Social Media and the Journey Towards Our Own Humanity

I admit, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Instagram lately. Our world is changing drastically. Technology, especially social media, will continue to play a tremendous role in that change.

Social apps provide a sense of belonging and a means to show the world who we are. On the surface, social media makes us feel connected, even if we haven’t left our cave in days.

We are social animals who thrive on engagement with one another.

Consider the whites in our eyes; unlike other animals our irises are smaller and more prominent, while the whites in our eyes are more distinguished.

Our eyes have developed to communicate and read one another — from deciding to lift a log as a unit millions of years ago, to noticing when your friend is ready to leave the party without her saying a word — humans have evolved to live, work, and play amongst one another.

We need social interaction to survive.

Social media and loneliness

With social interaction being positively correlated with happiness, you’d think human beings would be the happiest we’ve ever been.

We can hop onto an app and connect with the 4.55 billion other human beings who use social media, more than half of the world’s population.

Yet, we’re lonelier than ever. Those under 25 years old reported being the loneliest generation — those who grew up with social media as an integral part of life.

Why is this?

Because used negatively, social media brings out our hurt inner self — the part of us which feels separate from others. We’re also spending less time with one another in person, but that’s somewhat of a separate topic.

I believe social media can be a positive outlet for us as individuals and as a society, but we have to know what we’re using it for.

If used justly and authentically to instigate social interaction, encouragement, and creative expression, social media can bring us all closer to our own humanity.

Hate, or love?

The growth of social media is astounding: according to the Pew Research Center, in 2005, just 5 percent of American adults used at least one social media platform.

In 2020, 72 percent of the American public used some type of social media.

We’re now shopping through apps, using them to propagate activism, and building our personal platforms. Moreover, we’re getting more and more of our news from social media, as 48 percent of American adults under thirty say that social media is their go to news source.

But can social media be trusted to find the truth?

According to this 2018 study by three MIT scholars, false news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true stories are.

This is the negative side of social media that I associate with those who use it to belittle others, who spread hate while hiding behind a screen, and who refuse to acknowledge that there’s a human being on the other side of their destructive words.

Hurt people, hurt people.

Especially when they don’t have to look the human in the eyes who they’re trying to hurt. This is easier to do when we see ourselves as us, versus them, as we, versus you.

Ponder the words of Maya Angelou:

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

We can choose to spread hate, or love. Deceptions, or the truth. Pain, or joy. The light can overshadow the darkness; the future of social media is in our hands; what will we make of it?

The journey closer to our humanity

As I strive to create a life where I may tiptoe the blurred line between work and play, passionate creativity and leisure, social media has become an essential part of my work.

I’m building my personal brand, one that feels authentic and true.

It’s a means to share my voice, my spirit, my light. My favorite thing in the world is to capture and share the feeling of a place — be it through the colors of the city walls or the fruit in the stalls — the cold conveyed by the outline of one’s breath in the air or the smile in a local’s eyes.

This is what I treasure about social media — we can inspire one another.

As author Seth Godin says on the Converge Podcast:

Our work is a journey to get us closer to our own humanity.

Our humanity is built upon love, compassion, empathy, understanding. What if we could cultivate these traits with social media? What if Instagram and Twitter could truly bring us closer as individuals, and as a planet?

I believe it can.

Yet there is of course the more personal negative aspect of social media, one that strikes at the heart of every individual. Comparing ourselves to others is prominent with Instagram in particular.

The trap of comparing

We compare ourselves to others and want their amount of followers, their trip to Barbados, their avocado toast, their life. Comparing ourselves to others is no recent phenomenon.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca writes:

It is always possible to find some who seem to be ahead of us or to have more than us, and this tends to be the only comparisons we care about. That man will never be happy whom the sight of a happier man will torment.

I fall into this trap as much as anyone — even though I have no idea what the person posting vacation pics goes through daily at home, and vice versa.

Social media can be a beautiful community where encouragement is the norm, where compliments flow freely and we celebrate our differences.

But it takes personal work to reach an inner peace where we’re confident enough in who we are, that we can celebrate who others are without a twinge of envy.

I’m immensely impressed by the things I see my friends and others sharing on social media. I try to comment as much as I can and let them know how their work, their joy, their vulnerability, their zest for life affects me.

But I envy others just as much as anybody. I question myself, my image, if I’m doing enough.

We must all be willing to do the inner work first, so we may journey towards our humanity together. We are all on our path, exactly where we’re supposed to be.

We mustn’t let envy rob us of our joy.

A future worth creating

I’m growing with social media and realizing just how much of a positive impact each and every one of us can make.

We just do not know what it will turn into.

We can use these platforms to make the world a better place. Perhaps, all it takes is asking why we’re posting, why we’re scrolling, why we’re commenting, why we’re doing any of it at all.

Is it to learn, to grow, to share what we love, to heal? Is it simply to chronicle your life to look back on, as it often is for me?

Or is it to impress, to spread hate, or to feel like we’re right?

Social media isn’t going anywhere.

Let’s use it to express our humanity, what we love, even how we’re hurting. Let’s use it to explore what it means to be a human being, one of almost eight billion, each with a profound story to tell.

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