Seeing something beautiful or enjoying a funny moment used to be a natural part of life. Enjoyment was part of the routine. Now a notable, funny or surprising event is an instant reach for a phone or other way to record and share the experience.
With so much access to anything we want, we become overwhelmed and take real time social interaction and moments for granted.
Social media and technology have the potential to reduce a person’s relationship with themselves. Each individual is the only person they will without a doubt spend the rest of their life with, so one might as well be one’s own best friend. When seeing something beautiful, try simply taking a moment to savor and enjoy its beauty. Don’t search for a filter, don’t start immediately composing hashtag diatribes, simply be. One’s senses create a more beautiful picture and experience than anything that can ever be experienced through an electronic device. So share the moment with yourself instead of needing to share it with someone else. More than anything, make sure you can laugh with yourself, cry with yourself, tell yourself you look sexy in the mirror without needing to spend the next 20 minutes finding the perfect angle on your cleavage.
Social media and technology are such huge topics that it really is misleading to examine them as negative or positive. It is all very much a part of the lives of individuals in developed countries and definitely isn’t going anywhere. Two parts stand out to me in reflecting on digital media. First, constant posting and sharing can take away the value we place on real time experience and force people to rely too heavily on instant feedback from others for self esteem. Two, the way people use social media and technology is more important than how often it is used.
Instead of sharing and snapping just for likes and retweets, try using technology and social media interaction to increase gratitude and mindfulness. Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that has been adopted by people of many cultural and religious backgrounds as a way to be more present in the moment. Mindfulness in its essence is noticing what is happening, accepting it as it is without judgement, then reacting with kindness and compassion towards whatever it is.
Before thinking about how to word the post of the moment, reflect on gratitude for the opportunity to have that experience. Savor the situation or the social connection internally first, then enjoy the response from peers as a bonus.
In a study reported by the New York Times a team lead by psychologist Sara Konrath found a “40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000.” The findings were compiled in 2010 at the University of Michigan and combined the results of 72 studies over a 30 year period.
In many cases, technology and social media use are considered to be the culprits of this cultural shift that overwhelmingly impacts younger generations. Other studies have found, however, that Facebook and internet users have more empathy and express it as they experience posts and life events shared by others. The Pew Research Center did a study in 2011 which found that Facebook users are more trusting, have more close relationships, and are more politically active than non-Facebook users. With greater access to the lives and experiences of social networks near and far, it makes sense that people who are part of the flood of updates would experience empathy for those they care about.
Social media and technology are tools with huge potential for positivity. As information becomes easier to share, this also means that humans can come together to learn from what works. Another New York Times article on positivity in technology referenced a “positive computing” movement driven by Rafael Calvo and Dorian Peters of the University of Sydney. In the overview of their new book on the subject, they say that “technology, so pervasive and ubiquitous, has the capacity to increase stress and suffering; but it also has the less-heralded potential to improve the well-being of individuals, society and the planet.”
Technology can be used to increase mindfulness and gratitude as well as true and meaningful connection with others so long as each person also has a healthy relationship with themselves and a value for beautiful moments in their own right, even when no one else is there to see it.