Is social media “the” problem?

Rather Than Asking If Social Media Is The Problem, Let’s Ask What The Screen Reflects

This article captures a number of my own thoughts about the “problems” of social media – I especially like the “keeping up with the Joneses” analogy.

Our desire to capture and communicate a positive identity has always existed. Keeping diaries was all the rage for millions of our Victorian era predecessors. Social media is the latest manifestation. It’s something we brought into existence, not something that happened to us. Its skeleton is a vast network of algorithms, built to reflect and take advantage of our desires and behaviours.

One of these behaviours — social comparison — was captured perfectly in 1913, when a US comic strip coined the phrase ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. The comic resonated with millions of Americans, capturing the anxiety and misery of looking over the fence to our neighbors for comparison and benchmarks for success.

Today we can see far beyond that fence. The average Facebook user can see into the lives of 338 friends. Naturally, we’re starting to wonder if our expanded line of sight could be having a negative impact on our mental health.

Kudos to Roxie Nafousi for sharing her story and to the social experiment for the BBC World Service’s 100 World series.