Social Media: The Digital Layer of Your Identity

For my final blog in this series on social media and how it influences the way we communicate and interact with one another, I decided to take a look at how social media makes us feel and how our perceptions of other people’s lives on social media influence the way we perceive ourselves.

I’ve used various forms of social media since about 2003. I’m a self-proclaimed internet junkie, most people who know me well would agree.  My experience using social media has been, in general, a positive experience. I’ve stayed connected to friends that moved across the country, or to another country entirely. I’ve established and maintained relationships in the music industry simply from exchanging Facebook information at music festivals. I’ve also been able to keep track of my nephews and my niece as they go through the stages of infancy, toddler, and early childhood. All of those things are positive aspects of using social media. The internet breaks down geographical barriers. It allows us to insert ourselves into other people’s lives without being intrusive, as long as the content of your friends and families lives are posted on the internet.

However, through my own experience I’ve noticed that during times when I am not feeling great about myself, I tend to envy the lives of other people when I’m using social media. That vacation to Europe that your friend is going on, a major job update from a high school friend that you expected to be “doing better” than pops into your news feed, a friend finding their soul mate and posting every minuscule update of their life together distracts you as your are recovering from a major break-up, and the list goes on. It’s easy to get wrapped up in other people’s lives, especially when you are not in a pleasant state of mind.

More than ever, research is being conducted and published regarding how social media influences our lives and shapes the way we interact with one another. An article I just read from Indiana University claims, “[T]his analysis contributes to a growing body of evidence that social media may be harmful to users who ‘overindulge’ in these services since it’s nearly impossible to escape negative comparisons to their friends’ popularity and happiness,” 

John Bollen explains his findings after data-mining Twitter.  I am somewhat shocked to hear some of Indiana University’s findings. I would have guessed that the more deeply connected someone is to social media, and the higher number of people that we interact with, would cause a negative effect but in fact it is the opposite. Perhaps the model of social media consumption is creating a false sense of happiness that is only being propped up by the dopamine purging loop that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter put us in (I discussed this topic in my last blog if you want to learn more about that topic).

All of that being said, I think that social media is a useful tool for professionals and individuals for their social life. I can’t sit here and say that it’s all bad or it’s all good. A quote from Quarry’s Communication for Another Development chapter links in well with the topic at hand. “Like a chameleon, communication is embedded in international development. It changes color to reflect the development thinking of the day…”

I believe this quote ties into social media’s influence on our perception of other people because social media’s use is multifaceted so our behavior on said social media must be multifaceted. I also believe that if we focus on the positive reasons why we use social media and mitigate our time spent on social media when our objective is done (i.e. catch up with friends, see what’s going on in the sports/music/entertainment/political world, or say “hi” to a few friends) then we log off and actually live our life we can avoid this phenomena of social media induced depression and envy.

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