in my room. I developed my own rapport with some of the hosts (who I would call from time to time to weigh in with my own thoughts – sometimes needing to brushing aside concerns about my bedtime), and others I would complain about to my parents the following morning.


Speaking of those mornings, I consumed my breakfast every day with The Boston Globe sports section in front of me. It got to a point where my parents would remove the sports section for me so I could read it. I knew which team would be playing that night, and I would watch the Celtics or Bruins in the winters in my parents’ bedroom, often alone, or other times the Red Sox or Patriots. I was enthusiastic about every single game even when some of those teams were very bad and very hard to root for.


My life was pretty simple for a kid, utterly consumed by Boston sports teams through television, print media, and radio. I collected and traded baseball cards, I wrote letters to athletes and collected their responses in a binder (including a letter from Adam Vinatieri prior to two Super Bowl winning field goals), and I hung over the dugout at Red Sox games yearning for autographs from even the third-base coach.


My fascination and appreciation for these things meant something to me then and it still means something to me now. There was a power to that obsession. I know that because I am still such a big Boston sports fan today. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been in victory, whether it was the Bruins overtime victory over Montreal in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup trophy, or the Patriots 28-3 comeback win against the Falcons in the Super Bowl a few years ago. I was fortunate to attend both games. And maybe my desire to attend those games comes from the attachment it gives me to the childhood me.


As I look back on it, I was fortunate that the dawn of social media occurred just after all of these childhood memories.


Facebook came out during my time in high school and sooner or later I had my own profile. During college, Twitter came out. I did not understand why people would want to tweet the minutiae of their banal lives for “followers” to read, but alas, that might be one reason why I was not an avid venture capitalist back then. Now, of course, we have Instagram, Snapchat, and a whole slew of other ways for people to rapidly spread the everyday moments of their lives to seemingly everyone, close friends and strangers alike.


There are a myriad of problems with social media, but top amongst them is that they have made people decidedly anti-social.


There used to be an excitement to catching up with a friend and hearing about what they have been up to. Now, you know what everyone is up to because they are constantly sharing it. And while in many ways this is of course a very good thing, it also makes us less needy for the human interaction we used to have. We feel like we are connected to others, so we feel less of a need to actually connect with them in person. And yet all it took was a worldwide pandemic for people to realize the difference.


I look at what is happening in the world of dating as another great example of this growing disconnect. Through all sorts of dating apps, the average twenty or thirty something can rack up a date or two per day in New York City. That is 7 to 14 dates per week. The abundance of stimulus is, on one hand, exciting for those who are dating. On the contrary, it is also a little depressing for those who are serious about finding someone to be with. With the surplus of options and with the technology at your fingertips, what is the threshold for finding that special someone? Two people can go on a fantastic date and never see each other again because they need to go down the never-ending rabbit hole of discovering what more there is. Thus was born the term “ghosting,” where you date someone and then suddenly ignore them without warning until they disappear from your life.


I think the statistics say that about half of married couples in the United States end up getting divorced. What will the plethora of dating apps and at-your-fingertips booty calls do to these numbers? I cannot imagine that it will be a positive development. The creators of these applications might say that they are creating better matches by gathering more information up front about the user and pairing people based upon their interests; I would take a darker position on the matter and render less confidence in my fellow man. I think the availability and ease with which casual flings have been made possible has the potential to wreak havoc on the relationships we care about the most.


Contextualization has been completely lost in the age of social media. We now live in an era where our President can yell that something is “Fake News.” And we live in an era where I thought he was an autocrat for saying something like that, but now find myself agreeing that fake news is really a thing. Look no further than Jussie Smollett, for example, or really any viral video on the internet. All we get each and every time is the juicy part – we don’t have the pretext or the post-text. We get snippets of interviews with people but not the whole thing. And now we are entering the next era with deep-fakes, where people can be made to appear to be saying or doing things they have not actually done and it can be made to look entirely believable. None of this is good.


