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The Real Purpose of Social Media

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I make it my job to keep up with the statistics on kids—from middle school to college students. In fact, we are now attempting to help companies on-board new employees who’ve recently graduated from school. One of the biggest disconnects I see between adults and adolescents today is social media. Both are on it, but it’s increasingly becoming a difficult place to have honest interaction.

Here’s a new one. Last week, I noticed a friend who offered some completely honest and not-so gratifying remarks about himself in social media (both Twitter and a Facebook post). He made candid comments about how he’d failed at a job interview and how he got angry with his son, to the point he felt he had to apologize for it. I could tell he wasn’t doing it for attention; he wasn’t using reverse psychology to get his son or anyone else to like him. It wasn’t false humility. It was simply someone finally being honest in social media.

It got my attention because today—that is rare indeed.

Think about it. Millions of people Instagram their perfect life everyday. They tweet about how great their vacation was. They use Pinterest to subtly brag about their life. They post photos on Facebook that make their life look stress-free. In fact, you’d swear they were on vacation every week. In the process, you’re getting depressed just looking at it all, but inside…you have to wonder: is their life really like that?

Nope. Of course it isn’t.

Journalist Shauna Niequist writes, “The danger of the internet is that it’s very, very easy to tell partial truths—to show a fabulous meal but not the messy clean up afterward. To display the smiling couple shot, but not the fight you had three days ago. To offer up the sparkly milestones but not the spiraling meltdowns.”

This is spot on. So, why do we do it? For some, they’d simply say they want to put their best foot forward; to display the good times, not the bad. After all, who wants to hear that we forgot to take out the garbage on Monday? This makes sense. The problem is—this fiction is sparking negative emotions in millions on social media, because we don’t separate reality from virtual very well. Photos don’t lie, we tell ourselves. But—that just isn’t true. They do lie, because they don’t tell the whole truth. They literally represent a snapshot of a world that’s consumed with appearing happy and confident and in-control. But that’s not what social media should do.

What if we used social media for redemptive purposes? Instead of using it for some narcissistic promotion, what if we utilized it to build a community of people who supported each other, in both the wonderful moments and the non-glitzy moments? I wonder if we really could help each other, through social media. What if it was about collectively growing and getting better, not about getting more famous, more followers, more hits and more likes? It is just too easy to fall prey to the seduction of other’s partial truths and “heavily filtered photos” (thanks Shauna), that makes everything look amazing. Sadly, it makes the rest of us feel not amazing at all.

What if we stop comparing and start connecting? I’m just asking.

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The Real Purpose of Social Media