By Garrett Miller
“On the surface,” writes University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross, “Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection.”
Kross’ study, in fact, found and inverse relationship between Facebook usage and happiness. The more his respondents used Facebook, the less happy they felt, and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. When you think about how many of us use social media, though, this comes as little to no surprise.
Nowadays, it seems like the entirety of life is filtered through the lens of social media. Rather than eating dinner with a friend, we share the pictures of our respective meals on Instagram. Rather than holding a face-to-face conversation, we use Snapchat or text messaging. Rather than confiding in others about our fears, our concerns, our vulnerabilities and shortcomings, we hide behind the mask of social media avatars, presenting an airbrushed version of reality to the outside world.
This reliance on the comfort and security of an idealized online self makes us less willing to engage with others in real life in meaningful ways. It discourages us from being engaged, from being present and “in the moment” when we interact with others. It makes us afraid of real life, of awkward social situations, of other people finding out our flaws, the very things that make us human.
It is these moments of authenticity, though—when we share our vulnerabilities with others and are accepted by them anyway—that allow us to truly connect with people. This is the kind of social interaction we crave as human beings. It’s about the quality, not quantity, of interaction. It’s about sharing our imperfect selves with others, not racking up Likes and Followers.
Besides that, this increasing tendency toward reclusivity may be costing us our social and emotional support systems. A recent study by the American Sociological Association found that fewer people report being able to discuss difficult matters with others, compared to 20 years ago. About 48% of respondents only had one confidant compared to a similar study 25 years ago, when people said they had about three people they could confide in.
Finally, social media sites may make us feel worse about ourselves because of our tendency to compare ourselves against others. Ironically, we are likely comparing our own real, imperfect lives against others’ idealized lives, where only successes are shared and failures are glossed over or omitted entirely. In doing this, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and depression.
I want to conclude by saying that it is not the tools of social media that are making us unhappy, but how we use them. I think our use of social media would be much healthier if we uploaded unflattering pictures of ourselves once in a while, if we got rid of “likes” and stopped quantifying our social worth by clicks of a button, and if we logged off our favorite sites once in a while.
And don’t be afraid to sit down and have a conversation with someone, even if that someone is yourself. You just might learn something.