An essay about the hidden costs of Social Media on our lives by James Bonner

The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media: Exploring the Hidden Costs of Our Online Lives

Social Media is an interesting topic, it seems that when talking about the concept of social media, in general, many people will get irritated, like because they already know what you’re going to say: “Social media are at the root of the problem,” the “source of modern evil,” and that because older and irrelevant generations almost always raise the topic of conversation it feels to them more like an explanation or clarification. Younger generations don’t approach the conversation of social media in thoughtful speculation but rather as an annoyance, they’re not talking about social media as much as they are trying to instruct someone whose grasp of social media is so far out of reach, that they’ll never understand it. I want to clarify a basis many people don’t seem to understand.

Social media has come a long way since its inception. It started in the late 1990s with platforms like Six Degrees and LiveJournal (I had a LiveJournal) that paved the way for what was to come. Social media refers to online platforms and tools that allow people to create, share, and exchange information, ideas, and content in virtual communities and networks. Social media has revolutionized the way we are capable of communicating and connecting with others. Over the years, social media has evolved from basic text-based platforms to multimedia-rich sites like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Introducing features like live streaming, stories, threads, and AR filters has transformed how we interact online. But of course, everybody knows this. But there is an important basis many people don’t seem to understand. Social media is not the gleaming light that directs us toward progressive, illumined cultural acceptance.

Many people may not consciously realize that while a third of the U.S. population has never lived in a world without social media and remains largely influenced by these platforms and networks on a day-to-day basis, the remaining two-thirds of us, those of us who approach the philosophical advantages and disadvantages of social media, are responsible for influencing these platforms. We have lived in a world without social media, while the rest of you are having no issues sharing your unmistakable disdain for that fact, mostly because many of you are drawing negative comparisons to the narrow-minded, corrupt world before social media and the progressively broad-minded, evolved neo-world of social media, many of us “elders,” and because we have personally witnessed centuries worth of genuine human interaction, recognize that there are very real behavioral aftereffects of social media addiction that have conditioned and modified our purview that should be addressed. So, let’s address them.

Millennials, in particular, developed alongside social media, but most of us were already in our early twenties when social media reared its uncertain destiny. We actively used Classmates and Friendster, chatted with each other on AOL Instant Messenger, and updated our Myspace with our new and favorite music. Facebook spread through Ivy League schools like wildfire before reaching other targeted universities. We “elders” continue to stress this point because we know what social media is, and what social media is not (because we were there!). The same third of the population that has never known a world without social media, those who think “only old people use Facebook,” and who criticize the platform’s users not just for being old but also for being “part of the problem,” you all don’t know what social media is and is not-you can’t know.

There’s a psychological disconnect between our perception of social media and our relationship with and reactions to the people we encounter on social media. The way that people behave in life is nothing at all like the way that people behave when on social media. With that said, because social media has been such a dominant part of just about all of our lives for decades, there exists now a behavioral crossover, and in part because a great deal more of our lives are spent on social media than they were before the development and universal growth of these platforms (a third of you can’t imagine what I mean, and some of you that try to end up picturing a world more prejudice than it genuinely was). The way that most of us imagine the state of our world, and probably culture in particular is a digital untruth, it’s not as real as it comes across. And for many of you, it might be difficult, if not altogether impossible, to acknowledge that truth.

I have lived in many places throughout my nearly 40 years of living the next place was more in contrast with the last. I was born on a military base in California; for those of you who have experienced life, and schooling in particular, in the military, you know how different life can be. We had lived in California, Arkansas, and North Carolina before we moved to Tokyo, Japan where I started school. I was eight, well, maybe seven before I went to a public school, and the ethnic diversity on base vs. a public school is striking. As far as I was concerned race existed but concerning only 1.) a person’s correlation with where their ancestors lived geographically, and 2.) their cultural experiences and language based on where they happened to spend their formidable years basically, how potent the sun is, culture, and language-and that was the extent of race for me during my formidable years.

After college, I moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho, and throughout the following couple of decades, I also lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, New York City, New York, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Boerne, Texas, and Livingston, Montana. My experiences taught me so much about people, behavior, and how we think. I learned as much unconsciously as I did consciously. I can tell you with absolute certainty that everyone, regardless of where they live, cannot imagine life beyond the context in which they live. The worldview of the people you surround yourself with, the community in which you live, doesn’t just become your worldview it becomes the only applied worldview, and not only do people accept that completely, but they also reject any notion that challenges it. Social media doesn’t balance or curb this attitude, it reinforces it. Social media was intended to be a tool, a resource to strengthen our lives, it is not a reflection of the state of the world unless social media actively becomes your world.

There are so many reasons why having a conversation about the many behavioral side-effects of social media is important. I think one important, behavioral milestone that was likely last experienced by millennials, and that no one is talking about, is the personal mental and emotional anguish and prevailing of adolescence; the rite of passage: the hero’s journey, the vision quest, the coming-of-age, Rumspringa, the practice of emerging adulthood that is in decline from our culture. This used to be a human milestone that we subconsciously fled into alone, we challenged and questioned notions of our culture and our world that we struggled with, and we challenged and questioned the notions of ourselves and our relationships that we struggled with, and through it we found some sense of direction and purpose. At the age at which we should be doing that we are instead engaged in an unending buttress of dissent. We must find a sense of personal harmony in something, without our rite of passage, we remain in a constant state of opposition. Social media has reset our emotional clocks.

Because social media platforms reinforce angst, self-doubt, and rebellion (for rebellion’s sake), we don’t grow as human beings, we’ve been stagnant and worthless, and we’ll continue to be stagnant and worthless until our society can learn what social media is and what social media is not. For example, you can’t be on Twitter (X) for more than a few minutes without being overwhelmed with samples of unbridled resentment and ignorance, TikTok is an example of our mindless self-indulgence and our unconscious need for attention, while Instagram seems to be a remarkable source for positive reinforcement, our inability to recognize Instagram as a tool and not a lifestyle ultimately promises the adverse effect. The benefits of these platforms can be immeasurably helpful, you must know first, that you have explored a sense of self and who you are at your core. That’s something that social media cannot help you with. And unfortunately, that is something that too many people are turning to social media to help them explore. Although you will find answers buried somewhere in the mess, usually in the form of a community, those answers are not real, they can’t be because you have to explore your sense of self without the crutch of social media to understand yourself, it is in here and most definitely not out there.

We are inherently social creatures and social media seemingly satisfies our need for connection, belonging, and attention. These platforms provide us with what seems to be a stage for self-promotion, creativity, and networking, because we lack true self-respect, we lose ourselves in the worst of our humanity that finds a breeding ground in social media platforms. I stress again because it’s so important, social media is a tool (like a dictionary), a resource to use to strengthen our lives, social media is not a place to live our lives; we’re not going to find ourselves lost somewhere between platforms. We have to find a way to separate ourselves from the many addictions bedded within social media and find some mental, emotional, and spiritual rebalance.

Social media is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that has, on the one hand, revolutionized how we connect with and communicate with the world, and on the other, threatens our mental and emotional well-being. By acknowledging how social media controls our lives, we can learn to apply it in a way that promotes authentic connection, self-awareness, and personal growth. And striving to develop healthier relationships with social media that balance the benefits of technology with the wisdom of our inner lives, will loosen the grip that social media has on us and our lives, and provide the opportunity to use it to unite us, instead of the force of divisiveness that it is today.

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