The problem is that, at present, participating in social media necessarily means that we are exposing ourselves to a degenerate form of social interaction and communication, where the most basic beneficial moral standards that we still follow in real social life, can be and are easily ignored and forgotten! The control and power which these media afford every individual user, have rendered the behaviour of people on social media ever more increasingly egoistic and self-obsessed, in ways which have compromised our behavioural capacities and even awareness regarding the moral dimension of our social experience. And already, this change in people’s behaviour online has pervaded our actual social and public reality as well; the most visible manifestation of this is the moral normalisation of the practice of the “selfie”, taking a photo of oneself by oneself, even in front of others in public, which was nearly unheard of before the emergence of social media, and which would have been viewed as an excessively narcissistic behaviour by most people only a decade ago or so. Today, it is everywhere accepted as a very normal behaviour, fewer and fewer people, and mostly older ones, still view it as a self-obsessed behaviour.
This is the real danger of social media; that they were bound to become agents of negative social transformation due to their eliciting and stimulation of people’s compulsive craving for imaginative pleasures, just as fast food franchises did with people’s craving for gustatory pleasures. The fast food experience has wrecked much more than just people’s bodily health; it compromised or even brought an end to the social culture of the local market and cooking, and to the gathering of the whole family round the dining table at regular intervals of the day, every day. Social media seem to be doing something very similar: they have normalised phenomenal levels of laziness and physical inactivity, and through the new, but widespread phenomenon of smartphone hypnosis, which seem to have successfully destroyed the little bit of environmental attention that people previously enjoyed; such inattentiveness has in several occassions delivered people to accident and death! And though the claim is substantial that social media may have helped “bring people together” who would otherwise remain separate, and have increased people’s communication “quantitatively”, nevertheless they certainly have been the most powerful force behind lowering the quality of people’s social interactions, reducing both the frequency and potential of more meaningful interactions. A visible example of this inversely proportional relationship between quantity and quality, is how the problematic behaviour of ignoring others on social media (quality) frequently occurs due to people’s incapacity to pay proper attention even for a short while, to such flooding (quantity) of all those unceasing moments and instances of social contact, to which they are now being continuously exposed.
The problem is never in whatever it is that people choose to share and discuss on social media, but rather the negative social behaviours and attitudes with which they relate to each other, at regular intervals of the day, every day! These attitudes are eroding the common social values which we used to take for granted, such as sensitivity, attentiveness, politeness, kindness, and generosity toward each other. And I am not saying that we lived in utopias before social media; all I wish to emphasize here is that these negative social behaviours and attitudes, a certain measure of which certainly existed also in the past, are being now transformed into “habits” that are commonly accepted on a very widespread level, even outside the domain of those social media and into real life.
At present, one can already clearly observe the effects of such transformation in the private and public behaviour of both individuals and groups, and possibly beyond any chance of reverting the tide now! It becomes then up to each individual to wake up to the significant effects of this transformation, or to accept to absorb them while one remains asleep! And since it seems obviously to be the case that, by now, more and more people are unable to bear real life without the indulgent escape from it in a virtual life, our challenge is to make an effort in becoming more aware of the psychological, moral, and behavioural problems that are associated with the virtual experience, and how these may be directly influencing our experience of real life as well, both for our own selves and in the way we exercise an effect on others around us. We at least have the option to observe our own behaviours on social media, and to make an effort to do something about such behaviours that are characterised by cruelty, pride, and self-obsession, even if everyone else around us has become completely reconciled to such harmful mental states.
This post involves excerpts from an article I wrote on this subject recently.