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

And still I can't help wonder if social media aren't something like Willy Wonka's chewing gum in Roald Dahl's modern children's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The gum, Wonka imagines, will "change everything! It will be the end of all kitchens and all cooking! … Just a little strip of Wonka's magic chewing gum—and that's all you'll ever need at breakfast, lunch, and supper! This piece of gum I've just made happens to be tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie, but you can have almost anything you want!"

Just 10 or 20 years ago, I could not have imagined how easily I could use social media—and applications like Skype and Facetime—to stay in touch with people on the other side of the globe. Decades ago, I wrote letters to missionaries on onionskin paper to keep the mailing weight low. Today, I send and receive such letters with the touch of a button. I can find and purchase obscure movies and books without leaving my chair. The Internet has changed everything. We can have almost anything we want.

Those who've read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—or who've seen the popular film adaptations—may remember that the gum experiment doesn't end so well. Greedy Violet Beauregarde is so grasping and eager that she doesn't bother to listen to Mr. Wonka's warning (it's "not quite right yet") and chews away, turning herself into a giant blueberry at the end of the otherwise delicious gum-meal. I wonder if social media are something like that gum: satisfying to a point, but also harmful in unexpected ways.

Moving beyond the meal metaphor to actual meals for a moment, it occurs to me that while many different studies have indicated the importance of eating meals with others to our physical, emotional, and social well-being—and especially that of children—we often interrupt those meals by interacting with people who aren't physically in the room.

Recently it came out that Olive Garden, in an attempt to woo millenials, is testing new menu offerings that include more things that be eaten easily with one hand because it's easier for the younger set to "text and check their phones while munching hand-held bites."

Our anxieties about social media won't end anytime soon—and neither will our attraction to them. But perhaps we can take our unease—and the various studies that confirm our unease—as reminders that social media are not substitutes for embodied community anymore than Wonka's gum was a substitute for a meal around the table.

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