Nancy Collier, LCSW, a therapist writing for Psychology Today online, states, “People often ask me how I think human beings are changing as a result of our addiction to technology. The fact is we are changing in innumerable ways but perhaps none more profound than in our relationship with ourselves, that is, how we experience our own company. It is paradoxical really. On the one hand, we believe that every cinnamon latte we consume is extraordinary and meaningful to others. We share every thought and feeling, imagining the world as our doting mother, celebrating every itch we scratch. And yet, despite our sense of self-importance, we, simultaneously, have lost touch with an internally generated sense of self-worth or meaning.”
The point is well stated because it doesn’t make the usual, stale claim that “technology is bad because it makes us selfish.” Indeed, smartphones — nothing more than pocket computers — make us less connected from ourselves, not more. Does technology make us stop enjoying our own company? No, because technology cannot “make” us do anything. It’s what we do as individuals that counts.
So what are the alternatives to social media? Taking a walk, perhaps. Living consciously in the present. Being self-reflective – even mindful; self-aware. Experiencing every moment fully. Thinking about the problems of the day and attempting to find solutions by introspecting with yourself. Maybe even losing yourself in a good book. All are better than spending hours peering at a glowing screen that does nothing more than chronicle what everyone else is doing.
Of course, some social media can be productive; informing you of new ideas, new topics to consider or quality advice to help you understand the world. But it becomes compulsive when there’s no desire to put the phone down and move on to something else. One of the symptoms of that compulsion could be anxiety over situations one would rather not think about. That’s where running away from yourself comes in. And this lack of real-time consciousness can lead to excessive behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse. This anxious “running away from oneself” did not begin with computers and technology. Nor did it start because of social media. Social media and technology merely provide the excuse. The real question is, “What am I running from, and why do I think running from it will solve anything?” At that point you can try limiting your time on social media and diversifying your activities – maybe even taking that walk referenced above.
Neurotic and psychologically unhealthy people are excessively concerned with what others are doing. Social media provides a means for focusing on this obsession. One thing I’ve learned over the years is just how obsessed many people are with being “normal.” By normal they do not mean reasonable or rationally adaptive; they mean in the majority; the center of the statistical “normal curve.” And not because it’s necessarily better, but simply because it’s in the middle. As a lady once put it to me some years ago, “Dr. Hurd, why wouldn’t I ask you what’s normal? Those of us living out here want to be part of the pack.” Being part of the pack may be fine in certain contexts, but if it’s an end in itself, it opens the door to a whole range of addictive or unhealthy behaviors. And social media fixation is only the latest.
Being comfortable with yourself means being comfortable with your own mind — indeed, with your very soul. Once you’re at peace with yourself, there’s no need to run to see what everyone else is doing. Social media has its place just like anything else, but there’s no need to fixate on “the pack.” It simply doesn’t matter.
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