I’m growing weary of these admittedly intelligent articles talking about how harmful social media addiction is (apparently, it’s a thing) and how platforms like Facebook and Instagram are designed to keep you checking and posting. And most importantly, it’s supposedly bad for your mental health.
But what if…it’s not.
Is it so bad to share what you’re eating or drinking? Is it so bad to post selfies? Is it so bad to count the likes on your post?
I think most people know there’s a certain artificiality to social media. Your social network rarely reflects your real-life dynamics; you may have Facebook “friends” whom you would never drink with in real life; your Instagram followers likely include people you’ve never even met. Yet there’s a freedom in Instagram, a simple affirmation process that allows even the mundane to be celebrated. Where else are you going to have 134 people take time out of their day to express positivity? Imagine if you were in a coffee shop and everyone who passed by said, “Hey, I like your coffee.” You’d be weirded out. Post your joe on Insta, people like the post, and nobody bats an eye. There’s a strange beauty in social media liking.
We toss around the word “addiction” far too much. An addiction is a compulsive behavior that brings short-term pleasure but causes long-term harm. You can’t prove that Instagram and Snapchat cause long-term harm because they haven’t been around long-term.
As someone with OCD — the real kind, not what you home-organization freaks think you have — I am an expert in compulsive behaviors. When I checked the oven to be sure it was off or that door was locked, I did it 30 times in a row. And then I had to do it 30 more times. It prevented me from doing other things in my life, and it caused me immense psychological stress.
“But wait,” you protest, “social media is designed to trigger dopamine and therefore you are always going to enjoy checking it.” Nope, I have in fact had OCD manifest in my social media checking, mostly of Facebook. And I do not enjoy my brain torturing me in that way.
Nor do I enjoy my brain skewing my self-perception. I have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which causes me to see a decidedly inaccurate reflection in the mirror, among other things. Because of this, I forbade people from photographing me, and when I did see photographs, I despised them, even dissolving into tears because I was so ashamed.
For me, sharing selfies on Instagram has been empowering because I have to be exposed to potentially upsetting content: the photos of myself. Being able to control those gave me an outlet to rewire my brain to stop producing absurd versions of reality; posting them and receiving likes and compliments taught me that I am not a hideous monster.
Would you like to deny me this important mechanism for exposure-response prevention, a well-established treatment technique, just because it involves social media?
Similarly, posting about my activities, whether it’s what I cooked for dinner or the major project I’m working on, provides me with affirmation. It makes me feel connected in an increasingly disconnected and alarming world. Ironically, the artificiality of social media enables long-distance connection with people I care about — ever important at my age, when many of my friends are preoccupied with young children.
Social media is “addictive” because it works: people want to feel connected to others, especially those they don’t get to see as much as they would like. Social media empowers that, and it forges bonds with people around the world. As a member of a worldwide artist community, I feel moreso a part of this realm of experience because I can chat with fellow circus performers around the globe. That’s a feeling of fulfillment and purpose you can’t buy, and it emerges through social media.
So can we stop with the shaming articles encouraging everyone to leave Facebook, lest you be called a naïve data pony, or Instagram, lest you be labeled a narcissistic influencer, and let everyone enjoy things? It might even save someone’s life.
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