Is Social Media Creating Empty Social Experiences?

I realize that discussing social media doesn’t exactly fall into the category of fiction writing, but as writers all of us become observers of human nature. We are amateur behaviorists and basement psychologists as a side effect of spending so much time inside the heads of our characters, figuring out why they do what they do, what motivates them, their goals, etc.

I have been noticing a trend recently that concerns me and at times frightens me when I think of the future it might portend. Today, people post status updates about what’s happening in their lives on Facebook. They post pictures of what’s around them on Instagram. They post pictures of things in which they are interested on Pinterest. They check in at places they visit using Facebook or Foursquare. This all seems perfectly healthy, but I fear what social media may be doing to the actual experiences.

Picture this (I would say “close your eyes” but that makes it rather hard to finish reading this post): You’re at a national park, standing at the base of an amazingly beautiful waterfall. The light is perfect, there are no obstructions, you’ve got a perfect view. What is one of the first things that comes to your mind?

Was it this is so beautiful? or maybe look at how the mist from the waterfall creates a rainbow? Maybe you have even thought I’m so glad I get to share this memory with my [significant other]? Some of us might fall into the above categories but all too often recently, I think what people think has changed. Now, people think things like I can’t wait to post this on Facebook! or This picture is going to get soooo many likes on Instagram! Even things like I wonder if there’s a badge for checking in at four waterfalls in the same year?

You might be wondering what’s so bad about this? People are still enjoying the experiences, they’re just enhancing the experiences with social media, right? But this isn’t where the story ends. When people get into habits where they derive personal validation and self-esteem from social media validation of their posted experiences, regular (offline) experiences can become insufficient.

You tell me if what I’m about to say seems far-fetched or not: You’re sitting at home, planning a wonderful family vacation. You want to see this museum or that wonderful landscape or this amazing place. Tell me, are you thinking a picture of that place will look awesome on Instragram or my friends are going to love it when I post photos of that place on Facebook or I’m gonna look like a globetrotter on Foursquare? Dig deep inside and ask yourself if you’ve thought those things. Do you go to eat at different places because you enjoy the food, or because you want your social media friends to see you eating that food?

This is the essential question that I’m asking – has social media hollowed our social experiences? Are doing less experiencing and more sharing? Are we motivated to do new and interesting things for the thrill of doing the new and interesting things or are we motivated by the validation and buzz our social media profile might receive as a result of doing those things? Are we going through the motions of living, deriving more pleasure from the social media reaction to our lives than the actual living of our lives?

I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know whether this trend is good or bad. All I know is I can see the change on the horizon, and it makes for some amazing ideas for dystopian future novels :)

  • Kelly (Kay) Graham

    This is an interesting line of inquiry. It never occurred to me that recording something in social media could be a motivator/driver for people to DO things.

    I do find that I am sometimes guilty of taking a time out in the middle of something awesome in order to make a posting. I’ll have to re-think that.

    Thanks, Kevin.