A post on posting

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The irony of social media nowadays is that instead of bringing us together, it seems to be doing quite the opposite. Moreover, the way in which the younger generation, especially, is using it breeds plenty of problems on both the behavioral and psychological levels. At the end of the day, social media is a tool, and tools are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. On the contrary, it is the way that we use these tools which determines whether they result in beneficial or harmful consequences. Unfortunately, in the case of young people’s use of social media, the negative outcomes tend to outweigh the positive.

One of the intriguing effects of the use of social media is the new twist on existentialism that this generation seems to have developed. The famous existential question of the modern day is: “If you didn’t post it on social media, then did it really happen?” As we can see, young people tend to post their entire lives on social media - every party, every workout, and many selfies- as if seeking to validate their experiences, or their very existence. And it is also quite difficult to break away from that as social media platforms are designed to retain their users in some kind of loop by having the “like” feature, for example. This “like” button feeds into the brain’s reward system, making sure that its users will come back for more. In fact, it is simply a version of what is known in psychology as “operant conditioning”, or the Skinner box, in which engaging in certain behavior (in this case, posting) will result in favorable results (“likes”), ensuring that this cycle continues. Without awareness, this cycle can gradually turn into a prison that feeds into people’s insecurities, especially when they start attaching their worth to how many “likes” they get.

What is even more ironic is that the life that is paraded on social media is actually a false image, constructed for the purpose of making people’s lives appear as they want them to be, not as they really are. Nobody’s life consists of only good events, and yet, good events are what mostly get shared on social media. This, in turn, creates an unrealistic life that nevertheless makes impressionable people feel insecure, competitive, jealous, or delusional about how life should be. Young people, especially, can become dissatisfied with their lives and not realize that they are jealous of something that is not even real! Sadly, to combat these feelings and feel re-assured about their own life, many will seek refuge by posting more on social media even though that is the problem to begin with, not the cure.

An obsession with documenting everything is the natural result of this level of intense sharing. As a matter of fact, many people are no longer able to simply live the moment and can easily become anxious if it is not being recorded. Moreover, plenty of basic social etiquette is being sacrificed in the process, as it has become the norm for people to look away during conversations and focus on their phones instead. In time, people may even become unable to pick up on social cues since they are never truly present with the people they are around. There will no longer be any real connection!

Having everything filtered through a camera lens turns people into objects, as an obsessive social media user does not interact with them as individuals, but more as “proof” of his/her great life. This in turn, destroys real human connections, and also breaches people’s right to not be filmed without consent since users do not usually ask for others’ consent before posting their pictures on social media. And although not everyone necessarily posts on social media, they can still engage obsessively with it and follow others, creating a kind of stalking behavior at times, to put in bluntly. It is a behavior that makes many feel up-to-date about each other’s lives, without actually connecting. It also breeds intrusiveness, and privacy becomes no longer a valuable thing in our societies.

With all that said, it is perhaps time for us to recognize our use - or rather, misuse - of social media and undergo some kind of social media “detox” or reform. We need to encourage youngsters to re-evaluate their behavior and adjust it accordingly. Let us help social media to help us again and bring us together; let social media be a platform for engaging with social issues and real issues that are about us! Let us (re)-learn how to use it in a way that does bring us together. Let us be as focused on forming real connections as we have been on consumption. Let us be engaged with real life and real people rather than the image of them. Let us be assured that if we did not post it on social media, then it still really did happen.

Khadija Hisham Alem,

Jeddah

(The author can be reached at: Khadija.alem@gmail.com)


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