Thought Catalog

Social Media Is Ruining Everything

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I remember the first time I was old enough to understand what a U.S. presidential election is. I think I was in the first grade. People talked to us about it in school and I asked my parents about it or otherwise obtained enough information about the election to know that the ballots were being counted overnight and that the winner of the election would be revealed in the morning news.

I remember I woke up a little bit early in the morning as if for a holiday, and, eager to feel like a participant in the world, I went and slid down the stairs to the kitchen. Literally slid down, whee bump-bump, in something of a celebratory fashion; I was excited to go to the kitchen and look at the newspaper and see who the headline said had won.

Can you imagine that today; waiting overnight as if for Christmas for news? Waking up in the morning and rushing to your doorstep to check the newspaper? Whenever anything happens now you learn about it through your phone. I saw pictures online of a baseball stadium full of people staring at their phones all at the same time because they were learning about the death of Osama bin Laden on Twitter and getting and sending texts from their friends about it.

But then you might think it’s kind of awesome that humanity owns a communal ‘bulletin board’ that can be the house of communal thought and blah blah instantaneous connectivity. Which, like, yeah, that’s good.

Think of it this way, though; I’m not the only person typing shit on the internet right now. Millions of people are typing stuff, they are typing about what they did in Sonoma or they are having karaoke with people you may or may not know or you are learning about world issues ‘firsthand’ via Twitter. The fact such a platform exists inherently shifts the culture from observant participation to ‘lean-forward’ engagement, which on a micro- level is pretty rad but on a macro-level is having a disturbing transformative effect on the way human beings conceptualize social behavior.

Part of you is reading this article and part of you is wondering whether you want to type a comment and what you will type or whether you will switch to another browser tab. You are thinking about how you are going to react to this article and you’re not even finished with it yet. What the fuck is wrong with you; social media is what is wrong with you.

We have all shifted from being observers to being reporters. When something cool is happening we are not looking at or listening to it, we are tweeting about it or taking pictures of it for our Facebook or texting people who are not there. This is like a blah blah participatory shared whatever but it also means that we operate in a perpetual state of divided attention. The beautiful moment where you read a headline all by yourself, watch a broadcast with a loved one and absorb it together – no more. Now that you have the opportunity to wonder what everyone else is doing and saying around an event and the urge to add your own ‘two cents’ lest be excluded from the momentous group accounting of whatever it is that is happening. Even among your own social circle, your ‘small news’ – someone says something funny and before you are even done laughing you are reaching for the phone, going ‘I want to tweet this, can I tweet this.’

Also, incidentally, you’re not a fucking reporter. There are people who’s job that is. People seem to get really pissed whenever anyone suggests that the idea of a ‘democracy of content’ is not really the best thing ever, because of course it, like has to be the best thing ever! You said ‘democracy’! You said ‘equal opportunity platform’! We’re destroying the elitist old media hierarchy blah blah blah, everyone with access to the platform is equally qualified to inform et cetera we are disarming the power centers, possibly ‘saving Iran’ or whatever people are telling college students in their ‘new media studies’ courses.

Maybe you would feel slightly less pissed off if ‘using the platform doesn’t automatically qualify the voice’ were suggested to you in a different context. Back to the death of Osama bin Laden; you all passed around that fake MLK quote like contagious disease. You did that because you got it from a trusted source, like a friend in your Facebook newsfeed, even though you didn’t know where they got it and you didn’t even think to double-check. And now you look stupid. This is what social media is doing to you.

If you want to get depressed about humanity click on any one of Twitter’s trending ‘theme’ hashtags at any given time and learn about people who freely discuss ‘gay shit’ and ‘U Fuken My Homegurl’, as well as men who distinctly prefer women who are ‘light skinneded, with a whole lotta ass and get right wit it [sic].’

But that Twitter or any internet platform exposes any given user to the worst of the rest of its users is not a particularly new or exciting principle; like dealing with anyone and anything on the internet, a nebulous sea of assholes is a customary hazard of going online. And the major hazard of social media is not even that it empowers unqualified opinions or occasionally causes people to spread false information [as, admittedly, its facility for rapidly disseminating grassroots or ‘guerilla’ information is estimable].

