Thoughts On Social Media

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

We live in the age of social media.

Two decades ago social media was not a significant phenomenon. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and all the other social media platforms so embedded into people’s lives today did not exist. It was a simpler time. A time when people had face-to-face interactions instead of relying on messaging each other online. A time when people didn’t worry so much about what others were doing and comparing themselves to others. A time when people allowed themselves to fully enjoy the moment and embrace each other’s company, instead of constantly looking down on their devices and being distracted.

But whatever your thoughts on the matter, social media has become a prominent part of modern life. The average person spends multiple hours a day consuming content on social media. Twitter had been used to broadcast announcements from the President of the United States. Social media has become an essential marketing medium for many businesses. There are also many who rely on social media for their income, such as influencers and creators. Nowadays, movements, cults, trends, conspiracy theories, and political mobilizations are spread through social media.

Given the prominence of social media in the modern world, it is important to evaluate the impact it has had on our lives.

On the one hand, there are several negative effects of social media. Here are some that come to mind:

  1. It has weakened people’s attention spans and ability to concentrate. Social media companies design their platforms to be addictive. They are incentivized to do so because the more time users spend on their platforms, the more opportunities there are to monetize this usage through advertisements, sponsorships, selling data, etc. Social media companies aim to draw people’s attention, often using distracting notifications throughout the day to get users constantly back on the app. This constant pushing of attention grabbing material diminishes people’s ability to focus on anything for a significant amount of time, something that is important for creating great work or for fully enjoying an experience.
  2. It has reduced both the quantity and quality of social interactions. Social media has provided a means of socializing without actually socializing. Why catch up with an old friend over drinks or dinner when you can find out everything through their social media posts? Why hang out with friends when you’re bored when there’s always something to see on social media? It used to be that during people’s free time, there wasn’t much to do besides spending time with friends. Now there are a plethora of social media platforms to keep everyone distracted and hypnotized. People are spending less time socializing and more time on their devices instead. Moreover, even when people do socialize, they often get distracted by their phones through social media, unable to truly enjoy time together with others. This phenomenon has a seriously detrimental effect on mental health and quality of life. Humans are social creatures and social interactions are essential for a healthy and meaningful life.
  3. It is often used as a form of procrastination and a time killer. Before I discuss the positive aspects of social media later in the article, I must acknowledge that a majority of the content on social media do not add value to people’s lives. Thus, because of how distracting social media is, it can be a terrible form of procrastination. Mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds is a passive, addictive, and time-wasting activity that provides little to no benefit to the user. The exception, which I will get to later, is if you follow accounts that give real value to you, whether through education, motivation, or inspiration. Of course, if this was the case, you wouldn’t be “mindlessly” scrolling, but instead, intentionally consuming valuable content that can improve your life or inspire you with positive energy and new ideas. This also includes entertaining content that you find motivating and inspiring. Beneficial content does not always have to be serious in nature.

These are the main negative effects of social media that come to mind. Of course, there are others, but I shall not dwell too much on the negatives.

Let us move on to the positive aspects of social media. Here are the important ones:

