Social Media turns 10 years old this week— well, it sort of does. In actuality, it’s a holiday established by the digital media company Mashable, has its 10th anniversary this year. While it’s not a world renowned holiday, Social Media Day does present us with a chance to sit still, take some deep breaths, and reflect on the very real effect that the internet and social media has on every aspect of our world and our lives, including our family relationships.
The first true form of social media came from the dinosaur days of the internet, via 1997’s Six Degrees (which yes, does still exist). Promoting the idea that no two people are more than six degrees of separation apart, Six Degrees opened the doors to using the internet for social connections. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and others all owe their births to this innovative company.
Personally, I’m a part of that younger generation of millennials that remembers clearly how the world once was, shrieking dial-up internet and half day video load times until maybe age 11, only to then go through middle school and puberty as the internet and social media spread their roots from one end of the globe to the other and became what we now know them as today. Because I experienced the change in the internet from something fringe to something fundamental to living, the societal effects of social media and technology are a huge fascination of mine.
It’s easy to see the effect that technology and social media has had on our world. Since the explosion of smartphones, you can take a city bus ride, grab a coffee in a chic café, or even just sit down for dinner with your family and you’ll see bent necks and swiping fingers. It’s not surprising, either. Between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you could go morning until night wandering social media labyrinths.
Family time and relationships are one of the areas that social media has had a tremendous impact. Social media keeps family members who move away connected through photos, videos and chats or texts. In its most positive sense, this digital thread creates an instantaneous bridge between family members, keeping their connections fresh and healthy.
However, there is an unhealthy side to social media use. Too much social media use can leave one with an undesired side effect: FOMO.
For those unaware, FOMO is ‘Fear of Missing Out’, the idea that those around you are living unburdened lives while you are marred with everyday issues and anxieties. You’d be kidding yourself if you haven’t experienced a bout of FOMO once or twice after an eye straining deep dive into your social media platform of choice; you’re sitting on your couch after another day in the office, while a friend of yours has just uploaded a collection of photos from their Cabo trip. Just like that, a lightning bolt of FOMO strikes you where you sit.
While it can affect anyone, FOMO, the modern day equivalent of the ‘Keeping up with the Jones’’ mentality, can be especially pernicious and biting for modern day parents. If you spend even 10 minutes a day on social media, you will see that the well of parent’s posts about their children has not run dry. Problem free posts, idyllic vacation photos with their youngsters, shared announcements of their child’s participation and achievement of another extra-curricular activity, there is simply a glut of content from parents portraying their family lives as magical, unburdened and fulfilling. Walking away with a FOMO-singed face and feelings of parental incompetence are completely understandable.
While social media was created as a virtual space where ideas can be shared and connections can be made, a byproduct of social media is its use as a sort of ‘highlight reel’. It’s a common desire to share personal good news with loved ones, and it’s an understandable desire to do the same via your social media accounts, since you are most likely connected there with family and friends alike. While some people might use social media as a public outlet for their woes and problems, it’s much more likely that you will only see the positives of a person’s life, their marriages, child births, graduations and job promotions, the highlights.
A big reason for this highlight-effect is the commonality of smartphones. Never before have moments been able to be documented, frozen in time, and shared instantaneously, captured in high-definition clarity for viewing and revisiting for years to come.
However, this sort of ‘moment-capturing’ frame of mind can become unhealthy in an insidious way if you’re not careful. In striving to photograph these moments, instead of appreciating how ridiculous your kiddo looks covered from head to toe in mud, you become more concerned with capturing and posting the moment to social media than just experiencing it. You might start to fixate on the perfect camera angle or the proper pose that you nudge your child into, might start to force the moment into existence rather than live the actual life event. It can all get very meta and hollow very quickly if you concern yourself more so with how the event will appear to your social media followers than how it feels to you and your family living it.
From an outside perspective, all of your friends on social media accounts might seem like they have 100% fulfilling lives, unshackled of the daily anxieties and issues that you yourself face. The fact of the matter is that, as mentioned before, social media is a highlight reel for some, meaning that they are only showing you their very surface level positive achievement. It is a curated view of a person, a look into both how the person is perceived by the world around them and also how they want to be perceived, how they choose to express themselves.
Underneath the glacial surface of those highlights, people aren’t that dissimilar. No one has a perfect life, and no matter the social stratum they occupy, everyone faces their own personal problems, completely unseen beneath the plastic exteriors they portray via social media. By continually reminding yourself that your feelings of FOMO are unwarranted, that what you are seeing on social media is only a fraction of what a person’s life really is, you can bust those feelings of FOMO and escape that social media trap.
Instead of being suffocated under the depths of FOMO, you can simply feel happy for the highlights you see a person post. This bit of distance can help you maintain a healthy virtual relationship with social media.