It’s that although human beings are encouraged to self-identify in ways that can sort of float independently of external validation, most of us define ourselves at least in part by our relationships to other people; if you want to get mad Freudian you can talk about the ego and how one’s self-image is created by reflecting oneself off of other people and blah blah blah. This primordial mode of human self-identification never accounted for the internet and now shit is all going to hell. I am, you are, the internet is just ass murdering our entire psychic whatever.

When everything you say is subject to instantaneous feedback from hundreds, potentially thousands of people, your ability to assemble a healthful concept of who you are degrades. When you aren’t able to meaningfully elect or control the audience to whom you’re speaking, you’re forced to neutralize your self-expression until it’s so tepid it’s no longer you, just to ensure you are appropriately tailored toward all of the individuals to whom you may or may not be speaking. And if you don’t, you risk being subject to instantaneous reactionary censure. From people you hardly know; from strangers who would like to edit your textual output. You shout into the abyss; the abyss fucking shouts back.

Wait a minute, you’re saying, this doesn’t happen, it’s only an issue for people who have moderate or large Twitter followings. I lately wrote somewhere about how I felt overwhelmed by the internet’s opportunity to say whatever it wanted to me whenever it wanted; I said that sometimes I despised comments, because I hit a ‘publish’ button because it’s part of my job, not because I want everyone to say nice shit about what I write or because I am ‘soliciting feedback’ or am in the mood to have a big fucking discussion on it; the very idea that everything I make is automatically inviting response is sometimes bothersome.

And someone commented on that thing I wrote, saying it sounded like I was complaining about being popular, and that they’d totally love to have a lot more commenters or a bigger Twitter following if they were me. That person was one of hundreds of thousands of people actively trying to drum up a larger internet presence, actively throwing themselves into the oncoming bus of other people’s ‘feedback.’

All people are defined by the approval, response and input of others in their society, but thanks to social media, individuals can beg to be defined by the digital screams of strangers, of nobodies. They do; they want to. Developing an ‘internet presence’ is part of teenage self-actualization and independence-assertion now. It’s fucked.

I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is reach for my phone; I sift through the notifications; who ‘Likes’ my pictures? Who has replied to me, mentioned me? I am hooked on the feedback drip. Increasingly I feel less sure of myself in real conversations; I can’t read faces. Real people are a blank mirror. I clutch the cold glass brick of my hand in my palm to feel better. I look at Twitter as if I want to make sure I am still ‘there.’ I mean, I’m being a little melodramatic. But only a little.

Sometimes late at night when I’m drinking something in me rejects this. It screams out like a performing zoo animal that has suddenly remembered it’s feral. I type something into Twitter and delete it; I type things into Facebook and re-read them and delete them. It feels insane, these stark, aggressive things I type, this rebellious jerking of the head.

And even though I always delete the things right away it’s never fast enough. I ask a complex, sensitive question about something that requires specific knowledge and I can never get rid of it before I have 10 people giving tentative half-answer suggestions followed by ‘…?’. I don’t know if they hope they are right so they can help me or if they just want to be heard so badly they don’t care. Or even worse than people who rush to answer a question without knowing the answer: authoritative statements, confident advice, overtly wrong. Seas of it.

Anger escalates. You shout manic abuse into the aether and someone answers, ‘You’re amazing, love you.’ You don’t know who; no idea in the world. TC mark

image – Erik Stinson/ dump.fm
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  • MP80909

    LOVE GHETTO TRENDING TOPICS.
    #SMH
    #UNOUGHETTOWEN

  • Fasdflkasd

    “Also, incidentally, you’re not a fucking reporter.”

    You're not a fucking social scientist. Stop romanticizing a past that didn't exist by adopting some tired neo-luddite bullshit. If you can't check your likes on facebook and read news about Osama while living a normal life that's your problem. Just because you have an anxiety attack whenever you're not near a computer doesn't mean other people can use technology AND be a weekend hippie.

    • Fasdflkasd

      *can't

    • Davidwosterphallus

      You seem angry. Maybe this article touched a nerve?

      • Fasdflkasd

        Sorry did I hurt your feelings? I didn't realize people here were so sensitive. Then again with the content in most of these posts I shouldn't be surprised.

