Detachment in an age of digital connection

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It’s not difficult to see the widespread popularity of social media in daily life. Most everyone I know manages at least one social media platform, and the majority manage more than one.

Social media is perhaps one of the most powerful technological advancements of our generation. Not only can we send instant messages to one another, but now we can actually have real insight on the lives of others. We can see photos of lifestyles, tweets expressing opinions and thoughts and statuses offering updates.

So in a world where everyone I know — and even those I don’t — is at the touch of a button, why do I feel so alone?

Maybe you’ve felt it too. I’m sitting at lunch with a group of friends, and instead of talking about our days, we’re gossiping over what someone posted on Instagram. It’s halftime at a basketball game, but rather than talking to the person beside me, I’m checking my Twitter feed. I’m walking to class, but instead of taking in the beauty of the day, I’m glued to my phone.

I could say I’m more connected with others through social media than I would be if I didn’t have it, but I’d be lying.

This fake connection we’ve created for ourselves is found in friendships, romantic relationships and even in relationship with ourselves as individuals.

We get so caught up in the number of followers we have we forget followers don’t equal friends, and likes aren’t equivalent to a relationship. Chances are if you have 800 followers on Instagram, you’ve probably never spoken to most of them. I even find myself liking pictures and then walking past those same people without so much as a wave in real life.

As for romantic relationships, it’s become commonplace to show interest in someone by “liking” pictures, following, “favoriting” tweets and Snapchatting. Instead of asking someone to go on a date, hang out or just engage in a conversation, our generation has become so comfortable with communicating behind a screen that we’re terrified of rejection face to face.

Technology can even create a false sense of connection with ourselves. Social media can often times make us believe everyone else is living a better life than we are. The things others choose to post showcase the highlight reels of life, while we only see our raw behind-the-scenes. Technology has the potential to rob us of a realistic perspective.

I don’t want to simply bash social media. In fact, I’m a big proponent of social media and virtual connection. Social media has allowed me to stay in touch with friends and family who are physically out of reach, instantly communicate with others during emergencies and share my thoughts and opinions on a global scale.

So if social media has both negative and positive effects, what are we to do? We don’t want to escape from its benefits, but we don’t want to separate ourselves from true relationships.

A solution begins with monitoring social media usage. Pay attention for a day or a week on how you are using your technology. Instead of reverting to your phone during meal times and walks to class, try engaging with those around you and being mindful of the present moment.

Another solution is to put more effort into building relationships outside of a screen. I often try to use likes and comments as a substitute for making more of an intentional effort in a relationship. Instead of keeping a Snapchat streak going with the girl you’re interested in, take a chance and ask her on a date — in person. Instead of just “liking” the Instagram pictures of the guy who sits in front of you in class, ask him how his day is going.

Social media possesses an immense power to both hinder and help us. It’s our responsibility to embrace the positives of technological advances, while at the same time continuing to build true relationships with those around us.

So put the phone down and look up. It would be a shame for us to miss out on opportunities and relationships because of a screen.

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