Episode 3: Social Studies: a look at social media

Description:

The guys talk social media (from which they are socially remote)!

Summary:

In this episode, we define social media and provide some helpful stats. Matt, David, and Steven then share their own personal experiences with social media, their observations of the various platforms, and how social media has affected them. They then dive into the question of what could be for the next generation. In episode 4, they’ll ask (and hopefully answer), “How should we then live?” in light of social media’s prevalence and influence.

The Podcast:

Introduction

In this episode we’ll be talking about social media. Webster’s Dictionary defines social media as “websites and other online means of communication that are used by large groups of people to share information and to develop social and professional contacts.” There are other helpful definitions, but we think this accurately captures what we plan to discuss.


Sneak Peek

We’re going to focus on two things related to social media:

  1. Usage – who’s using it, demographics, etc.
  2. The societal effects of social media.

The Pew Academic Research organization did a bunch of studies on social media usage in 2019 (check out some of their stats here: https://www.pewresearch.org/topics/social-media/).

What’s really scary is that our kids won’t know a world without social media. One of David’s nephews actually assumed that the founder of YouTube was dead (since, in his mind, it had been around for so long). This time in our lives when social media has gained a foothold is really a historical moment. So let’s take a look at some of the statistics.

Social Media Usage

In 2019, 72% of all Americans use some social media, an increase of almost 30% from 10 years ago:

  1. By Demographic:
    1. 90% of 18-29-year-olds (we’d like to meet the 10% who are not)
    2. 82% of 30-49-year-olds
    3. 69% of 50-64-year-olds
  2. By Platform: Youtube and Facebook remain the most popular platforms (note, however, that Facebook owns 3 out of the top 6 platforms):
    1. YouTube: 73%
    2. Facebook: 69%
    3. Instagram: 37% (owned by Facebook)
    4. Snapchat: 24%
    5. Twitter: 22%
    6. WhatsApp: 20% (owned by Facebook)
  3. By Consumption (daily):
    1. Facebook: 74%
    2. Instagram: 63%
    3. Snapchat: 61%
    4. YouTube: 51%
    5. Twitter: 42%

Additionally, TikTok.

Speaking of YouTube being a social media platform, don’t forget to check out David’s YouTube video about COVID-19 (and comment, I guess – since it’s a social media platform):

Social’s Media’s societal effects

Mark Zuckerberg described his social media business this way: “This (Facebook) is an inherently cultural thing.  It’s at the intersection of technology and psychology, and it’s very personal.”


For the Counselors

David: The numbers aren’t surprising, but it is a bit overwhelming to think 90% of 18-29-year-olds are using it. It is becoming an increasingly popular substitute for genuine interaction. You can be more extreme than you are in person because you’re behind a screen. Additionally, even though some of the draw may seem innocuous, we need to remember that these platforms are being engineered to create addiction (e.g., the “slot machine effect” of the constantly refreshing news feed).

Steven: Zuckerberg’s quote is very layered and nuanced, because, while it’s true on the surface, the deeper reality is that we treat social media like a cultural artifact when it is actually being designed and run by real people (and in that way is very personal). And those real people are commodifying our personal interactions and experiences. That being said, it’s such a large part of our lives that culture would have to drastically change to walk away from it now.

Matt: It’s a huge part of life for a lot of people, and I think it does things to us on a social and psychological level that cause us to act in ways we wouldn’t if we were face-to-face with someone. Make no mistake: these platforms were not created for leisure activity (nor, as the empirical data shows, are they being used as such); rather, the goal of these creators is to make social media a big part of the culture (especially American culture) and to have both a personal and psychological impact on our lives . . . all to the profit of billions of dollars.


Deep Dive

Introduction

Springboarding off David’s comment regarding the slot machine effect, we started by talking about how our relationship with social media (and technology, more broadly) mirrors the actions of an addict. And we thought about how our kids have never fallen asleep to a screen and how we want better for them than we allow for ourselves. Then the conversation turned a bit personal as we all shared our experience with social media (none of us are actively on social media).