    • Guest

      haha, “just want 2 use technology and be a weekend hippie”

  • http://brianburke.tumblr.com/ brian burke

    the stinson effect

  • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

    seriously, you're writing for thought catalog right now. this isn't The Herald or The Times or The Chronicle or whatever the hell else.

    social media is the reason that we get the WHOLE story whenever an incident arises. its why we don't have one sided media.

    if the 'pre-social media time' is so fantastic to you, stop complaining on the internet and delete all the shit you claim to disdain.  

    #damn #ironicmuch

    • lollerskater

      “claim to disdain”

      lolz you're a poet and you don't know it

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19605300 David Worthington Trahan

    Wonderfully written.

    I don't think social media is what's wrong, but rather humanity and society as a whole. Pop culture and the incessant need for popularity and approval is what makes social media suck. It's not social meia's fault that people dumb down their own opinions out of fear that they'll be viewed poorly by their social networks. It's pop culture's fault.

    Pop culture made us all want to be the kids on 90210. It made us all want to be popular and feel like people like us. It made us feel like our friendships, activities and relationships weren't good enough, because the ones on TV, in books and in movies (aka fantasy) are better than real life. Pop culture ruined us. It made us egomaniacs who all think we're hott shit. We're not. We're people.

    The media made us want information more and more, but turned into a bunch of corrupt and biased news sources. Social media allows us to filter through that. 

    YouTube and reality TV made us all feel like we can do everything better than other people. Everyone became a critic. Everyone became a star. Everyone began to push others down to bring themselves us. We all became judgmental self-centered bitches who are more likely to bitch you out for posting something on Facebook that you don't like than bitch our their politicians for screwing over America. 

    Laziness made us stop trying and start “liking”. We are a society of convenience, and every day everything becomes more and more convenient. The less effort the better, right? 

    If social media were TV, “I Love Lucy” hasn't even aired yet. Large communities of sharing will go away, and micro-communities will be re-born. People will care less and less about sharing every moment of their lives and will get back to living them. It just takes time, and that time will come. Social platforms are evolving in a way that make them less intrusive in peoples lives. For now its all about sharing, but in the future it will just be about the data. 

    We're all still playing with our shiny new toy (social media), but soon we will tire of it. 

    Social media doesn't suck. People suck.

    • http://teresaelectro.blogspot.com/ teresaelectro

      The frightening thought is what if people don't tire of social media? And this descent into inanity continues. Marketing companies keep stoking the social media fire attempting to quantify likes into some tangible currency to charge clients money. It's not a fad but becoming big business. I suppose this is simply a symptom of the post-modern (or is it post-post-modern now?) condition

  • Mzl8

    This is feedback
    Also, follow me at @maggie44
    Need to self-actualize plz
    I don't even know if I'm responding to this correctly
    Ummmmm…?

  • http://twitter.com/Les_Savy_Ferd douglas riggs

    “if you want to get mad Freudian you can talk about the ego and how one’s
    self-image is created by reflecting oneself off of other people and
    blah blah blah. This primordial mode of human self-identification never
    accounted for the internet and now shit is all going to hell. I am, you
    are, the internet is just ass murdering our entire psychic whatever.”

    I think you are onto something here, aside from hypocritically not delving as deep as you claim to want others' responses to your Facebook questions to be. Good lord is that some grammar trainwreck, but I hope you get what I mean…?

    Seriously though, I think its cool/important to muse on all this and thank you for the article.

  • foreign wicker

    Thanks for sharing this. I've had similar thoughts. I've wondered if social media is to communication what industrialization is to craftsmanship. We're working to create more, more efficiently, more often. But we are less responsive, reactive, subtle in our work.  Our mass production of communication has all the human appeal of a walmart.

    • http://twitter.com/srslydrew Andrew F.

      Loved this.

  • http://twitter.com/lukebourassa Luke Bourassa

    I'm often faced with this conundrum: To record my experience (photos, blog, Twitter, etc.) or to experience my experience. Any attention you give to one side of the equation, you certainly take from the other. On one hand, social media has allowed all of us to shout “I EXIST AND THIS IS PROOF.” but, as you point out, many people abuse this ability or require it to estimate self-worth.

