Social media is an exceptional supplement to friendships. But it is a terrible substitute for friendships.
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek says humans are primarily social animals. Nothing compares to meeting with people face-to-face, and no social media or technology can replace that. On the flip side, investing in real, vulnerable, personal relationships takes a lot of time and hard work.
Hence the appeal of social media friendships.
Social media is changing what it means to have “friends.” When Facebook influences your understanding of friendship, then your “friends” can range anywhere from your own mother to a stranger who liked the video you posted of your cat so much that they send you a friend request. People can literally become “friends” in the instant of pressing a button to accept the request.
Instagram and Twitter, on the other hand provide a totally different twist to the social media relationship. These sites don’t even use “friendship” to describe the interactions between users. Instead of becoming “friends” with someone, you “follow” them. The “follower” relationship doesn’t even go the extent of offering surface level friendships, because it depends on a user posting content for their followers to consume. The relationship is entirely transactional. You post something for the exchange of a heart on a photo or a retweet of your quippy thought. Again, great supplements to friendship, but terrible substitutes.
The reality is social media provides the easiest way to become friends with someone. Yet it is also the cheapest way.
Skye Jethani in The Divine Commodity writes,
“The appeal of social networking sites is the ability to simultaneously have hundreds of ‘friends’ without actually risking the emotional investment of a real human relationship. As a result, relying on these sites for the bulk of one’s relationships may exacerbate the aching loneliness we feel in our souls.”
Isn’t that crazy? Utilizing social media to remedy loneliness is actually a factor that fuels it.
Simon Sinek relayed a conversation he once had with a college student, who said, “Social media is a really easy way to feel excluded. Facebook, Instagram and Snaptchat make me hyper-aware of the activities I wasn’t invited to partake in and less involved in the activities that are actually in front of me.”
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a very real byproduct of social media. Comparison games begin, where people use their “phantom” selves to promote how great their life is for the sake of one-upping those around them or making themselves feel good. Social media then becomes less about connection and more about competition. Sinek says, “In an unfortunate twist, the drive for real, individual accomplishments seems to have turned into a game of virtual one-upmanship, based on the illusion of perfection.”
Perhaps this is why those who excessively use social media have higher risks of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. But maybe it is not so much social media causing these symptoms, but is actually the wood spoking the fire of loneliness, which perpetuates the exact same lethal symptoms.
It appears that social media is not so social as we might’ve thought.