We are drawn to connect.
We are drawn to seek connection among our friends, coworkers, and significant others. We want to be a part of something more than us. A community of one is not a community and when those personal connections cannot be made or found among us in the real world — we turn to Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. We seek approval and acceptance in every click, like, and comment.
However innocuous at first, the consistent dependence on social media has done less to connect us — and more to isolate us. In a July 2017 study conducted by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the conclusion was clear: Young adults with high social media use seem to feel more socially isolated than their counterparts with lower social media use.
Yet, what this study makes clear to point out is that it cannot determine if those seeking the refuge of social media in such high dosages are already predisposed to social isolation , or if it’s this heavier use that has caused it. That being said, the idea that our social obsession of these virtual connections causing real word problems is not new. Study after study, article after article, points to this idea. Our pursuit of connection and perfection (or the perception of perfection) is detrimental, distancing, and devoid of simple honesty.
It’s so easy now. Technology fits in our pocket. And it’s baffling to think that less than ten years ago only 35% of Americans owned a smartphone. As of November 2016, that number has ballooned to 77%. With this jump, paired with our continual technological leaps in other areas, it’s not hard to see how we’ve gone from 5% of Americans saying they used a social media platform in 2005 to 69% of Americans today saying that they actively engage with these platforms. Absent some unseen phenomenon, these numbers will only continue to rise.
So what now? Do we simply disconnect — set aside time, turn off the phone and go outside? Can we? How many times have you checked your phone or Facebook since reading this article? Amazingly, 67% of smartphone owners have admitted to checking their phone for calls or messages when their phone doesn’t vibrate or ring. We’ve gone far beyond the Pavlovian response of salivating at every phone ding — we’re imagining these dings without them even being there. And to what end?
If it’s technology and science that has brought us here — let us then look to that for the inspiration of a solution — a starting point, a perspective. What say the minds of men who envisioned worlds without end and infinite galaxies through formulas of imaginary equations? Einstein reminds us that: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
There is more outside the screens of our lives – and while it may take some effort to lift our heads and put down the devices, even Einstein reminds us that this is a task worth taking.