How Does Social Media Alter Our Perception of Reality?

People on a bench on phones and laptops

Monday, August 13

Do you know what situation is likely to cause a quarrel? Gather a representative from each generation and put them in a room together. Then ask them to converse about social media. The result would be interesting. And that may be putting it mildly. It is not hard to imagine the Baby Boomer ranting about how today’s youngest generations don’t know how to look up from their phones. Meanwhile, the Millennials might be rolling their eyes while scrolling through their app du jour.

While the descriptions above are certainly generalizations, there are differing perspectives among the generations. Boomers might not consider it ranting. Yet, older generations will not always recognize what younger generations deem social activity. All generations should recognize that the youngest among us do not know life before the internet.

The conversation has the potential to break down faster than a trending hashtag becomes yesterday’s news.

It’s all perspective.

The Boomer has lived most of their life before the existence of the internet and social media. So ‘social’ meant going outside to play with friends. Toys were a luxury, so spending the day making up games was normal.

Today, kids ask their parents about the Jurassic period of life that they have only heard about. Life before the internet. Life before Facebook and Twitter. Life before these snappy chatter apps. The generation growing up now has always known social activity to include screens.

Life without screens? Why would anyone want to live that way? For those who grew up pre-internet, they will know what it was like. Yet since they work with both feet planted in a tech world, they appreciate the convenience. At least they can still brag about playing outside all day when they were kids. It’s their badge of honor to tell stories of how their parents had no idea where they were until it was dark.

Which is Better?

Let’s get this argument about which is better out of the way and admit we can’t answer this question. Yes, it was better for our eyes when we weren’t spending so much time in front of screens. But technology has also brought us a level of production and education never before realized in the history of the world. (And we all have quick access to that history now, thanks to Google.)

What we can discuss is how social media is altering our perception of reality. At the very least, it has allowed for a larger (and quicker) distribution of information. We cannot say we are not informed. The information coming at us may be about some celebrity activity. Or it might be the most recent natural disaster.1 The reality is we can respond in real time to things happening around the world.

Like everything else in life, social media has its downsides as well. For example, do we trust the sources giving us the information? What potential is there to become addicted to ever increasing screen time? We need to rediscover the truth in the words of Epicurus the philosopher. “Moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.”

Altering Your Perception

Every sunrise is met with a sunset. But if that sounds pessimistic, remember that every cloud breaks to reveal the sunlight, sooner or later. Either way it is stated, the evidence shows that social media can be both positive and negative. Oftentimes, the extremes are closely related and easily hidden.

With three billion people using social media2, the influence one person can attain has never been bigger. One immediate benefit is the unlimited potential scope of our influence. That also works in reverse. Those who influence us are innumerable.

One downside, among many, is that we can easily become depressed when we see others accomplishing more than us.

The benefits and risks are not relegated to the world of business. We can rejoice in the good happening among our friends and peers. But if we compare their glossy world to our plain reality, discouragement can follow. In fact, one study found 6.7% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from depression.3

Another study revealed that it might not be how we compare ourselves to others. It could be how we stack up against our own expectations.4 The number of likes our posts receive serve to define our self-worth. We realize we can’t be other people, but we agonize over not being a better version of ourselves.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

It cannot be overlooked that being able to stay in touch with friends around the world is a benefit. In fact, we now have the ability to make friends from around the world! This, without ever needing to share the same physical space. Of course, this also leaves the potential for us to present a facade of who we actually are.

And therein lies the paradox of social media. Its strengths can also be its weaknesses. For instance, always being able to see your friend’s updates. At first glance, this appears to be a good thing. It is. And it should be.

The challenge comes when we become envious of everything our friends appear to be doing. We compare their online world with our offline world and we often feel we don’t measure up. Of course, we forget that we ourselves will only post the bright spots of our day. So we find ourselves comparing the best of our friend’s lives to the worst of our own.

Not surprisingly, this causes discouragement and depression. No wonder the majority of Facebook users tend to have lower self-esteem.4 We need to be reminded that our friends are likely comparing their struggles to our bright spots as well. This means that our purpose for staying in touch with friends should be to encourage one another.

Where to From Here

So what are we to do with all this information? The internet will not suddenly close up shop and cease to exist. To hope it might is to shelter ourselves from all the perks that come with it.

But isn’t this where thoughtful Christians have found themselves in every generation? Technology forges ahead and we must adapt. To do so without thought will mean giving up a part of who we should be. So what are earnest Christians to do?

We should seek to be truth and light in whatever relevant outlet we find ourselves in. For the Apostle Paul, it was a Roman jail cell. For us, it might be the 280-character confines of Twitter.

As thought leaders, we need to have a holistic view. Understanding that every tool at our disposal has the potential to use us. Realizing that social media is sometimes a dark shadow, but we have been called to be light. If the Great Commission5 applies to us, then we believe it applies in this realm as well.

The need for Christ-focused and biblically grounded people is why Grace College exists. This is where students can come and learn how to effectively engage the world as we know it. After all, we can either choose to engage with the world as it really is, or we can stick our heads in the sand and blindly proclaim yesteryear as the better year.

Are you interested in making a true impact on this world? Click the link below to discover how Grace College can help you in this endeavor.

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1 Guzman, Alejandra (2016, April 7) 6 ways social media is changing the world Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/6-ways-social-media-is-changing-the-world/

2 For an interesting read on social media and business, read https://bit.ly/2uOPrWZ

3 Sunstrum, Kelsey, How Social Media Affects Our Self-Perception Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-social-media-affects-our-self-perception/

4 Gallinari, Elizabeth (2017) “Likes” for Self-Love? The Effects of Social Media on Self-Perception [Undergaduate Review] http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1405&context=undergrad_rev

5 Matthew 28:18-20