In the back seat

Derick David on Unsplash

Derick David on Unsplash

Social media have become the easy scapegoat of our age. The ubiquity of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat has raised many questions about the effects of overexposure, everything from destroying our attention span to augmenting a narcissistic and self-absorbed culture.

Plenty has been written about the links between mental well-being and the ills of social media. There is, however, a more subtle force being exerted on us when we scroll through our feeds.

While platforms give us the chance to share our experiences and lives with other users, they also encourage us to consume vast quantities of imagery and updates from other users and brands.

For all their democratic promise, social media platforms are in the business of holding your attention at all costs. The model of ad-revenue relies on you scrolling through a feed to increase the chance that you will be exposed to content about products that are suited to you.

Social media nurture a passive attitude toward the world, an attitude whereby “engagement” is reduced to commenting, liking, reposting. It puts you in the back seat of your own life. No one feels better in themselves after a half hour or hour lost to scrolling.

We should remember that the new communications media of the internet do not replace the old order; in an ideal world, they complement it. The virtual realities of our online lives cannot supersede our existence in a material, cultural, and social environment.

Social media cannot exist of itself. It necessarily reflects, amplifies, and disseminates a world which is “out there”. The virtual world must have a referent.

As we continue to (re)configure our relationship with social media, we must not allow ourselves to be drawn in to cycles of passivity, but instead remain active and creative in our own lives.