I live in New York City, and as many New Yorkers will attest, trying to make plans with more than one friend at a time can be a major undertaking. Coordinating calendars and setting firm dates can lead to lunches and dinners scheduled months in advance. The funny thing is that once the gang is convened, there are always a few instances where one, two, or all of us spend some of this quality time together with the “invisibles” at our table--Facebook friends, Instagram followers--the people engaged in our social media life. It doesn’t just happen in New York, I’ve heard from others and have seen with my own eyes similar behavior patterns across the country and amongst people of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. This led me to wonder, what effect is this having on our human experience and what role does social media play on our behavior and our mental health?
A new study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, co-authors who write about interpersonal communication and influencing human behavior, discovered that more and more of us are losing connection with our own personal lives in order to gain “likes” and social media approval. They coined the phrase (which I love), social media “trophy hunters.”
“Our key finding is that we enjoy important life moments less when we’re focused on capturing them rather than experiencing them,” said Joseph Grenny, co-author of the study. “’Likes’ are a low-effort way to produce a counterfeit feeling of social well-being that takes more effort to achieve in the real world. This study is a warning that we are beginning to value virtual pleasure hits more than authentic happiness.”
David Maxfield adds: “If our attention is on an invisible audience rather than the present moment, we are disconnected. Our devices are beginning to control our attention and motivations in ways we may not even realize.”
According to their research, 58 percent say posting that amazing photo stopped them from enjoying life experiences—and had, at times, caused them to engage in dangerous activities or behave in strange and debauched ways. And get this, 25 percent even admitted to allowing their cell phones to interrupt an intimate moment with a partner.
The United States is the third-most depressed country in the world behind China and India. According to one study, the U.S. has one of the highest percentages of unhappy people per capita, with more than 19 percent of citizens dealing with long bouts of depression over their lifespan. Compared to the 1980s, 74 percent more respondents reported symptoms of depression today.
This was not the only study conducted in regards to the correlation between social media and depression. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine conducted a study about the effects of social media habits on the moods of young users. The research determined that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.
Last year, a study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology conducted by researchers at the University of Houston found that an increase in Facebook usage has a correlation with depression and leads to a psychological phenomenon known as “social comparison.”
This is what fascinated me the most, does our social media presence make our lives seem better and more glamorous to others than it really is? The older I get, the more I notice that people who we assume have wonderful active social lives due to their social media posts are not as active nor as happy as we may think.
Between social media and entertainment trends like reality shows and YouTube channels, we have access to what once was private or shared with only those close to us. And, of course, the images posted depict only the amazing highlights, adventures, and envy-worthy experiences. We are bombarded with only the best images and the best moments (often exaggerated for the sake of appearances), never seeing the mundane, embarrassing, or not so envy-worthy moments.
And what do most of us do in return? And in all honesty, I do include myself in this group. We post our most interesting, exciting, and fabulous images, and in so doing (consciously or unconsciously) making our lives appear to be spectacularly carefree and envy-worthy. In any event, these studies reveal this obsession with “social media trophy hunting isn’t just distracting—it’s dictating lives.”
So, what can we do to counteract this?
• See Yourself from Someone Else’s Perspective
Before taking a picture, ask yourself, “Would I want my mother, my neighbor, or a work colleague to see this?” It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and do foolish, dangerous, or inappropriate things. Think before you click.
• Keep Track Of How Much You Post
The best way to stop unconsciously disengaging from your life and bombarding friends with posting after posting is to become conscious of what you’re doing. Keep track of—and limit—how many things you post each day, and take a break from time to time.
• Take Your Picture and Then Relax And Enjoy Your Surroundings
Many times, we’ll take a few great snapshots of a beautiful scene, only to turn and leave…mission accomplished! Well, if it’s worthy of a picture, shouldn’t it be worthy of enjoying the view and the moment? Slow down, take a beat, breathe, and enjoy.
• Have Quality “Away Time” from Your Devices
Put your devices away for a few hours or leave them home when you go out. If you start feeling nervous or anxious, then it’s working. Once you get beyond the NEED to have your device, you’ll start to focus on the present and connect to wherever you are, with whomever you’re with, and whatever you’re doing. Those are the moments that we remember—true engagement and connection with others.
One caveat: I do admire the recent use of social media for political and social engagement and activism. This is where social media is invaluable and can create communities motivated by their respective beliefs—whatever those may be. It has given voice to many who had no voice, it has engaged people who would normally sit on the sidelines, it has made our citizens aware that democracy needs vigilance, and for that I’m grateful.
Even with the caveat, please be mindful about your social media use. Cheers to taking a beat, taking a break from social media (well, after you read this blog, of course!) and enjoying the simple things in life—you’ll be surprised how fulfilling that’ll feel…
TIME TO DINE: Cooking for Joan
I was never a big fan of the Caesar until I found this easy and delicious dressing recipe. The flavors meld together perfectly--salty, creamy, citrusy, and savory all at the same time. Give it a try—it’ll definitely make you a convert!
Caesar Salad and the Best Dressing Ever!
Prep Time: 5 min | Cook Time: 5 min | Makes: 6 | Difficulty: Easy
• 2 large hearts of romaine lettuce (cut into 1” chunks or use the inside leaves)
• 1 1/2 cups packaged croutons
• Parmigiano Reggiano (shaved slices, 6-8 per serving)
• freshly grated black pepper (to taste)
• 2 anchovy fillets
• 2 fresh garlic cloves
• 1 cup mayonnaise (Hellman's is best)
• 1/4 cup half-and-half cream or 1/4 cup milk
• 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
• 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• salt and pepper
• 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (or to taste) (optional)
In a small 2-cup mini food processor, process the anchovy fillets and garlic together until finely minced (do this first to make sure it’s well minced)
Add in the remaining ingredients, and process for 30 seconds, or more until well mixed.
Adjust seasonings to taste.
Store in fridge, covered in a container for 3 or more hours before using (the flavors meld the longer it’s in the fridge).
Assemble your salad the way you want and either toss desired amount of dressing on it or drizzle it on the whole leaves and put the extra dressing on the table.
Add shaved Parmigiano Reggiano to each salad.
**Image by Chris Harvey