I literally just got back home from my first concert since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, I also traveled the airways on a holiday, attended a professional sporting event and made appearances at several work farewell events. Sounds pretty much like life is back to normal, right?
Granted, there are still reminders of the pandemic; this week I wore masks according to regulations at the airport, my doctor's office and the US Post Office.
So maybe it is not exactly like things are what they were before. One aspect of life which I think has been heightened due to the pandemic is social media's impact on society's collective mental health, and I plan to explore this topic extensively.
In part I of the Social Musings by Austin multi-part series on "Instagram and My Mental Health," I discussed briefly how social media has changed who we are, how we live and how I am dealing with my social media addiction. You can find that article here: https://www.socialmusingsbyaustin.com/post/instagram-and-my-mental-health-part-i
As I practice more mindfulness and introspection in my life and ponder the past, I marvel at the everyday paradoxes which have abounded in my personal life, such as:
The more I wanted something to happen, the less likely it was to happen - and the converse, when I wasn't trying to make something happen in my life, something usually did.
The more I desired something, even if I attained it, it usually gave me less pleasure than I thought it might.
The more I tried to get an idea out of my mind, the less likely I could control the thought.
And so on.
Since paradoxes abound in humanity, I want to explore the inherent paradoxes of social media in this second article from Social Musings by Austin on "Instagram and My Mental Health."
Paradox 1: Social media makes you feel connected; although you are usually alone when you are on social media; thus, you may end up feeling lonelier than before.
It’s ironic that social media is inherently anti-social. Many Millenials and Xennials believe that their in-person social skills are not well developed due to social media.
Social media is basically an evolution of what television was for the prior generations. David Foster Wallace, one of the most brilliant literary minds of our modern times, penned an excellent essay back in 1993 on Television’s influence on modern society and our love/hate relationship with it (see footnote 1). He wrote:
“The second great thing is that television looks to be an absolute godsend for a human subspecies that loves to watch people but hates to be watched itself...I also believe this is why television also appeals so much to lonely people. Every lonely human I know watches way more than the average U.S. six hours a day...lonely people, home, alone, still crave sights and scenes...It’s almost like voyeurism.”
In this sense, Social Media is TV 2.0, because not only can one be a voyeur but also one can publish content to earn validation and adulation from friends, colleagues and the world. It is a two way experience.
Does David Foster Wallace's description about "lonely people, home, alone" cravings "sights and scenes" sound like you during the pandemic, when you had to live your life alone and vicariously through the media? Or is that just me? And just to clarify that 6 hour statistic about lonely humans, are we talking about time spent watching TV or time on our phones or both? And OMG, did my iPad just tell me my Screen Time went up 254% last week??? Siri, can you please just shut the f$@K up, I don't need to hear that right now!
Paradox 2: I get to share my amazing experiences with my friends and experience the latest trends, but also feel despondent due to the Fear of Missing Out and from questioning my own self-worth.
David Foster Wallace’s hypothesis is that TV pedagogically tells us what to think, how to dress and how to act. It is a mirror to which we are addicted, because it is “reflecting what people want to see.” If you think that MTV and Saturday Night Live didn't impact an entire generation growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, then you be loco.
Moreover, David Foster Wallace wrote that Television shows us, “the Audience”, what we “want to see ourselves as. Television, from the surface on down, is about desire. Fictionally speaking, desire is the sugar in human food.”
Did you ever dream of being a movie star, musician or celebrity growing up? I sure did. What drove that ambition? For me it wasn't the money, because I didn't even know what money really meant back then. Rather, it was the aspirational feeling of being adored for your talents. Social media allows us to be loved, liked, supported or whatever other emojis exist when we put our lives out there for public consumption.
Paradox 3: I need to use social media for my business, even though I know I am addicted to social media. Ironically, there are also great meditation apps out there that help with my mindfulness, but I have to use my phone to access them (see footnote 2).
I try to limit my phone usage only for work purposes and about an hour of personal time per day. As I get ready for bed, I fight the urge to check social media one final time. I know now that social media triggers an impulse in my brain and fires up all sorts of neurological activity that I definitely do not need in order to relax. Understanding my limitations and setting boundaries on my social media usage has helped my mental health immensely. Treating my reliance on social media as a serious addiction that requires discipline, mindfulness and awareness has helped me be resolute...most of the time.
So what should we take from all of these contradictions?
Acknowledging that our behavior, including on social media, may be both bad and good is just experiencing your true self. As Shakespeare said - “To thine own self be true.” All one can do is try to be a better person for our families, friends and communities one day at a time.
Have a great weekend.
Please connect and follow the BRAND NEW Social Musings by Austin at https://www.instagram.com/socialmusingsbyaustin/. You can find Social Musings-related content there, which is not available anywhere else.
Footnote 1: Wallace, David Foster, E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction , Review of Contemporary Fiction, 13:2 (1993:Summer) p.151
Footnote 2: Here is my daily wind-down routine after getting in bed, washing up, etc.
Try to read a little of a book
Turn off the lights
Watch Headspace’s Daily Wake Up on my phone*
Meditate using Headspace or Calm apps on my phone*
Look at Apple News on my phone*
Try to fall asleep / if I am still wide awake after trying to sleep, I play Words with Friends**
*You can see I am still on my phone as I am laying in bed. However, I have trained myself - and it has taken a year - to not open up any social media sites while getting ready for bed.
** I have tried to convince myself that Words with Friends (the Scrabble-like app) is better than social media, because a) I use my brain to find vocabulary for the game and b) I am not as likely to feel less adequate than others or experience desirous thoughts with Words with Friends (unless I am getting my butt kicked by someone way better than me - like the time I lost 500 to 315. But even then, I felt more admiration for my opponent than a feeling of worthlessness like with social media). However, even playing Words with Friends has turned into somewhat of an addictive obsession for me, as I now am playing about 15 games at one time. So apparently, I can make anything addictive. More to come on that in future blog posts.