    Yet we are social animals. Before the internet, people still wanted validation of their existence. Some did it through fashion, or works of art, or by being “the funny guy,” but it still happened. Social media and hand-held devices just makes it so we all can do it all the time.

    • SousChefGerard

      Enjoy the experience. Far better than retreading the story to someone less interested.

  • http://www.bradmarley.com Brad Marley

    Social media is just another way that our actions, as a society, are being transformed.

    Everything is magnified. Everyone is scrutinized. Everybody is a “brand.”

    It's exhausting.

    I'm now starting to understand why my parents don't use Facebook and are totally okay without it: they prefer to keep their social lives based in real life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelcolombo Michael Colombo

    Social media is not the evil you're railing against. You're simply railing against human nature. Social media only skews the focus slightly. The vehicle for human brilliance and human stupidity has been wrapped up into a new shiny vehicle. Remember “water cooler conversations” ? People would read the “real” news (which btw, is mostly lies and distortions anyway) and then discus their own takes on it, spreading rumors and falsehoods in the process. 

    Folks have always been looking for some sort of attention. My sister got her own land line for her 13th birthday in the early 90s and spent hours and hours on it. She talked about nothing in particular – I was there! But was it the phone's fault? Hellz fucking no. 

    Also, I hear a lot of complaining in the article, but no alternatives or solutions. Seems to me like you're spouting the same type of drivel you're so against…

    “Just keep on 
    like I do and pay no attention. You'll 
    find that people always will complain 
    about the atmosphere, either too hot 
    or too cold too bright or too dark, days
    too short or too long.”
    – Frank O'Hara

    • http://www.facebook.com/michaelcolombo Michael Colombo

      And Leigh, I just friend-requested you. Winslow Turner Porter is a mutual friend of ours! OMFGWTF!!!!

  • http://www.twovisionaries.com Joseph Piccininni, Jr.

    This piece is perfect.

    It pinpoints everything that social media has changed about the way we live our lives. This is my favorite piece on TC.

  • Tim

    Without social media this website would not exist. Discuss.

    • Customconcern

      Oooh. You're sharp. Thanks so much for pointing that out!

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    deep

  • Dwyane

    some girl goes to the doctor and says “SOCIAL MEDIA IS RUINING MY LIFE.” doctor says “don't use social media”

  • http://profiles.google.com/mcblaloc Meghan Blalock

    what about a completely neutral comment that doesn't have an

  • ididthat

    Social media is a vessel for what has become a larger issue: narcissism. Social media allows us, encourages us, makes it easier for us to think that everyone should care about what we are doing/thinking/feeling. guns dont kill people, people kill people. soial media doesnt make us disconnected cold drones; we do that to ourselves.

    this is not an epidemic, its an acute problem magnified due to it's visability.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

      Its the Me generation as contrasted by our grandparents We generation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

    Do you really have that much shit going on? I use facebook to upload a photo here and there and make sure I'm not forgetting anyones birthday. Maybe instead of networking all the time you could, I don't know, read a book? Take a hike? Learn a new language?

  • Guy

    I was gonna comment, then decided that I didn't have to much to say. So I decided to comment about that.

    • Guy

      too*
      see, didn't even spell check first.

  • Kevin

    Step away from the internet, Leigh. Your blood pressure will thank you. Every time you write an article about social networking I'm a little more convinced that 'internet addiction' is indeed an actual thing. You can't automatically make your experience seem universal just by accusing 'me' of your own behavior. I have a smartphone and a computer but I sometimes go days without 'posting' anything, without even noticing. Because, like, things are happening and I don't need to 'tweet' them.

    • Screeeeaming Mantis

      you seem to put ironic quotes on a lot of things

  • http://www.facebook.com/kylelamar Kyle LaMar

    Most of the time I just wish everyone to calm the fuck down and remember the internet isn't very old, and social media is even younger. Just because there are new ways in which we process information doesn't suddenly mean we are “ruining” everything else. How about we let everyone get used to this new tool and see where it gets us? Have faith.

  • ;:.

    hard 2 quit crack when every1 high

  • hotbutteredjustice

    A little way in to reading this, I thought, “I read Thought Catalog fairly often, but this will be the first piece I choose to share on facebook.”

