Ripped at the Seams
Social media, friendship, and the fabric of our lives
Recently, Meta rolled out a new social media platform. Great. Just what we all need—one more place for identical posts and an extra channel exchange DM with the same friends. Within days of the announcement about Threads, scores of people were swept up in the Elon-Zuckerberg standoff. People scrambled to be first movers. “What if this thing really takes off?” You don’t want to miss out, do you?
It’s too early to tell if Threads will be the next Clubhouse or if the copycat space will steal attention from Twitter. On these platforms, we are the product. Where our focus goes, so do the dollars. Eventually, we’ll see if Threads fizzles. How much reeling, tweeting, and toking do we really have the capacity for? I’m not sure. But in a world where people constantly bemoan their perceived time poverty, ironically it seems the answer is “a lot.”
I’m not demonizing social media. Like most things, there are redeeming aspects that co-exist with a dark side. It’s both, and. In 2020, I slid into the LinkedIn DMs of my now business partner and dear friend. One pandemic and a lifetime later, we co-founded a company. Social media helps me stay in touch with family and friends from previous chapters of my life as I move around the world. And yet, I cringe to think of the hours I’ve spent scrolling through nonsense—time I’ve squandered instead of doing deep work, sleeping, or giving my kids the attention they deserve.
As a shrink, social media fascinates me. It’s one big projective test. The more I’ve learned about psychology, the more I notice about people. As I’ve watched the way our culture has been shaped by this phenomenon, a few things are striking to me…
We’re addicted. Notifications provide a constant dopamine drip. Our brains are hooked. You probably won’t notice just how influenced you are unless you abstain for an extended period of time. If you’re unwilling to completely fast from the socials, consider a different experiment. Take it off your phone. Watch what happens. When the wiring upstairs has a chance to cool down, you might discover that you care less (possibly not at all).
Social media is middle school for adults. It’s not just about how many people like you, but it’s about who gives you their attention. Within your algorithmic circles, you know who the class president, cheerleaders, and football players are. It’s one big status game. Consequently, it makes for a complex psychological nexus of envy, pride, hope, excitement, disappointment, and frustration. No one is immune. It’s a competition. Mean Girls meets the Hunger Games. For users whose personal histories have heightened their rejection sensitivity, emotional responses to daily dramas amplify. With one click, a successful CEO is back at the school lunch table where he had no seat.
Why do we play the game? Our brain and our ego certainly each play a part. But, often, at the core is our deep longing to be seen. As adults, our desire for attention never goes away. We want to be celebrated. We’re desperate to belong. Those needs will live in all of us indefinitely. They don’t make us narcissists—they’re markers of our humanity.
There’s a reason we’re more connected, but more lonely than ever before. Too often, people confuse familiarity with friendship. They are different. Of your online “friends,” who would you actually call at 2 am? In therapy, people frequently bring up their struggles to make *real* friends in adulthood. Apparently, social media hasn’t proven to be the solution to our relational woes. If you’re struggling to feel meaningfully connected with peers, don’t let social media steal bandwidth that would be better reinvested in real-life interaction. Looking at others from a safe distance behind a screen won’t decrease your isolation. Most likely, it will turn up the volume on some distorted beliefs. These mental wrinkles can, in turn, cause you to behave in ways that may actually keep people away.
Most things that occur on social media are a flash in the pan, so don’t overthink it. The reel you spent five hours making a few months ago? Half the people who follow you never saw it. Who remembers it now? As you budget your time, attention, and energy, consider impact. Legacy. What will last? Invest wisely.
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