The E-villes of Smartphones and Social Media


Is it just me or does it bug anyone else when people share memes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest (or some other social media site) that say things like “This used to be social networking.” and then show a bunch of people sitting outside chatting around a campfire or having dinner together or hanging out drinking coffee? Ironically they are likely sharing these using the *gasp* that necessary evil…the smart phone. [cue foreboding music]

Last time I checked Facebook, people still go camping, sit around the fire pit on their patio with friends and talk, still go out to eat (actually probably more than before social media was invented) and I don’t know about you but every time I go to Starbucks there is always a line and the place is chock full of real live people having real live conversations. In fact, I personally know lots of people (one of them named me) that use social media to arrange to meet people for said, coffee, dinner or hang out time. Most of the people I know are going to concerts, traveling, meeting for a beer, going to the movies or participating in the Tough Mudder with other real live people. Know how I know? I usually see pictures, a check in or a call for more people to join the team…where? On said (anti)social media. (see what I did there?)

I mean who among us has missed the Louis C.K. anti smartphone diatribe on the Conan O’Brien show? If you haven’t seen it you can watch it here.

It is all about how smart phones are toxic, “especially for kids”. (we must save the children!) To hear him tell it, smartphones have a life of their own and cause people to do evil things. First, Louis believes that smart phones are making kids less empathetic. For my money, kids are exactly the same as I remember them when I was growing up. I have two kids (who both own phones – in the interest of full disclosure) and they are both kind and funny and have actual friends that they do actual things with. Louis makes the point that it is easier for kids to say mean things online where they can’t see the other kid’s face and maybe that is true. But here is the thing…mean kids are mean kids and they don’t just say mean things online. It is not as though, if smartphones and the internet didn’t exist these kids would have been kind, handholding, Kumbaya singing peaceniks. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in the 70s and 80s before everyone had a smart phone and most of the people I talk to who are my age or older were bullied by someone at some point. Does social media make it easier to be mean on a bigger scale? You bet. Is this the phone’s fault or even Facebook’s fault? Not by a long shot.

Next Louis argues that phones have taken away our ability to just sit still and be ourselves. Only if you let them. Listen, I love my iPhone, my iPad and my laptop. I am also a big fan of the social media. But my phone does not tell me who I am, it merely reflects who I am. If you are a selfish narcissistic ass, social media will probably showcase that.  If you are a politically active person, it will probably show that, etc., ad nauseum. I think sometimes we dislike social media because it can reveal a side of ourselves we prefer not to admit we have. It is sort of like being a parent. Sometimes when I am getting on to one of my kids about a flaw I perceive in something they have done or neglected to do, I have an “aha” moment where I realize the reason why I find that particular behavior vexing is because I see it in myself, too. And in that moment I blame my kid for all my inadequacies. Um, NO! Why? Because my shortcomings are not my kid’s issue. They are mine. Just as my neuroses are not because of social media, they are just reflected in it.

Louis also says we use our phones to combat the feeling that we are alone, to distract us from our sadness so that we don’t feel it in the same way. He talks about sadness being poetic, he says we are lucky to live sad moments, that we should stand in the way of them and let them hit us like a truck. Then he says something any person who has ever been truly sad knows is bullshit…”When you let yourself feel sad, your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness.” All, ladies and gentlemen, because he didn’t pick up his cell phone when he started feeling sad listening to Jungleland.  While it is true we should not laugh in the face of what sorrow brings, have any of you actually been able to overcome profound sadness by hopping on Facebook for 5 minutes or tweeting? Probably not. I know I haven’t. But what social media has done for me in times of sadness is actually to show me I am not alone. It has allowed others to reach out to me. It has helped me feel connected. I personally think that is a good thing.

Does social media have the ability to hurt people? Sure, as much as any other way we as humans have devised to communicate.

Lastly, Louis asserts that because of phones we never feel completely sad or completely happy, “you just feel kind of satisfied with your products and then you die”. I have news for Louis C.K.: People have looked for ways to numb themselves to their pain for as long as there have been people and pain. Do some people use their phones to numb out? Sure. Does that make phones evil? Personally, I don’t think so.

I have seen this interview on Conan posted over and over…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I see the memes about how much better life was and how much more connected we were before social media…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. And of course, I see statuses that say things about how social media makes them angry, or cynical or depressed…ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  May I humbly suggest to us all that perhaps the smartphones and the social media sites are not the problem; perhaps the way we are relating to them is.

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