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There are important questions we should all be asking ourselves about the influence social media has on our lives. That’s why I’ve pulled together a few short, entertaining videos to get us thinking and talking.
Facebook Is An Anti-Social Network.
YouTube creator Prince Ea has a talent for rhyme, but what I really want to talk about here is the substance of his poetry: Does technology drive us further apart?
Is Facebook an ‘anti-social network’? Do you use it because you like to, or because you feel you have to? Have you ever tried to quit Facebook, and how did it go?
My own brother ‘quits’ Facebook whenever his schoolwork starts to get heavy, and I (and two of his friends on separate occasions) have actually asked him, “But how will I share links/articles/videos you should see?” I suppose I could just send them by email, but it feels like a lot of trouble (and it doesn’t come with handy preview text and a thumbnail).
What about the idea that technology has made us more selfish and separate than ever before? With innovations like crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that fund community projects that would otherwise never exist, and micro-investing sites like Kiva Loans that let ordinary people promote social good around the world, and tools like Skype that let us see and talk to far away relatives, I don’t buy that technology really makes us more selfish and separate. It makes our introspective moments more visible, especially when we’re on social media while in public.
Technology gives us the power to connect with or help virtually anybody on Earth, but we spend a lot of time idly looking at Facebook. We all have stories of getting the latest updates in our friend’s lives through Facebook rather than in person, or staring at our smartphones instead of engaging with the people right beside us. Are you one of those people? Why do you do it? Do you enjoy it, or is it just a bad habit you wish you could stop?
I don’t think you need to abandon your smartphones completely to get more out of life, but I do think you’ll have pleasant results if you consciously choose to resist documenting a moment, in favour of experiencing it more fully. The next time you have a beautiful meal, ask yourself how often you actually go back through your food photography and thought the image did justice to the original dish. Then keep your smartphone stowed away, and just dig in.
Your Friends’ Lives: Maybe Not So Great.
This video manages to be funny and depressing simultaneously. Let’s take a moment to look at it a bit closer though: depression and mental health is a serious issue, with suicide being the fourth leading cause of death in people between 15 and 65 years of age. Or, as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention put it, more deaths than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.
Facebook itself ran an experiment to find out if emotions on social media were ‘contagious’. For a week in 2012, Facebook sent some users either exclusively negative or positive posts, to see if it would affect their mood. It did.
Do social media sites like Facebook exacerbate depression? Do you get jealous when your Facebook news feed seems to be filled with people having great life adventures? Do you frame your own life on Facebook in the most positive way you can, or perhaps just not post when you don’t have great news to share? I know I tend to avoid posting the bad news in my life. I like to think that’s better than ‘vaguebooking‘.
Facebook isn’t going away any time soon though – in fact, we’ve also got some great reasons for teenagers to get Facebook, in spite of the fears that it leads to maladjusted teens and missed opportunities.
We Miss Things With Our Heads Down.
We’re looking at our smartphones because we think they offer us something worth our attention – and we do that many times a day. According to Mary Meeker & Liang Wu’s KPCB Internet Trends report of 2013 (slide 52), we check our smartphones about 150 times per day.
Does the average person get value out of the majority of those ~150 times you check your phone? How often are you seeing something that’s really worth the time you spent to check? How much time do you spend not even looking at anything in particular, just looking at apps absentmindedly, or refreshing Facebook just to see if there’s anything new? If you have trouble with that and use Chrome, you might want to consider installing Facebook Nanny.
Are those notifications even any good?
My colleague Justin Pot finds the Look Up video problematic because your gadgets don’t control you. But to me, the point of Look Up isn’t that your gadget controls you, it’s that every time you check your phone there’s an opportunity cost, and it’s not negligible. The objects in your life are not neutral. They’re designed to be used in particular ways, and the value we perceive from those objects mean we give them certain kinds of attention.
Could that moment you spend looking at Facebook instead of looking up be life-changing? Maybe, maybe not. Just think consciously about how you use your gadgets from time to time – it’s healthy. And try to remember to look up often, and put your phone down when it counts. Not necessarily because you’ll miss the chance to meet the love of your life – but at least to avoid the dangers of texting while walking.
Texting Can Kill You.
Cute video, eh? It’s no joke though. In case you’re not aware, distracted-walking is a growing area of concern in public health, so bad that texting-and-walking even has its own new word: wexting.
Wexting has been causing significant increases in pedestrian injuries and deaths every year. According to Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo in New York, distracted walking results in more injuries per mile than distracted driving. As many as ten percent of the tens of thousands of emergency-room visits by pedestrians in the United States may have been caused by cellphone-related accidents.
So, are you a ‘wexter’, and would you be surprised to learn there’s an app for that? A group in Vancouver, Canada is using geo-fencing technology (a geo-fence is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area) to send alerts to texters when they cross certain high-traffic intersections in the city.
It’s an interesting solution, and maybe it will help some chronic ‘wexters’ to wake up and reconsider their decision to walk and text. What do you think? Is it possible for a technology-driven solution to get us out of a technology-created problem? Do you walk and text, and if so, do you think a reminder received ‘in the moment’ will convince you to put your phone down and keep your head up?
Final Thoughts: Social Media Matters. A Lot.
I want to end on the above video to contrast the first four. Maybe you think social media isn’t such a big deal. Maybe you barely use it, maybe you don’t see what all the fuss is about.
But the facts are clear: social media matters. It’s no fad, it’s not going away.
Increasingly we rely on social media tools like Facebook’s Graph Search to explore the web and make decisions about what to look at or purchase. The Internet marketer’s domain is not just in SEO tactics, it’s in creating advertising on Facebook with shareability in mind, in the form of sponsored posts. As a form of advertising, it has a low barrier to entry (you can place ads yourself with mere pocket change), and can be highly targeted.
Business cares about the social media platforms because we spend a lot of time there, and we let our guard down around it. Sponsored posts get so integrated with social media it often doesn’t even feel like advertising, so we usually let it go by without a fuss. Even Tumblr integrates sponsored posts. (Though if you really hate them, AdBlock Plus can stop Sponsored Posts).
What’s more, we don’t just passively look at ads, but we actively share and engage with them – to the point that marketers don’t just track the cost-per-impression of ads and the cost-per-click, but they’ll keep track of ‘cost per engagement’ – such as your Likes, Comments, and Shares. Those actions send our opinions of the brands and products around to our friends, potentially influencing their opinions.
Social media shapes the way we think about brands and products, and for better or for worse, we use it as a shortcut for getting to know people as well.
Whether you agree or disagree, don’t take social media lightly. Your business, your friendships, your relationships, your health, and even your life could be at stake. Let us know what you think about the messages of these videos in the comments.