Steven’s Experience

Signed on to Facebook in grad school and really enjoyed the experience. Liked being able to keep up with people during a very transient time. Got off Facebook soon after taking my first job, but got back on after writing my book, The Relational God. I got on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in order to “build a platform.” But one night in February 2019, I was reading Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church and had a revelation. This is my final Facebook post:

I’ve written an article about this experience on our blog: Nearly a Decade without Facebook. One of the conclusions from my experience is that Facebook has commodified relationships. I haven’t regretted walking away. However, if you told me that I absolutely had to be on one of the platforms, I’d probably choose Twitter (drug of choice).

David’s Experience

David started off his social media addiction at a young age, all the way back in MySpace days (because he was running a page for his “screamo” band, TheEnclaved . . . it took me quite a bit of time to find it, but you can listen to them here). Migrated to Facebook, then had Twitter for a while (but didn’t really get the hype), dropped Twitter, and fell in love with Instagram.

David then left Facebook at some point during seminary and went into withdrawals. His brain was still wired to try to take his experiences and mentally craft them into meaningful and memorable posts that he could broadcast. He got back on Facebook before going overseas in order to connect with people who were supporting them and keep up with friends and family after they moved. On January 1, 2020, he left Facebook for good and hasn’t missed it (especially with the COVID posts we all hear about). If he could put a quote on Facebook like I did when I left, it would be this one:

While friendship has by far been the chief source of my happiness, acquaintance or general society has always meant little to me, and I cannot quite understand why a man should wish to know more people than he can make real friends of.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Ultimately, he feels less connected, but not in a bad way. There are certainly some things he misses out on, but that doesn’t bug him too much. One of the things he definitely doesn’t miss is how social media often steals our stories. Too often, when we’re on social media and we actually sit down with a friend to catch up, we’ve already heard about all their big updates, so there’s not much left to tell.

Matt’s Experience

His first social media experience was with Facebook during law school, mostly to keep up with people. He didn’t use it a lot and ultimately dropped it 7 or 8 years ago. What ultimately led to that drop was his frustration with the behavior, attitudes, and a level of discourse that was (quite frankly) ridiculous. At some point in time, he signed on to Twitter. He’s only tweeted once or twice in 5 or 6 years and primarily uses it to keep the pulse of the news from various companies and individuals. He also has an Instagram account, but only follows close family (and Hillsong and Tim Keller). He has never posted on Instagram. In general, he considers his experience with social media negative.

Social media has a very negative effect on how we interact with people. It’s not natural to interact through an interface like that. Human beings are made – as Image Bearers – to be social creatures. Social media allows you to apply filters to how you portray yourself, your persona, and even how we disagree or argue-in the classical sense-with each other, so person-to-person conversations (real human interactions) are much more meaningful. Bottom line: social media has a detrimental effect on how we converse (a great resource on this is Reclaiming Conversation by MIT professor Sherry Turkle).

The Future of Social Media?

Is social media simply the evolution of conversation? What is the next iteration of human interaction? If you don’t like “social media” per se, are there platforms that are doing it better than others? (Steven mentioned Marco Polo – it’s got video and actually forces you to listen.)

Meaningful conversation means having conversation with a person, in-person. You can be completely genuine; you’re not behind a screen; you’re not sitting in your house doing whatever you want to do and fitting the conversation in when it’s convenient. If there’s anything that Coronavirus has taught us, it’s that social media is not a replacement for genuine interaction (people are longing to actually see other people in-person).

But do you think technology will get to the point where it will fill that need (through, say, augmented reality)? What is it about face-to-face interaction that makes it meaningful and that social media cannot or will not be able to replace?

No technology will be able to substitute in-person, real, genuine, meaningful conversation as long as there is a third-party platform mediating it. In fact, by having that third-party platform, we end up degrading conversation, because we think we can say things without consequences. We can just turn the other person off. It causes an inability to discourse. Social media is a substitute for the real thing. There’s no human connection. We’re connecting to a computer that is connecting to another computer that is connecting to a human. And we’re all settling for the substitute.

