Let me tell you about this big red button I have. You can't hold it. You can't see it. It isn't real. But what would you do if it was?
If pressed, this imaginary big red button will delete all your social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, everything. Once deleted, there is no way to retrieve any of the content or to restart the accounts. There will be no trace of 'you’ – on social media anyway. So, the question is: would you press the button?
It has become harder for us to avoid the web of social media and even harder to remove ourselves completely from it. But in a world where our every movement is tracked by our digital footprint, where every status posted will last forever, why on earth would you choose not to delete yourself? What exactly have you got to lose? A recent survey revealed that, when faced with the option of removing our online selves, 80% of us wouldn’t press the button.
Why? Is it simply an addiction? An attempt to seek validation and self-confidence from complete strangers? Or perhaps it’s a means of seeking out the basic human interaction which long working hours, school demands and the modern pressures of family life actively prevent. I don’t know the answer, but what is clear is that social media has become so deeply entwined in our daily lives that even the thought of deleting it is like losing a limb. There is, however, a reason that social media addiction is on the rise. And it’s called the online persona.
Being online is about more than communication; it can offer the unique opportunity of being able to 'self-edit’. It allows you to act and talk in a different way, to reinvent yourself. Social media is a virtual world, and while you are in it, you can be someone else, somewhere else.
It’s been said that, on average, we can spend more than 12 hours a week writing our autobiographies online. What started as a communications platform has essentially become a life log, a diary for your digital ghost, a world that many have simply become too invested in. People feel lonely. They turn to social media as a way of reaching out to others. They display all the best parts of themselves in an attempt to build new friendships and relationships, spend hours agonising over the perfect filter to hide behind. And that’s the problem. That world is only a filtered version of reality. No one really cares about how good you looked in that profile picture, or what you had for dinner that night. No one cares if you checked in to that new club down the road or if you tried that new takeaway across the street. The people who actually do care will probably already know.
Social media is a window to other’s experiences, but you don’t really experience it with them. It’s like shoving your face against a bakery window and watching someone else eat a cake. You’re not actually having your cake and eating it, you’re just watching them do so. Sometimes you have to experience these things for yourself – away from that glowing screen.
Only 7% of communication relies on the verbal word. The other 93% relies on such non-verbal cues as body language and eye contact. Communicating through social media is fast, easy, instant, but completely lacking in those non-verbal cues that basic human communication so relies on. I’ve seen heated debates become rip-roaring arguments, conversations taken out of context, and relationships broken because someone misread an instant message online – all because of social media. Our basic human interactions, the relationships and bonds that actually matter to us outside of that world, are damaged and destroyed by social media.
A friend of mine once said: 'I’m loving these smiley faces stopping the debate from being nasty’. It’s the perfect example of how empty and false online conversations can be. How someone could misread the hurtful side of a message because of a colon and a bracket placed beside each other. How warped our ability to communicate with others has become.
The reluctance to let go of social media, of those online personas, is not enhancing the human interaction we so desperately crave – it’s tearing us apart. Social media conversations are not the same as human contact. While it could potentially be as socially fulfilling for some, the same conversational rules do not apply. It’s a debate of contact or connection. We’ve all experienced that feeling of being ignored via social media. The classic case of 'why are they liking all those posts but ignoring my message?’ and 'it says they’ve seen the message, so why aren’t they replying?'. With our constant second guessing and searching for double meanings, no wonder social media is the petty destroyer of so many relationships.
Our ability to instantly contact one another means that we are always juggling the need for instant replies with our addiction to replying. This inevitably results in shorter unsatisfying conversations with less meaning, which succeed in filling you up for a short time but always leave you wanting more. You only have to sit on a train or a bus for a few seconds to see the impact it has had and will continue to have. People with their faces buried in social networks, avoiding eye-contact and giving you strange looks if you so much as even smile in their direction. They are all 'plugged in’ somewhere else.
Take away someone’s access to social media and they can hardly sit still for one moment without itching to get back online.
I’m one of the addicted. And as I prepare to step into the world of university, I think of all the 'friends’ I have on social media and all the group chats that will fall away to the Facebook graveyard. How many will stick around long after secondary school has finished? How many of these conversations do I actually care about? I wonder whether it’s a case of deleting them or deleting 'me’. Maybe the answer is to go offline. Put down your phone, put away your computer, hide your tablet and have that face-to-face conversation now and not later. Try to delete the apps, even for a few days. Just delete 'you’. Take some time in the 'real world’. I couldn’t, but maybe you could.
So, I have a big red button. Would you press it?