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Why I intend to cut my Social Media Time

I am not a connoisseur of Social Media.  In fact, I only have a Facebook account.  I have not been convinced as to why I would need more than that?   Why do I need a Twitter, MySpace, Vine, or a Snapchat?  My experience watching those around me lose their humanity, the ability to effectively use language, and to develop meaningful interpersonal interactions has convinced me I don’t ever want an account!
I remember a time when people relished in open, civil discourse; a time when people discussed ideas with passion, and people on either side of the discussion, regardless of what it was about, treated each other with the respect we deserve as humans. (I guess that makes me old).  I miss this… I believe in the best part of human nature: our ability to band together as equals, regardless of our petty differences, united by the fact that we’re all impossibly unlikely creatures, living together on this tiny little speck of dust in a sunbeam, surrounded by an inhospitable void that extends for eternity, and all we really have is each other.
Before you decide that this post will have nothing to do with you... STOP.  Everyone is part of the problem and everyone can be a part of the solution.  Give me a moment.
Problem #1: Social Media gives you a false impression of what human interaction is
Social media communication and actual communication are about as effectively different as attempting to talk to another human by muttering to a dysfunctional toaster.  Ok.  There is a message, a channel and a recipient, but with the depersonalization of the “inter-web” it is almost impossible to gage intent and feedback adequately.
As a person who studies interpersonal interaction through the art of theatre, I have come to realize that the art of discourse is most definitely an interpersonal activity that feeds all of the humanities.  It is fundamental for all careers; a skill that truly does determine one’s success in society.  If you don’t know how to talk to others – how to agree to disagree if needed – you may never find or keep a job, successfully find and keep a spouse, be able to buy a home or a car nor even order a meal.  In short, you will struggle to live a normal life.
The problem with social media is that it’s diminishing our ability to vocally communicate. Texting, e-mailing, and Twitter posts don’t require the same instantaneous feedback that face-to-face communication requires, nor does it really allow people to learn and understand the mechanics of communication, such as tempo, emotion and passions, and asking questions.  I see our culture being less sociable – in all age groups.  Our children are less likely to have a conversation.  We are losing our ability to understand what other people are saying.  We don’t understand what is serious and what is not.  We begin to “assume” the intend of a message without the entire mode of communication at our disposal.  Human communication is all about our individual subtleties… all filtered out with social media.
We’re in danger of talking past each other like lost souls wandering in the fog.
Without the ability to communicate accurately we can’t really have meaningful discussions about important ideas.
Problem #2 Social media has nothing to do with interpersonal communication anymore.
When you post something on Facebook or Twitter you must remember that the intended audience is not for a single person.  It is an electronic all-call to the entire planet… even if you are not “friends” with the entire planet.  Posts are inherently designed to create as much attention as possible.  You are NOT posting to specific people (that would require a handwritten note and a stamp), you are broadcasting to a faceless, nameless mass - the disembodied collective.
Put another way, texting a “friend,” “how r u?” however convenient and well meant, lacks considerably less empathy and engagement than picking up the phone or meeting said friend face to face and genuinely appearing to want to know and care how they are.  The danger of becoming a superficial person is greatly magnified when we can hide behind our social media profiles. An increase in superficial relationships without any real social awareness has profound ripples.
Having friends can sometimes be inconvenient. It’s the give and take of the relationship that grows and strengthens us, not the fact that we both think the same movie is awesome, or we both root for the Yankees or the Red Sox or we share the same "friends."  The point of real friendship is that we willingly put the needs and wishes of the “other” before our own, and that is a two-way street. Friendship is a communal act of self-less-ness, not self-ish-ness. 
Problem #3: Social Media takes from us our individuality and reinforces a herd mentality.
Instead of expressing our own opinions, we find ourselves responding to criticisms and complex interactions with meme images and in web-speak. The more social media we participate in, the less personal identity we seem to hold onto ... what some call "collective immersion," I would prefer to call "individual suffocation."