If getting rid of or cutting back on the substitute means having less surface-level relationships, it’s actually probably worthwhile. More is not always better. Relationships are nearly always benefited by quality over quantity.

Conclusion

Why is social media a substitute? What is special about being in-person that social media robs us of? It can’t be the increased polarization, because that has occurred in the past. Rather, it may be the shorter attention span that results from trying to maintain a large quantity of digital relationships combined with having a third-party platform mediating our interactions that causes us to sacrifice quality of relationships on the altar of quantity of relationships.

The breakdown in discourse has resulted in the tribalism we are witnessing everywhere in this country.


Parting Shots

Steven: There is some benefit and some good to social media in that it provides a substitute for our relationships (as long as we use it as such); but therein lies the bad as well. It’s good when it can help us connect with those in our lives whom we have deemed important enough to be in relationship with when we otherwise cannot (long-distance, business trips, throughout-the-day check-ins). It’s bad in that we’re now hyper-connected to everyone, and technology is designed to addict us to that connectivity. Click cautiously/responsibly.

David: Social media has benefits, but they don’t outweigh the costs. And he recommends the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport to help think through this issue and inspire you to cut back a bit on social media. In the process of pursuing relationship with hundreds/thousands of folks, those closest to us end up suffering.

Matt: His experience with Facebook and other social media is that it is a large contributor to a breakdown in conversation and relationships. He recommends Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, Reclaiming Conversation by MIT professor Sherry Turkle, and Them by Ben Sasse. If you’re going to use social media, understand that it is a tool and leave it as a tool, but it’s not a substitute for genuine relationships and genuine conversation.


Conclusion

In the next episode, we’ll look at what the church has to say about social media. We believe the church can speak to these things, so we’ll discuss that and maybe investigate a bit more the business side of social media. We’ll wrap up by asking (and hopefully answering) the question, “How should we then live?”

If you use social media extensively, we hope this has been an opportunity to think deeply about your use of it. Maybe you already have. If so, we’d love to hear from you. Maybe there are counterpoints or blind spots we have on this issue. If so, please shoot us an email at hello@thesociallyremote.com. If you haven’t ever thought deeply about it, we’d encourage you to experiment with taking a break from social media.


Links and Stuff

The Podcast

Thanks for reading about this episode, and don’t forget to listen on:

Check out our website, TheSociallyRemote.com, for all the current happenings. And join us on our next episode, where we will continue to talk about social media and our response to it.

About The Socially Remote

Does it ever seem like the longer you adult, the less social you become? The responsibilities of being a spouse, a parent, and an employee often leave us with little time for meaningful interaction outside our home and office. As a result, many of us aren’t even remotely social. We try to fill the void with outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but we soon discover social media isn’t as social as it sounds. And the effort we put into soliciting likes and comments doesn’t produce stronger relationships with other people like we’d hoped.

This podcast is an attempt by a pastor, a lawyer, and a generalist to combat the growing culture of social isolation by making time for meaningful conversations about life, theology, and the church. We want to create space in our lives to engage in regular discussion and debate with those around us, and we hope this podcast will encourage you to do the same.

So join Matt, David, and Steven as we take a deep dive on the issues that matter to us and try to put real conversation back in its rightful place.

We are The Socially Remote.

Learn More and Reach Out

If you want to know more about the hosts, check out their bios and links to outside work here.

Got a show idea or feedback? Contact us at hello@thesociallyremote.com.

For the Lawyers

Legal Disclaimer: The views expressed on this podcast belong solely to the individuals expressing them and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of their respective employers.

Deep Dive segment introduction from “Dive” by Steven Curtis Chapman on the Speechless album. Used with permission courtesy of the Stable Collective.

About the Author
Steven Halbert is a husband, father, son, and brother. He has held various roles in children and family service organizations and currently works as a product manager for an industrial manufacturer. He enjoys teaching adult Sunday school, which is where the idea for his book - The Relational God - materialized. He has an associate degree in Bible and a master's degree in English; and he blogs about business, relationships, and the church at stevenhalbert.com

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