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We Still Love Social Media—Filters, Fakers, Hashtags, and All


Dec 6 2013
Our digital connections are far from perfect, but we can’t give ‘em up.

Every month, we read studies, articles commenting on studies, and opinion pieces detailing the ways Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media are bad for us. Facebook makes us depressed, Twitter makes us shallow and distracted, and Instagram fuels our envy just as surely as fashion magazines make us feel ugly and frumpy.

Most everyone on social media recognizes that everyone else edits their lives along with their photos just as we do, even if simply to cultivate the impression that we are full of witty nonchalance, or to present a filtered and picturesque versions of our domestic "chaos." Our artful messes might belong in a lifestyle magazine; our small domestic woes do little more than garner a laugh.

Yet, the construction of social media doesn't discourage us. Most of us keep logging on. At least, I do.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the feminist scholar Susan Bordo (the author of Unbearable Weight, which I recommend) argues that even when we are aware that digitally enhanced images aren't real, we "still feel powerless to resist their messages." We know that other people's lives aren't really as perfect as they look on Instagram or on their blogs, but that knowledge doesn't stop us from feeling bad when our own lives don't seem to measure up.

Why do we do that? And why do we find it so hard to stay away from social media, even though we feel conflicted about it, and even though we feel relief and pleasure when we fast from it?

"We're creatures of contact, regardless of whether / to kiss or to wound, we still must come together," wrote the late humorist David Rakoff in a key scene in his final book, in which he also compares the necessity of human contact to "hating a food but still asking for more."

Social media may not really satisfy our longings for contact and compassion, but they come close enough to keep us coming back, hoping.

Some users no doubt object that the connections made on the Internet are vital and life-enriching—real friendships not to be dismissed for the sole reason that most of the friendly interaction occurs in cyberspace. I'd have a hard time disagreeing, because not only have I made real and lasting friendships that have become friendships IRL (that's Internet shorthand for in real life) online, email and instant messaging facilitated my long-distance relationship with my husband way back in the days of dial-up.

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We Still Love Social Media—Filters, Fakers, Hashtags, and All