The Two Sides of Social Media
By Dr Supanida Piyayotai
Researcher at Learning Institute KMUTT
Anyone living in the modern world, with virtually no exception, must have heard of or utilised the tool that is social media. One may even go so far as to say life revolves around it; some people live and breathe on social media and barely make time to socialise in the real world.
It is the virtual hub for people to mingle, spar, create, find a date, make money, and so forth. Nonetheless, if you take a step back to ask the question ‘What was life like before the dawn of social media?’, what are the answers that you come up with?
Currently we have a mix of generations that have experienced life before and those that are immersed in the sea of social media since the day they were born. Indeed, Gen Z appears to be the first with the entire generation going by the latter description.
In the pre-social media or more specifically pre-internet world, geographical distance plays a key role in determining how people connect and make a living. Back then, you had to be physically present to see someone’s expression and gestures as they voiced their thoughts and feelings.
Career-wise, you had to have an agent to represent you and a team of publicists to take care of the PR side of thing if you wanted to make a breakthrough as a public figure. This is not to say such requirement no longer applies nowadays, but more that it has become less of a necessity.
Imagine if the pandemic were to hit us and all the telecommunication means were down leading to no access to social media and no way of generating virtual contact, what would it be like for all of us? Would it be much more isolating? Would it be good for our peace of mind given we were essentially being shut out from all the horrible goings-on that were not immediate to us? Would we all have been made redundant because we could not turn up to our job and employers no longer saw the point of keeping us on their payroll?
As we are experiencing firsthand the ever-changing landscape of social media as well as accompanying changes in the way things are operated, we all are living a historical moment that will leave an impressionable footprint for years to come. Let’s turn to discuss the upsides that are plenty, some of which are obvious. Social media among other things was made possible from the widespread internet access. Take online shopping for example, whose invention makes it much more convenient for us consumers to compare prices and seek out bargain items. With social media, we can instantly connect with our friends and family at our mere fingertips.
If fame is what the person is after, it can literally land on anybody’s lap as long as they know how to use social media tools to their advantage and try hard enough (and perhaps if Lady Luck is also on their side). Anybody can pick an item off the checklist of important causes on Planet Earth and start campaigning to help raise awareness and money to solve what’s near and dear to their heart. And the list of pros goes on. Surely, Mr. Internet and Ms. Social Media deserve a thumbs up since all is well and good? Not quite.
Many have suffered at the hands of social media, not per se but through people who misuse them provided we believe that the internet and social media were created with good intention at heart. People have reported spiralling down in their fight against addiction with the overly abundant stimuli, be that pornography or illicit items, being readily available on the ‘dark’ web. There are torrents of cyberbullying flowing about at any second in time and no shortage of stories where people have been scammed out of their life savings either as a result of abysmal cybersecurity or lack of education on how to protect themselves financially.
And of course, we cannot go on without mentioning the misinformation and disinformation being propagated and circulated around unchecked, it’s scary to think what harm these seemingly intangible pieces of data can inflict on the unsuspecting eyes. As a case in point, the world not long ago had witnessed outrageous political propaganda being fuelled in the midst of the US election which some might argue had underhandedly swayed the voters towards the outcome we all bore witness to.
What will be interesting to watch out for is the much speculated widespread manifestations of symptoms or illnesses arising from social media overuse and misuse in the coming decades. What will become of our constant need for validation in the form of ‘likes’ and ‘views’?
As a society, we need to come together and start thinking about pre-emptive measures that can be put in place to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening.
Remember climate change? A handful of notable figures in the past had publicly spoken out, yet like any other forewarnings, it took people many years to come to terms with and a big chunk of those became convinced only when they’d fallen victim to extreme weather events accelerated by climate change. We should not let it be too late to show proper care for our future generations who carry the future of the human race on their shoulders.
If you think your relationship with social media is not an issue, lucky you. You might have gotten the hang of it and found the balance that’s just right for you. Keep on that path.
However, if you’re not one of those and instead feel overwhelmed by the constant pressure from social media use or that it has become the all-consuming demon in your life, you might need to make a conscious effort to take a breath and reflect. Usually, there’s no quick fixes to get over the dilemma that you are in, be patient and compassionate with yourself as you would a friend in the same shoes.
If the situation proves to be debilitating, you might want to consider seeking professional help. Otherwise, there’s an abundance of guidelines out there. At the very least, turn to your loved ones for support and always remember that you’re not alone.
 Tedx Talks: What makes “Generation Z” so different? By Harry Beard
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 Too much social media can be harmful, but it’s not addictive like drugs