    It was six paragraphs in, where the author states, “You are thinking about how you are going to react to this article and you’re not even finished with it yet.”

    I was caught.

    While I agree with comments suggesting it is not necessarily the technology that causes this distracted mind and hyper-linked-frayed attention-span, it certainly enables and encourages it, and anyone already considering a counter-argument would only seem to somewhat prove the thesis of this piece. 

    I came rather late to facebook and thus felt I had a more detached, objective view of it.  I remember sarcastically saying “There's my next profile pic,” after a potentially incriminating photo of me very, very drunk.  Years into using it, I now sometimes find myself sincerely having such a thought immediately after my photo is taken.  It's this increase in reactionary, I-must-share-this-without-much-reflection behavior that disturbs me, and to which the author speaks.

    I'm sure it's the narcissism in me, and in everyone to certain degrees, but it sure is finding a perfect channel. 

    Furthermore, we humans have crafted perceptions of ourselves well before social media.  As a character in Jodorowsky's film, “The Holy Mountain” says,  “We know that people want to be loved, not for who they are, but for what they appear to be.”  That is indeed a facet of human nature.  As the author states, “one’s self-image is created by reflecting oneself off of other people and blah blah blah.”

    But with social media, as opposed to direct social interaction in which we must rely solely on our wits and a combination of reading and responding to and with verbal and non-verbal cues, we are given an entire toolset by which to craft and fine-tune advertisements of ourselves.  We form these identities with the all-too-eager help of corporate brands, as we link directly to products, bands, movies and other material culture, as we become ever more dependent on such “likes” for self-representation.  I'm reminded of a bumper sticker I saw recently:  “I'm cooler online.”

    We then affirm “friendships” with these easy-to-use, yet very shallow tools.  Mark Dery, in his essay “Hate is All Around:  The Politics of Enthusiasm,” asks, “Because what is Facebook Friendship, after all, but the unending quest
    for People Like Me, people who like all of My Favorite Things—a monument
    to mutually enabling narcissism, disguised as a Place Where Everybody
    Knows Your Name?”

    Before I drift too far from topicality, (and attention spans.  too late?) I will say, lastly, comments pointing out any irony of this piece being posted on, or existing because of, social media sites, are not incorrect.  They're just not helpful.  Even those comments suggesting the author simply “delete all the shit he disdains” ignore the social realities.  I can only speak for myself, but the majority of my peers are on facebook, and a decent amount of our face-to-face conversations are infused with, if not social media itself, at least the pop culture celebrated and promulgated by such technology.  Would our conversations, and thus our relationships, change by me ignoring the online world?  In other words, I believe it somewhat naive to suggest a disavowal of all things social media could so easily be accomplished, and without consideration of the effects, even if minute.  Perhaps I'm investing too much importance in such things, but I would almost compare “delete all the shit you disdain” to the flippant remark, often made when one disagrees with another's criticism of America or its politics, “Well, if you don't like it, leave!”  “Um…well, my family and friends are here.  Plus, all my shit's here, and even my job is here.  It's a little easier said than done.”

    Or do I just think that because my real social life is currently not as bountiful as it could be?  Definitely a possibility.

    Now, I'm off to extrapolate on my personal blog.  (See what I mean?)  Hopefully, I'll finish quickly enough to go out in to the real world, to engage without distraction with another human, before it is too dark, while I can still watch as her face creases into either a frown, or a smile (like), as I blabber on and on about what I did on facebook today.

  • Customconcern

    I really enjoyed this. This guy has similar ideas, also v. well expressed.

    “… social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past”:
    http://thesocietypages.org/cyb

    Ignore the people who are saying “hurr, get off the internet then durr.” Pointing out a hypocrisy or irony in someone's ideas is rarely a rebuttal of their argument; it's a form of ad hominem that allows people to dismiss ideas without actually engaging with them. 

    Great article, and a total breath of fresh air after that clusterfuck about 'generic facebook friends'.

    • Guest

      people who are saying “hurr, get off the internet then durr” have no concept of technology determinism and addiction

  • Fasdflkasd

    Sorry did I hurt your feelings? I didn't realize people here were so sensitive. Then again with the content in most of these posts I shouldn't be surprised.

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