If you had a MySpace account (or—and this is throwing it WAY back—a Friendster account), you’ll remember the simpler days of social media, when we all had Nokia cell phones and Kim Kardashian’s internet presence looked like this. In the MySpace era, you’d log in from your computer once or twice a day, see if anyone posted on your wall, and decide if you wanted to upload a new profile picture from your digital camera or do a Top 8 reorg.
Now we have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, and YouTube, and they’re all literally at our fingertips. We scroll through content on our phones at a pace that would have made our old dial-up connections unplug themselves from the phone jack and take cover. We crop, frame, and filter ourselves and our selfies until we forget what we actually look like, sound like, and feel like, and we wonder sometimes if the algorithms are reading our minds or if Alexa is just telling all our secrets again.
Technology has moved so fast in the last 5-20 years that when we look back over our shoulders, all we see is a blur. Even if you’re old enough to remember life before the Internet took over, it’s hard to imagine it now…and our children have never known anything else.
Progress is almost always a game of pros and cons, and the social media landscape today is no exception.
Positive effects of social media on society certainly exist. It reconnects us with old friends and sometimes even introduces us to new ones. It’s an annotated photo album, no scrapbooking skills required (don’t worry, Pinterest mamas…you can still scrapbook if you want to). And, it’s an amazing tool for businesses, big and small, to market their goods and services.
It gives us memes and makeup tutorials, cat videos and coupon codes, recipes and real time updates. It connects us to likeminded people and exposes us to diverse opinions. It informs us about everything from local events to worldwide movements. It keeps us in the loop.
It’s easy for social media use to get out of control…for that loop that we’ve been in to collapse into a downward spiral. Maybe you use Facebook “just for fun,” but no matter how fast you scroll, there’s always something wedged in between the jokes and the cute kid pics that sucks you in. With so much information from so many different sources in front of us, our brains don’t get much downtime.
There’s a lot of quality content out there, but there’s also a wide spectrum of absolute garbage ranging from the obviously useless (like this “What Kind of Potato Are You” quiz) to the potentially dangerous (like the completely false story about the flu vaccination that went viral recently).
Sites like snopes.com and factcheck.org are helpful, but questioning everything gets exhausting…and sometimes misinformation is so well disguised that we don’t even think to question it in the first place.
In addition to all the clickbait and controversy, studies suggest that social media can have some pretty scary mental health implications. Most of us worry about the effects of social media on our children—and we should, especially given the sad truth that 43% of kids experience cyberbullying—but we don’t always see how it’s affecting us.
At best, we’re distracted…missing out on our own real lives while we scroll through other people’s edited ones.
At worst, we’re addicted, with all the symptoms to prove it.
Social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s expanding and exploding. While you were reading this article (which, let’s face it, you probably clicked on while scrolling through Facebook), the cool kids probably started using some new platform that the rest of us won’t know about for another six months.
So how do we manage it? For our kids, for ourselves, for our sanity? How do we avoid slowly burying ourselves in endlessly cascading pixels and forgetting what’s real?
Much like everything else that we struggle with as humans, the answer is, in a word, moderation.
Psychology Today has a long list of tips for developing a healthier relationship with social media, but if you’re looking for the fast track to digital zen, Hannah Becker (AKA The Motivated Millennial) has three simple suggestions:
- Disable notifications
- Be intentional
- Prioritize IRL interactions
(that’s Millennial speak for “in real life”…but if you didn’t already know that, you probably don’t have a problem with social media anyway)
The best way to teach your kids how to use social media responsibly is to lead by example.
- Enjoy it, but don’t let it own you. Make more eye contact with each other and less eye contact with your phones.
- Designate “unplugged” times. Go for a walk. Dust off the board games.
- When Kodak moments (a term your children will undoubtedly be confused by) arise, take the pictures. But then go back to doing whatever it was that made you want to capture that moment in the first place.
That's what #latergram is for.