  1. It can give you valuable information. Never before in human history has so much information and knowledge been so widely accessible. There is a lot of educational content on social media, covering an endless variety of topics. Using these sites to learn can benefit you in a positive way, especially if you apply the knowledge you gain into your life.
  2. It can motivate and energize you. A lot of social media content is motivating and energizing. Watching motivational videos, for example, can get the viewer to feel invigorated and ready for whatever he or she is out to do. Music shared on social media can also get listeners to feel more motivated and energized. Films, vlogs, written posts, and other forms of story telling can propel you to achieve your dreams and goals with the inspiring example of others, whether real or fictional.
  3. It can inspire you. There is so much creativity on social media that it can inspire you with new ideas, new hopes, and new dreams. It can stimulate your mind to be more imaginative, more inventive, and more innovative. You may take inspiration from an influencer’s style, dress, or way of carrying himself. You may watch a film or video about an inspiring story that may relate to your own life. You may come up with new ways of doing things from the example of others. Social media can be a useful source of inspiration.
  4. It can be a useful networking tool. Always remember the “social” in “social media”. On the other side of the screen are real people, people who may have similar interests, similar ideas, and similar goals. Social media allows you to more easily find and connect with these people, since people show who they are through social media and because you can easily message them through social media sites. If you create content yourself and post information on social media profiles, people can also reach out to you themselves, potentially forming valuable new relationships. Networking is essential to a successful and happy life. Social media allows you to network for both business and personal reasons, giving you opportunities to connect with valuable business contacts or to make friends.
  5. It provides opportunities to find or form communities of like-minded people. On a related note, social media also allows like-minded people to find each other and form groups and communities. You can meet others who share similar interests, allowing you to be a part of a community that you can learn from and gain motivation and inspiration from in whatever you want to do. And if you can’t immediately find a community, you can form one yourself. There are often group features you can use on social media sites, such as Facebook groups. You can also post content that attracts like-minded individuals, creating your own community with you at the center.
  6. You can make friends from it. With all the networking and community opportunities, social media allows you to make new friends, often friends with similar interests or hobbies. I’m personally not a proponent of friendships that only take place online, but social media gives you the opportunity to get to know others and connect with them in person if you happen to be in the same area, thus forming real life friendships.
  7. You can make money from it. Perhaps one of the biggest aspects of social media that people fail to take advantage of is that it can be a money making machine. Moreover, it requires no monetary investment to make it work (except for a computer or some other electronic device, and for camera equipment for pictures and videos, but people often already have these). Many social media platforms, such as YouTube, Medium, and TikTok, pay creators directly, either from the ad revenue they help generate or from membership/subscription fees. Others, such as Instagram, give users the opportunity to make money through sponsorships or paid posts. You can also make money from affiliate marketing, which is essentially marketing other people’s products and earning a commission every time someone buys the product through you.
  8. You can use it to build a personal brand. You can really express yourself on social media and show the world who you really are and who you want to be. This allows you to build a personal brand that stands for what you care about. You can use this to become an influencer, and get profitable brand deals and sponsorships, or to sell yourself, perhaps to get a job, or to market your business, products, or services, which brings us to the next point.
  9. You can use it as a marketing tool for your business, products, or services. As I discussed earlier, you can make money from social media directly, getting paid from the platforms themselves or from sponsors or marketers. But you can also make money indirectly from social media by using it as a marketing tool for your own business, products, or services. Social media can be very lucrative if you use it in a business-minded way.
  10. You can use it to make a change. Social and political movements, cultural trends, and new ideas are now spread through social media. Many leaders of these movements and trends are just regular people, relying on social media to get their message across. With social media, you have a tool to really make an impact on the world. That is why so many politicians use social media to advance their political agenda and/or to win elections.
  11. It can be a creative outlet. Lastly, social media allows you to show the world what you create. Whether if its articles, photos, or videos, it is an outlet that allows you to be discovered and for others to enjoy the results of your creativity.

One point I must address is that yes, many use social media to stay in touch with their friends and see what they’re up to, but the reason why I did not list it as a positive is because you don’t need social media in order to do that. It’s actually better to not use social media to stay in touch because that fosters active contact, whether in person or over the phone, rather than passive consumption of each others’ feeds that doesn’t encourage much meaningful interaction. Some may argue that social media allows you to stay up to date with more friends, but with relationships, quality trumps quantity. It is better to have deeper relationships with fewer friends than a lot of superficial “friendships” (networking is different from friendships, however, which is why I listed networking separately and consider it one of the positive aspects of social media).

Notice how I put down more positive aspects of social media than negative ones. However, this does not mean I believe social media has done more good than harm. On the contrary, I think for most people social media has been a net negative.

Look at how all the negative aspects of social media I listed revolves around consumption, instead of networking and creation. On the other hand, of the 11 positive points on social media I put down, only the first 3 revolves around consumption.

The vast majority of people mostly use social media for consumption, and usually not consumption of educational, motivational, or inspirational content. Most of this consumption is on content that offers little to no benefit to users’ lives. Most of the material you see on social media you don’t really need to know. There is also a lot of toxic content on social media promoting unhealthy behaviors that would be better not to see at all.

That is why social media has negatively affected most people, but it doesn’t have to negatively affect you. I listed 11 positive aspects of social media, all of which can benefit you in a positive way. Unfortunately, the majority of people seldom use social media for these 11 positive reasons, but that does not have to be the case for you.

Instead of being a mindless consumer, consume content that educates, motivates, or inspires you. Also, instead of being just a consumer, be a networker and creator as well. Most of the positive aspects of social media I listed revolves around networking and creating. This gives you opportunities to build a bigger and better social network, build additional income streams, and make an impact on the world.

When Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and inventor of many of the devices we take for granted today, discussed his vision for computers, he wanted them to be “a bicycle for our minds”. In other words, a tool we use that can “take us far beyond our inherent abilities”. Let us live up to this vision with the technology of social media. Instead of allowing it to use us, let us take the reins of control instead. Use social media for your benefit. Be a mindful consumer instead of a mindless consumer. Be a networker and creator as well. Only then will you fully experience how helpful social media can be, as a tool, “a bicycle for our minds”.

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Business, money, self-improvement

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Justin Zhuo Yan He

Justin Zhuo Yan He

Business, money, self-improvement

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