How Social Media can be a Threat to Deep Friend & Relationships

“The relationship between social media and social life is like the relationship between porn and sex.”

 - Johann Hari


Even if it is commonly known that social media is not as social as it seems to be, I want to emphasize a possible reason why this could be the case. Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he thoroughly criticizes the influence of television on the average American in the year 1985 made me aware of how social media, through their attack on our human social environment, can take more from us than it gives.

No question, social media can be used for the good as well. Rare specialties, niches, and inspirations can be promoted, knowledge can be shared, and inspirations can be found. I see this in the whole field of movement, be it parkour, dance, acrobatics and all this kinda stuff. Like-minded people are able to connect, to share ideas and to encourage each other. Through this connection people from all over the world are able to see things they didn’t even know they exist. During the Covid19 pandemic, a lot of artists found new ways to express themselves and share their results and their work with others.

Sadly, social media nowadays often sets the stage for the narcissist in us, many of us are shouting for attention for things that are nugatory and superficial. Selfie after Selfie, vacation after vacation, sexualized teens and boyfriends that need to take the perfect snapshot of their girlfriends for all of the supportive followers of the gram. After 1.5 years of social media abundance, I thought I would be finally aware of how much time I’ll spend on it. But no, it is so easily to get distracted and getting lost in the endless depth of it. Most of the time it seems waste of time, it can threaten our mental health, we are getting more easily distracted which leads to a loss of productivity, people report on feeling a steady stress cause of comparisons to others. And the truth is rarely shown, most people want highlights and likes and not the filthy reality.

Besides this, the biggest threat in my opinion is the medium of communication that social media provides. One century ago, we used our speech, gesture and mimics as a communication medium to convey our thoughts, opinions, and feelings. In the last few years, we saw a heavy shift from conveying these things from a personal, interactive and verbally way to a distant, rigid and written way with the help of apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter. Instead of bringing us closer, social media divides us more and more. Why is this the case?

Let us sketch a little story… Two friends, named John and Joe, are two young men living in the year 1919. They are not living nearby each other (one in the city centre, one in the suburb), so they are getting together only a couple times a year. Each time they meet, they have a lot of things and topics to discuss. What is going on in their lives, what issues and problems do they have and how they feel about it. There is no gossip (at least not a lot), so they are talking about THEMSELVES with honest interest, focus and depth.

Now we assume that time machines are a real thing, and we shift them into the year 2019. They are living at the same place, but their environment changed quite a bit. They are sending text messages to each other day by day, commenting photos on each other on Instagram and showing snippets from their lives on Snapchat here and there. Due to technology, they are able to see each other a couple times a month, where they mostly talk about superficial things like gossip and other people’s life they saw on Instagram. Suddenly, it seems like they have a need to share everything at any time. Right now, they feel way more connected, a tighter friendship and way closer to each other than 100 year ago.

But this false perception is a trap that we can easily fall into. Let me tell you why this could be the case.

Neil Postman argues in his book that it is naive to think that any form of discourse can be transferred from one medium to another. As an example he states the following: “It may seem convenient to send a condolence card to a friend who has died, but we are wrong to think that our card will convey the same meaning as the stammered, whispered words we would say to the friend if we were with him. The card not only changes these words, it also eliminates the context from which they take their meaning.” (Postman 1988, p. 145)

I have the feeling that everything that was previously expressed personally, face to face, where a person's facial expressions and gestures and authenticity are perceived in person, is now largely communicated through social media. And what is communicated through social media no longer corresponds to what you would say to someone in person. What is communicated loses its depth and honesty, it shifts to a superficiality, because the written or pictorial content of social media makes people and their feelings more vulnerable through this impersonality and consistency. Through this eternal connection with everyone and this supposedly private insight into the lives of many, one is permanently exposed to the fear of becoming part of this possible gossip. Only few people ask themselves the questions, "What is lost through social media? "How have my relationships changed?"

For me, one possible way would be to use social media in the way described at the beginning and to cultivate and allow your own relationships to flourish in real life. After all, we are still human beings and not slaves to technology. Wil, a lovely human being from London, always says: “Use it and don’t get used by it.”

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