Stephen Fahey: Adventures in Social Media

Social Media is now just a fact of life, like death, taxes, squirrels, puppies, cheesecake, hot sauce and the holy sacrament of ice cold beer.  It’s still relatively new, but an entire generation is now growing up in an environment where the number of online followers you have seems important enough to cause a shift in schoolyard hierarchies. But what do these new platform do for us? And what are they doing to us?

Smart phone addition is real. We all know someone who is glued to their devise for far too many hours in any given day. We’re all guilty of whiling away a few minutes on our phones every day. However, real, and highly problematic addiction to one’s phone is only further complicated by the presence of social media. Our „feeds” give us an endless stream of input to keep us entertained and platforms where we can communicate with other people only make that addiction even more potent.

The unfortunate reality of people posting a refined, unrealistic version of their lives on social media also takes an already concentrated addictive substance and makes it even better, or worse, depending on which side of the argument you’re on. This imaginary, phantom-self that we post, where only the happy and successful moments of life are shared with the world, makes those around us look at their own lives with less importance – because, obviously, real life does not consist solely of happy times.

Online life has an inherent freedom with which we are able to do absolutely anything we want. There are no online thought police to tell us what to do. So, evidently, we must govern ourselves. We need to set an example for the next generation, of course, but we also need to understand how to behave for our own sakes. But how do we do that? We’re the first people to ever walk into this forest. We don’t know which plants are poisonous and which are not. We don’t know if we can train those four legged things with tails and claws that like to chase down and eat anything with a pulse. But can’t just avoid everything either.

Well, we can. And some of us do. Some of us never even wondered into the forest in the first place. But those folk don’t know sweetness of the fruit of knowledge. And that fruit is so abundant in the forest that it benefits us get in there and pick as many of them as we can, sprint home, stuff our faces with them, enjoy a quick nap (food-coma), get back into the forest, pick more of them, get back home and then wolf those down too – ad infinitum.

The trick is, when a danger is found, we need to remember what it is and avoid it in future. That’s almost the only method we have. At the beginning of the industrial revolution there were no workplace safety regulations. Eventually we’ll get our online safety regulations. And they’ll be „normal”. But they we come at the cost of those who suffered the dangers of the forest. Perhaps one day artificial intelligence will safeguard us as we wonder, but we are still in the dark ages with social media and we all benefit from remembering that fact.

That all being said. And despite the abundance of fruit and poison, and despite the fact that we all spend way too much time on our phones every day already, we need not fear the forest. We much respect it. But we need not fear it. It is just a tool. And while any tool it can be used in any ways, it is up to us what and who we let into our lives. Just as much as it is up to us how much time we let ourselves gawk at the little window in our pockets, or how much chocolate we eat or how much time we waste obsessing about that thing that happened when we were kids.

A little responsibility goes a long way. There are even secondary benefits for those around us when we act responsibly. We simply need to govern our online lives as we already govern the rest of our lives. We don’t eat junk food for every meal. Nor do we drink beer for breakfast every day. Best of all, balance makes both social media and real life all the more pleasurable and satisfying, as long as don’t lick every toad in the forest.

Stephen Fahey

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