Thinking that we are anonymous allows us to do and say things we would most likely never do in real life. It’s like we have split personalities… our REAL life self and our Internet self.  Do we truly get to know each other?  I find that we are judging each other based on the tiny fractions of our personality that we show to the online world.  We shame each other over the pettiest of perceived mistakes.  We somehow feel we have the right and the freedom to say things we would not say in person because we feel safe behind a screen.  We “remove,” “block,” and “unfriend” people we disagree with as if ignoring them will make them go away – when really, all we are doing is saving ourselves from the important, challenging and even painful task of questioning our own beliefs and behavior.  Admitting we are wrong takes courage.  Hiding behind a screen does not.
We are starting to use social media to isolate ourselves from the messy parts of being with others when in fact it is how we handle those “messy parts” — Do we continue with the friendship? Do we somehow confront the “other” and explore the upsetting issues that may have arisen with respect? etc.–that helps define who we are and how we relate to the world empathetically.
The danger is that when we diminish our empathy for others because of our addiction to the “painless” convenience of social media, it becomes much easier to ignore those in need, those who want our help etc., as a collective. We are easily manipulated and swayed by popular thinking rather than investigating and coming to conclusions for ourselves.  For example, when those who aspire to lead us tell us immigrants are the real reason your life sucks, or the poor are lazy, undeserving, and taking all your hard-earned wealth etc., we are less equipped emotionally or psychologically to either recognize or deal with the ramifications of those arguments; and unable and unwilling to accept how we got to a point where convenience trumps taking responsibility for our choices, or more importantly opted out of choosing.
Because we are losing individuality we are becoming less rounded, more self-righteous, less understanding, more angry, and more prideful.  We are doing this to ourselves.  The internet may have given us tools, but in a crazy Lord of the Flies world we live in, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are just the island.  Each of us is becoming more and more responsible for our own faults and less and less willing to change them.
Problem #4 This is a minor issue for me, yet still an issue.  Social media is decimating the English language… and our attention spans.
I wonder how many people (and what age they are) will actually read the entire blog post.
I volunteer every day at a local high school.  For part of my volunteer time I read papers.  I am not convinced that U.S. students are mainly lacking science and math skills as I have seen reported.  Sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary are taking strong hits.  I blame social media.  I see more students that have a better grasp of numbers and technology, yet are less deft with conversation, the mechanics of written English and contextual comprehension.
Put down your phone and read a book!  Read a classic!  See the English language at its finest.  Discover words that are becoming extinct because they are not convenient in a text.  See how descriptive language flows and moves without the use of expletives.
I know it’s hard.  Reading and comprehending takes an attention span.  You must focus on the wording and assess passages as stand-alone thoughts and ideas.  You have to develop an understanding of context.  Social media does not have the same result narrative. Social media presents a mishmash of random thoughts.  Snapchat tells no real story.  Twitter has not made you wittier nor more concise.  It has led you to believe that the English language is commonplace messages littered with hash tags and at-symbols resembling computer code more than our beautiful mother tongue.
Our growing inability as a society to write accurately (in terms of explicit word choice and punctuation, etc.), or maintain a communal way of communicating wherein we all understand what the other is saying, is vital when it comes to discussing things like social media’s impact on society–and ultimately the future of our already shaky democracy.
In short, it is time.  It is time to limit social media time and start living time. It is time to have real conversation – over lunch or in the hall without giving into the need to check for messages.  It is time to eat dinner with your family without screen time. It is time to develop interpersonal skills by discussing current events in person.  It is time to learn conflict resolution through tactful, respectful conversation.  It is time to develop compassion and empathy.  It is time to stop judging without all the facts.  It is time to read real books and to put down memes and stunted sentences.  It is time to write a real letter with real sentences.  Stop worrying about commenting on and documenting your life and start living in it. It is time to be real, living people and stop being cyborgs.


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