By Stacey Ross
I recently came upon an intriguing psychologist on Twitter called Collette Smart and followed her digital trail to a website called The Exchange TV that features a discussion on the “Like Me Generation.” She and her colleagues engage in an interesting exchange about social media, and the segment on how people interact and make “friends” is definitely worth watching.
Smart suggests that the apparent increased need for warm online “fuzzies” is not really indicative of a cultural shift or a trend to becoming more self-centric; rather that the online platforms amplify and enable people to showcase and share what they are really like.
The segment also brings up some issues that might be worth examining further:
Research for the segment indicates that from January to October 2013 use of the original “#selfie” hashtag grew by more than 200% and that the top 10 selfie-related hashtags on Instagram included over 41 million photos. That’s a lot of validation-seeking!
In seeking more “likes” and “friends”, people are aiming to demonstrate popularity. While for individuals this can be a very self-indulgent investment of their time, the storytelling component is helpful for businesses and brands, keeping the conversations alive and their fans engaged.
The downside to this is that users might focus too much on comparing their “back reel” lives with other peoples’ seemingly more glamorous existences. It is a smart exercise to take a step back and evaluate if the drive to increase your friend count is for the right reasons and question how many “friends” you really need. It is also smart to be discerning about whom you befriend online, as many times the process of un-friending can be daunting.
Ignore the Trolls
Circumvent those users who are aggravators and tend to engage in negative discussions. Most of the time they just hide behind their computers and get a thrill from inciting others.
Some of the most well-balanced social media enthusiasts are those who have a thriving offline world and use social media to enhance it, rather than using it to build a social world and friendships. The unauthentic implications of the latter can leave one feeling depressed and increase a sense of loneliness.
Young people in particular are smart to rethink the amount of information they divulge online. There are a growing number of incidents of identity theft and, when it stems from someone putting too much information out there, the mess can get ugly.
Another form of over-sharing is what Smart calls “inverted affirmations,” which involve users sharing inappropriate personal information with all of their friends or fans. They do so to seek attention and likes, which will not necessarily fill the void they are aiming to fill.
So long as people keep things in perspective, they can embrace the tools that enable their connections, and make sure that their positive and sometimes thrilling engagements remain a productive and meaningful part of both their social and professional worlds.
Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.