New technology and social media have altered the way we live, think, and communicate. New technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than ever before. But like any revolutionary concept, communication on social media has one paradox twist: social media has the potential to make us less social and alter the content of the message being delivered very easily.
The use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) is on a constant rise, and over 70 percent of online adults use social networking nowadays. The percentage is even bigger, reaching almost 90 percent between adults of age 18-30, with almost equal distribution between women and men. Still, social media is not only reserved for the young. Reports on the usage of social networking show that every second an adult aged 65+ who uses the internet also visits social networking sites.
The price we pay for this convenience
Electronics has taken over face-to-face and voice to voice communication by a wide margin. Facial expression and reading emotional reactions has been replaced by emoticons, that often times hide our real feelings. One thing about social media profiles is that we control the content, and we essentially build our social media identity. Unlike real life, we have full control. We can delete or edit our actions, remove “not-so-flattering” photos of us and even convey an image of ourselves that could be somewhat ‘embellished’. When it comes to face-to-face interactions, the inability to control these things has actually been linked to social anxiety. When individuals become immersed in their online persona, they avoid talking about their real feelings and problems and only build up the anxiety and stress.
We tend to forget the difference between reality and the virtual world and see our social media profile pages as an extension to our identity. Thus, our profile and behavior on these platforms is becoming more and more self-focused, rather than social. Social media pages are becoming more like fairytales rather than personal stories, where people only put the very best thing that happens at the moment. For example, on Facebook we can interact through profiles, private instant messaging, and personal commenting. Our profile can include our favorite books, music, or favorite movies to the “about me” section of one’s page. However all of these modes can be edited, and we present ourselves in fixed self-conscious way and put ourselves in an optimal light. Such behavior set up the pressure of anxiety more than it does benefit. Afraid to ruin their image they have created for themselves, people are reserved and find it awkward to talk face to face with strangers and even friends compared to conversing online.
Communication via social networks puts another pressure on us by creating the impression of a constant audience looking in our life. Yet, even though we can label our followers as friends, acquaintances etc., we do not know who is actually looking at our profile and actions. This unknown audience can provoke anxiety. Researchers confirm that individuals who are shyer do lie more about their identities online to appeal to an imagined audience. What users choose to post about themselves is most often not based on how they are in real life, but on how they would like to be seen by their “friends”. And the need for constant affirmation by likes, retweets, re-pins, ratings of influence etc., puts additional pressure to an average user of social media.
Is there a way out?
The need for perfection and attention wouldn’t be so harmful if it did reflect reality, and if we were living in a perfect society. It is the mismatch between our online identity and our real life that is causing much of today’s social anxiety. Having to accept our life as it is, and not as the fairy tale shown on Facebook, is a major cause for anxiety and depression, and why people escape from real relationships and substitute them with virtual ones, where they can be their-online-selves.
This is an enchanted circle from which many cannot find an easy way out and end up feeling lonely and depressed. The key to overcoming this addiction to social media communication is by simply learning to love and accept ourselves and others the way we really are. By accepting the fact that we are not perfect beings and being conscious about your flaws and weaknesses, you will remove that invisible weight you have when communicating in real life with friends.
Instead of battling sadness with status updates stating we are feeling happy, and then get likes from our friends, we will get real comfort and help to solve our problems, and all of this eventually help us fight the anxiety and fear we are feeling.
If you are feeling socially anxious, another thing that may help is using technology less, and try to communicate with people face-to-face as much as possible. If you feel that you can’t do it alone, there are a number of treatments for social anxiety, which involve medication or therapy, individual and in groups. It is very important to remember that you do not have to suffer and limit yourself to the things you want to do, simply because you are scared or anxious.
Last, but not least, socializing via Facebook can not replace spoken communication, nights out with friends, chats with strangers in a café, and with family members over Sunday night dinner. Once you start accepting this fact and practice communication in person you will realize that the only one having different expectations from your life is you and that those closest to you will accept you the way you are.