The Social Media Disconnect

Published 6 years ago

You wake up each morning but before getting out of bed you’re already caught up with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. By the time you’ve reached the office, you know exactly what’s trending, which celeb made a faux pas, and what your virtual friends are wearing to work. Sound familiar?

According to the SA Social Media Landscape 2017 report issued by World Wide Worx and Ornico, there are 14 million South Africans on Facebook, 7.7 million on Twitter, 5.5 million on LinkedIn and 3.5 million on Instagram. It’s unclear how many are on Snapchat as users themselves don’t know what their follower count is; however, the last global estimate stood at 2% being South African.

Being on multiple social media platforms is the norm, but how has it changed our behavior? Gregory Eccles, a counselling psychologist practicing in Greenstone Hills, Johannesburg, says social media allows us to share far more of our lives with a large audience than we typically would have, creating opportunities for both greater inclusion of others in our lives, as well as for overshare or compromised privacy.

“Like any other communication tool, it gives us the power to affect change in our lives in good and bad ways, but it is our choice of how we use it that ultimately decides its impact,” says Eccles.

“It also allows us to indulge our inherent narcissism more fully than we otherwise may have been able, but those are desires that were there prior to social media.”

Saaleha Bamjee, a 33-year-old writer and photographer based in Johannesburg, who has since deleted her Snapchat account, says she used to catch up on the network in the mornings and evenings, and when not busy, in the afternoons.

“I joined out of a sense of FOMO [fear of missing out], and at first, followed the popular accounts,” she says. “It soon got tiresome, none of what people were sharing was of any value to me personally.”

There have been reports over the years of people going into debt to maintain an online presence and image, while a fair amount of ‘influencers’ overseas have quit Instagram altogether because they couldn’t keep up with the pressure of leading “fake” lives. Eccles says there is certainly pressure to maintain a certain type of social image, and the same applies to our social media presence.

“While some people may experience that pressure as quite overwhelming, it is ultimately still an action of choice for the most part as to how we present ourselves through social media.”

Bamjee says she made purchases on cosmetics and haircare appliances based on the recommendation of a local beauty blogger, while other purchases were tied to being a photographer.

“On Instagram, if I want to be hired or promote my services effectively, I have to upload quality images; this often involves shopping for food ingredients and props.”

Eccles thinks that social media doesn’t actively force us to make purchases. He says that the one aspect of social media when compared to other communication methods is that it allows us greater control over what we present, but we do not always take that into account when viewing posts from other people – an oversight which potentially mars our perspective of our status relative to others.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in new hardware such as better technology in smartphones like higher megapixels on the front-facing cameras, and 360-degree cameras, which Facebook has been supporting for quite some time now. These technologies enable us to share more than ever because it’s no longer just a photo; it’s now full-on livestreams through Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and 360-degree photos and videos of every aspect of our lives.

While the availability of these sorts of tools can make it easier to indulge in our vices, Eccles maintains it is not the tools that are to blame.

“We need to look at our own motivations for why we use all of these tools the way we do, and think carefully about what other options we may have to achieve similar results (sense of social connection) and what the consequences of each method are.”

Eccles believes the problem is deeper than what it appears, and thinks that while consumer culture has an influence on our need to be connected all the time, the bigger influence are our own feelings of social connectedness or isolation.

“The truth is we all have a strong desire to connect socially with others, and social media is often the easiest way to do so. Unfortunately, our interactions through social media are quite superficial, forcing those who choose to fulfil their need for social interaction through social media to require more of it.”

Bamjee subsequently stopped following Snapchat accounts that had a “sameness” about it – a preoccupation with affluence and image.

“I soon realized that I didn’t want to see even more than what was already being shared on Facebook or Instagram. I missed having a conversation where I could ask ‘hey, what’s new’ and actually hear something I hadn’t known about previously.”

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our reasons for being on social media and the behavior it dictates. “We have a common urge to place blame outside ourselves – Facebook does this to us or smartphones do this to us, but while they often make it easier to behave in ways that may not be particularly healthy, such as ignoring the outside world in favour of spending all your time on your phone, we cannot ignore our own agency in all of this,” concludes Eccles.

While her time is still being monopolised by other social media platforms, Bamjee says she is happier in the sense that she no longer feels she has to know what’s going on with everyone all the time.

Related Topics: #Facebook, #February 2017, #Instagram, #Snapchat, #Twitter.