Social media: we’re doing it wrong

A helicopter landed on Alumni field at Wilfrid Laurier University and I had the privilege of prime seating from the third floor science building.

Lena Yang

Lena Yang

As you’d expect, a crowd of students burst outside to watch the unusual event with phones in hand nearly every person was taking video and photos.

Once the helicopter landed, those phones became tools to call friends and tell them news, to upload footage to Facebook or post a picture to Twitter.

It was pretty cool after all, how often does a helicopter land right in front of you?

In fact I personally lamented in the inability of my cheap Stone Age cell phone to take photos.

Fortunately for everyone else this wasn’t a problem. I’d guess most of the people crowding outside watched the helicopter land through a screen than with their eyes. The helicopter landed, people got out, everyone stood around for a while and eventually dissipated with only a handful left to watch take-off. Only a handful who wanted to know what was going on.

Only a handful who cared about more than ‘how cool the helicopter was.’

Because that’s what social media is about isn’t it? Finding the coolest thing. Saying the funniest thing. Having the most bizarre or awesome story. The story behind the story need not apply because it’s not snappy in 140 characters.

There is good in social media, it holds a valuable place in society. It lifts our moods with its laughter and keeps us linked to things we might be interested in. But any good thing has its dark side. Alcohol can be drunk lightly with friends or straight into oblivion. And too often we abuse social media, our drink of choice.

It’s not about what you’re drinking, it’s why you’re drinking it: good times or as an avoidance technique. It’s not about what you’re posting but instead why you’re pos

ting it. Post the cool helicopter picture if you’re really into helicopters and you want to inspire someone else. Post the helicopter picture if you want someone to know the story behind the helicopter. Post the helicopter picture if you’re genuinely trying to spread the awesome.

The problem is that we don’t always post for those reasons. We put pictures and video and words out into the world, not for their actual content, but for what they say underneath. Our posts secretly cry, “Would someone please acknowledge my existence?”

Would someone please remind me that something I say matters? Would someone please note that we’ve connected? That I’m not alone in the world? We all do it. We all feel it. The world is big, the universe is bigger and life can stare us down menacingly. So we reach out in any way we can.

Every ‘like’ and every comment becomes an affirmation, an acknowledgement. “We know you exist. You’re not alone. We love you. We are here

too. We share emotions and moments in time and no matter how blankly life stares you’ll still matter to us.”

That’s important to hear. We don’t hear it enough and it’s inherently true. But in this broken world we learn to cling to what we get.

We start to worry that it will go away, that we’ll lose our connection, that we just won’t be funny enough or insightful enough or have interesting enough opinions.

So we scramble. We scramble for whatever we can find that might make even one person acknowledge our existence, just one connection. It’s not about what you’re posting it’s about why you’re posting it.

If I post a picture of my lunch maybe someone will say how yummy it looks. If I complain about that awful cashier maybe someone else will say that they’ve been there too. If I post a picture of a cool helicopter maybe someone will tell me how they wish they could have seen it.

In our scramble to feel acknowledged we fail to put out content that’s actually worth acknowledging. Then, when our ‘like’ ratio isn’t where we want it to be, we feel alone. We feel connectionless, ‘alone in an endless void’ with no-one who understands.

That feeling scares us. So we go out and find something else to post, something else that might reassure us of our connection with humanity. And so continues the cycle.

Facebook, Twitter and all the others sites with their good and bad sides can be an addiction like any other. We have to realize that like any other addiction, as much as we can abuse them, they’re certainly not above abusing us.

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