The United States continues to become more polarized, and the platforms we’re using to discuss the highly sensitive topics causing this schism are only making it worse.
There are countless ways social media frustrates me, but the most eye-rolling sentiment I hear when I discuss its perils with family and friends is that it somehow connects us.
Sure, I get how this one’s easy to buy at first given how the platforms are set up. Without Facebook, for instance, how would you ever know that your second cousin’s ex-husband’s brother Chad is streaming his Fortnite match on Twitch? Talk about living under a rock! You might as well move to Alaska and forage for berries and roots alone for the rest of your life. Sure, you might not know when Chad is streaming, but trust me: limiting your social media involvement won’t ruin your social life. Actually, based on my own experience, it’ll improve it. I did a full digital detox during the month of June to prove my own theory to myself before I started launching into unsolicited monologues at dinner parties.
Think about the most meaningful relationships in your life: were any of them born of social media and/or have any of them grown stronger through social media? The answer is likely no.
During my month off social media, I never once felt I was lacking interpersonal connection. On the contrary, I actually became more fulfilled. Since I wasn't able to satisfy my need for connection by flicking my thumb up a screen and viewing hundreds of well-curated posts from people I only knew briefly at some point in my life, I instead began to think about who I actually wanted to talk to and would give them a call or set up a time to meet.
This led to real, face-to-face interactions, and many wonderful conversations that I walked away from often feeling enlighted and inspired. It turns out folks aren’t as dumb and mean as they make themselves out to be on social media.
The primary thing being on social media for over a decade taught me is that humans seem their cruelest when all senses have been stripped away. Of the many wonders the internet has brought over the past 30 years, stripping communication down to a single line of text has been one of its great downfalls and has led to armies of paper tigers. When we speak to each other, we need to hear tone, see gestures, and facial expressions — even the smell and sense of the space around us come into play sometimes. We are not so quick to cast judgment on one’s opinion if we are able to fully understand the conviction behind their message, which is impossible to do when their message comes only as a line of text riddled with exclamation points and ill-placed capitalization.
This unnatural form of communication leads to anger which otherwise might have been avoided if one’s message had been communicated in the manner intended for humans. It’d be naive for me to blame social media too much. Humans have been angry and at war since the dawn of time. But if we’re already having trouble getting along, why are we now using a platform that’s making it even harder?
Humans naturally avoid conflict, which leads to the slow removal of opinions we don’t agree with from our social media platforms until all that’s left is our own voice bouncing off the screen at us. My hope for this isn’t a mass social media exodus, but rather that anyone who reads this will take a look at their social media usage and ask themselves what purpose it serves. Personally, I have no desire to spend much time on Facebook or Twitter for the reasons I explained above, but I do still enjoy Instagram from time to time given its focus on art over opinion (and it's a great place for 15-second golf videos and memes).
This is, however, a denouncement of the belief that social media is an essential part of our lives; human connection is an essential part of our lives, and if social media doesn’t truly satisfy that, then why are you using it?
Jonathan Haukaas is the former editor-in-chief of The Reflector. During his tenure, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association awarded him six first-place awards, including for opinion writing. Follow his writing at medium.com/@dispatchesfromreality