“Social media is an amazing tool, but it’s really the face-to-face interaction that makes a long-term impact.”–Felicia Day
Most of us have been guilty of this. I know I have. However, having taken a huge step back for numerous months from my own personal use of social media, I often find it a point of fascination when I observe people in public who are engaged with the ¾-time dance of media consumption. Scroll, scroll, tap. Scroll, scroll, tap. Scroll, scroll, tap.
Case in point, recently my husband, John, and I went to a nice restaurant for dinner. We chose to sit at the small bar area for dinner–no waiting for a table and typically better, more attentive service. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong night to go, and the restaurant–even the bar area–was slammed only minutes after we arrived.
While we waited (and waited) for food, the area in which we were seated became more and more crowded. John and I were often bumped, jostled, and occasionally shoved in customers’ attempts to gain the bartender’s attention. With so much background noise around us, it grew more difficult to talk, and I found myself drifting into people-watching mode.
John calls this behavior, “Steph, the story writer mode.” This is because I will often lean in to him to share a narrative I’ve developed based upon my observations of others–nothing bad, just some made-up plot-line for a book that I could envision. I like to think of it as one of my more creative and endearing habits, but I am not sure that John feels that way!
But I digress . . .
On this particular evening, I noticed two types of people. Those standing, or sitting, waiting for a table without talking while ceaselessly scrolling and tapping on their phones, with the occasional lean-over-to-another-person to share an image on their phone. Then there were those whose heads were collectively bent over a communal phone, laughing and commenting on screen images.
One such group was close to me, and their conversation was so loud that I could not tune them out. They were repeatedly making particularly cruel comments about what sounded to be their so-called friends’ social media feeds. While I am not niave to the ways with which humans can be cruel and/or talk to one another, I still found this groups’ negativity and harsh judgment of friends to be exceptionally mean-spirited. I felt as if someone in the room had purposely roused up a nest of wasps, and the insects’ anger was being unleashed upon those within hearing distance of this conversation.
Ultimately, John and I decided to get our food to go, and leave the negative environment. Nonetheless, the moment stayed with me the next few days as I tried to process and understand what I observed.
To begin, my instinct was to immediately think, in a self-righteous manner, “See this is what social media does. It promotes and reinforces nothing but negative, hyper-competitive, social-comparing, cyberbullying, anxiety-driven behaviors.” However, I know that is an unfair assessment.
Social media can offer positives. It can allow for people miles apart to remain connected and easily facilitate communication, especially across time zones. Furthermore, there are a wealth of sites offering support and coping mechanisms for those fighting serious physical and mental health conditions. Additionally, there are numerous affirming informative communities for a wide array of specialized interests including physical and mental wellness, books, music, religious/philosophical pursuits, self-help/betterment, to name a mere few.
Therefore, I realized quickly my issue had more to do with the negative way in which social media can be used. For example, some of those I observed waiting for a table in a crowded entryway, may have social anxiety. Therefore, flipping mindlessly through cute kitten and puppy videos could help ease the discomfort of being surrounded by strangers. Perhaps, others have a tendency to become angry or rude during extended waits, so mindlessly scrolling through sports clips or silly dance moves takes the edge of their impatience, allowing them to pass the time more peacefully.
There might have been others who had had a particularly bad day, so they may have needed some positive or humorous images to settle their minds. Others might have been using their wait time as an opportunity to get caught up on required reading, personal reading, or even the news of the day. All of these are seemingly perfectly valid reasons.
But here’s my two-part concern: One, the vicious cycle of comparison (either as a point for confirming that your life is better than others, or fostering the belief that your life is lesser than others); and two, inaction–ignoring the present moment, failing to appreciate your surroundings, and/or overlooking an opportunity for real time engagement with the people who are present with you (or perhaps only a phone call away).
In fact, the next day, as I watched what was clearly a mother and daughter in a coffee shop in which mom was doing the “scroll, scroll, tap” on her phone as the daughter looked around the coffee shop, picking at her food, a phrase came to mind, “While you’re scrolling, your life is rolling.”
I am not sure if I made up that phrase, or if it was a phrase I had previously heard. However, at that moment, as I waited for my own to-go order, it seemed fitting. The mom had an opportunity for real-time conversation with her daughter, but the moment was tragically passing. One day, the daughter will no longer have time to get coffee and cake with her mom, and cherished moments, like the very one they were experiencing, will have passed.
Of course, this mom could have had a very valid reason for being on her phone. After all, I was only in the shop for no more than five minutes, so I have no way of knowing. The point is this, social media and the internet are a lot like the opening line to Star Trek, “Space–the final frontier.” Our phones and other devices are tools, full of limitless possibilities and discoveries, but just like the Star-Trek crew, they are not replacements for real-life interactions.
Our bodies, minds, and souls have a limited amount of energy and time. In fact, our time and energy are precious commodities. Therefore, what I have concluded is the importance of mindful awareness–not only of our use of social media, but also of the very pricelessness of the life that is around us. Positive social media engagement, in strategically planned doses, can absolutely be beneficial, but it cannot replace those real-time conversations, interactions, and opportunities that surround us. Bringing awareness to those real-time, life-connecting, and affirming relationships should be a priority in our day-to-day life over social media, before those opportunities pass us by.