I do not like to peddle in conspiracy theories, but my adoption of social media has forced me to question things a lot more than I would like to. Too many times I have seen a video of a certain thing happening and thought to myself, “That’s messed up,” and seen so many people around me react the same way and get up in arms, only to find out later on with some additional research and context that said thing wasn’t really messed up at all. Other times, it is the exact opposite: a seemingly nothing incident painted to be nothing that was indeed something very great. When people with their own agenda get to pick and choose what they show you, they know what sells. And more clicks mean more money.


With that we have seen a lack of responsibility by content creators. Their focus is less about being right, and more about being clicked. Us consumers are drooling to find the next new viral video to get outraged about. Lest we actually just hung out together and had a good time talking about something. Instead, we all comment on the same video and show our solidarity by agreeing about it, but not by – god forbid – getting off our asses and actually just doing something about it with our peers.


And this is another thing about social media: the lack of contextualization behind pretty much everything leads to fractured conversations when dialogue even does occur. How many times have you seen a Facebook argument end up OK? I know for myself that I have engaged in actual dialogue with people who I never thought I could see eye to eye with, and have been able to hear them out and at least come to some sort of understanding. But when you are forced to only engage in snippets with no body language – in a public setting, no less, where being “wrong” feels a little embarrassing – all manners seem to go out of the window. You are either a snowflake or a bigot, and more often than not, it feels like there is nothing else in between.


I wonder what our pets would have to say about all of this, if they had lived in the pre social media era. On one hand, we take lots of cute photos of them so we can share with our friends how awesome our lives are with our awesome pets. But seriously, how much less time does the average person spend showing affection to his or her pet because they are too busy sending a tweet, watching an Instagram story, or yelling at someone on Facebook?


I don’t mean to sound like Andy Rooney and I know I sound like the youngest curmudgeon in the world, but we have something of a problem here.


Intellectualism seems to be going out the door and in its wake is the mentality of the mob. Whatever hashtag is trending represents the interests of the people, and oftentimes that entire philosophy can be summarized in just a handful of words. Gone is the time of thinking for oneself and here is the time for being told what to think.


I tell the story of my childhood interests because undoubtedly my life would be very different with the stimuli of social media had I had them as a kid. I treasured my moments with my teams because they were not accessible. They were on TV at a certain date and time and I looked forward to that all day. The next morning there were a handful of articles in the paper that I got to read about the game the night before. And that was that. Each moment was magnified because they were few and far between. It was me driving my interest in sports – I couldn’t get enough of it because there wasn’t enough of it out there.


There are many statistics out there about how social media is causing depression in young people. I find this completely unsurprising. We all suffer insecurities as human beings, and when given a magic wand one day to create some sort of self-image that we want the world to see, few of us hesitate to wave it.  Most of us share a depiction of our lives that is more optimistic than reality. Few of us have the courage to be honest and self-deprecating in these public forums.


The result is this endless and fruitless comparison to others. The truth is, no matter how good any of our lives are, there will always be something that someone else has that we want. There is no amount of money, skill, or intelligence that will change that.


It may seem obvious that social media brings people closer together. And to be sure, it does. I have stayed closer to family members in particular because of social media. It has helped me professionally with all of the content I try to put out on LinkedIn.


But in most other ways, it actually serves to tear us apart. We spend less time seeing each other face-to-face because we kind of know what is going on with one another already. We spend less time just being present in any moment – with our pet, our significant other, our friend, our family – because we are tied to our fantasy football matchup or some Facebook comment from a long-lost high-school friend who, inevitably, loves Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. We see a thirty second clip of something and we immediately form a reaction to it and try to cancel the person involved in the clip – lest any context come to light later on that might shame us into acknowledging our own rash behavior personally (but never publicly). Or the abundance of what is out there just makes us downright less appreciative of what we have right in front of us, right now, in this very moment.


Those games I had growing up were those moments. No Stephen A. Smith hot take Twitter clips, no Max Kellerman video on Facebook, and no Instagram comment by Lebron James about something I don’t want Lebron James’s input on. It was me and something I liked, together.


When I had it, it was great, and when I didn’t have it, I looked forward to having it.


Can we really say that any more?

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