Recently I have been wondering whether social media is redefining what it means to be ‘sociable’. It has, without a doubt, become a giant in the last few years, with next-to-all of the population born after the 1960s having an account. If you are born after this date and are sat there thinking ‘nope, not me’ – I salut you!

Social media: an escape to isolation?

While flitting around the internet the other day, investigating further into this matter, I came across a simple statement in a Grazia Daily which quoted a University of Pittsburgh study, saying;

“The more time a young adult uses social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated.”

I must confess I have a love-hate relationship with social media, with Instagram being in the favourable forefront.

Sharing posts has a way of maintaining a feeling of relevance among this virtual society; allowing public access to visuals through a window into your life.

But, I think its an agreeable fact that a large proportion of Instagram’s content is filtered, edited, and not completely accurate. Scrolling our life away through hollow gratifications and admirations that ultimately make our lives feel inferior in comparison – it’s perhaps become a slightly toxic system.

I’m beginning to wonder whether the easy escapism into this virtual social reality is causing us to neglect real life, and ourselves. Neglect our own experiences because we’re living in the online fantasy life. Neglect to interact with friends for real, because we’re keeping tabs on their filtered life online. This lack of real-life interaction put together with unrealistic comparisons to the idealistic – we can wind up feeling pretty low about ourselves.

When confidence levels are low…

I suppose it’s reasonable to state that having low self-confidence can make socialising feel like the last thing you want to do. Feeling low is often best-medicated with hibernating under lots of blankets, getting lost in comfort movies.

However, from what I have concluded in my own experiences, this means we are our own worst enemies. Socialising out in The Land of the Living is exactly what would pull us out of such a rut, and yet that’s the one thing we don’t do because it’s striking us where we’re vulnerable.

Logging in, checking out

Here’s an extension on the issue; when we actually do get out into the big wide world, everyone’s plugged in with their heads down. Hypnotised by the little screens attached to our hands.

As well as exhausting our thumbs, this also means that; to the world living outside of our phone, we are unavailable. Online and absent.

Sitting in a beach restaurant last month, I noticed two girls take a video of the cocktails sitting in front of them with a quick pan across the beach, capturing the setting sun. It was a beautiful evening, crisply cold but refreshingly clear with lingering heat from the dipping sun burning low behind trees.

Image by Poster Gull

It got me thinking; what is the point in having drinks with a friend in this case? Just to post it online and ensure other people think you’re having a good time? When in actuality, you’re focussed on what other people are doing with their evenings. These girls proceeded to add their videos to either Instagram or Snapchat (possibly even both – just to ensure maximum people knew what a wonderful time they were having) and had just maintained focus in their phone; aimlessly scrolling rather than talking to each other.

The need for social interactions is biological

In my travels across Google, I stumbled upon an article by Laura Venderkam in Fast Company, discussing the human need for personal communication, and how sometimes the virtual interactions just don’t quite hit the spot.

I’ve always pondered over how technology has evolved so much faster than the brain can adapt, and whether this is affecting us in ways that we are ignoring. (Ms Venderkam evidently agrees with me). 

Being in the physical presence of another person exposes social cues and beautiful truths that social media and texting hides. The stammer of someone who’s nervous, or the vulnerability in someone’s eyes when they’re seeking your comfort, or likewise the light in them when accompanied by a gleaming smile.

All of these raw and unfiltered elements contribute to the closeness of a relationship with someone; the building of trust, feeling at ease in their presence, and even falling in love. In so many ways technology is distracting us from these subtle cues, and leaving a feeling of unfulfillment without the understanding of why.

Perhaps it is because we’re never consciously aware of these cues? But now they’re not so commonly fed to us, our minds are lacking the substance of personal encounters. 

We should be mindful of the bad while enjoying the good

Of course all of the opportunities and abilities that recent technology has granted us are fantastic, and were once unimaginable! Making them quite miraculous too. Are you home-sick? FaceTime your family. Want to meet your mate for a coffee? Shoot them a text. Want your walk home to be less silent? In-go the headphones. 

However, it is possible that digital devices are in fact transforming how much we take part in the outside world. Talking less and texting more. Listening less to nature or conversations and more to Apple Music and Spotify. Is it redefining what it means to be sociable? Is online socialising, therefore, taking precedence?

 

Live alongside technology, not for it

With that being said, I truly love listening to music on walks and commutes, in fact I would honestly have withdrawal symptoms if I lost my headphones. But I won’t listen to music in the company of someone else, for example, in order to avoid seeming unavailable, and therefore isolated from others.

In terms of texting – it is still a great way of keeping contact. A quick text sent to a friend checking if they’re OK could make their day.

As for social media? I think we could all afford to reign it in a little – spend more time with real people and less time getting lost in filtered, virtual lives.

Life is so beautifully messy, always unpredictable, and is often riddled with speed bumps and sharp turns. But nevertheless, I’ve begun to realise just how much we all need to maintain our presence in it. Digital media is serving as a distraction from it all; real life is passing us by as we’re all scrolling and typing.

Our social lives aren’t within the stories on Instagram and snapchat, or at the other end of text messages, they’re in those personal encounters that we humans require! I suppose it is a matter of appreciating what technology can offer us – enjoying it, relishing it – but not letting it change the foundations of how we live.

Take the picture of a memorable moment. Snap a mirror selfie if you like your outfit. We just can’t let these things get in the way of sharing our lives with others in person; sharing stories, sharing laughter – sharing memories.