The Dark Side of Social Media: What’s Not to Like?

computer-0621135Social media have done countless wonders for the introvert, the geek, the odd duck, the strange bird. And they have been a lifeline for those who are isolated, elderly, depressed, oppressed, anxious, or afraid.

But as wonderful as social media are for bringing people together, many of the connections they foster are tearing families apart. The example below is fictional, but only in the sense that I’ve made up names for the two people in the story. The sad truth is that under similar circumstances, those names could be just about anyone’s.

Rory is 38. He’s a good guy, and he’s basically happy with his life. One evening after a long day at work, Rory starts noodling around on Facebook. While looking at a friend’s photos, he spots Beth, his old sweetheart from high school. Without thinking, he sends her a friend request and then heads off to bed.

The next day, to his surprise and delight, he sees that Beth accepted his invitation. Immediately, he sends her an instant message, and she answers:

“OMG! I can’t believe you wrote. I’ve thought of you many times over the years.”
“Me too. How’s life?”
“I can’t complain. How R U? Still living in Hopkins?”
“South Minneapolis. How is ‘the most popular kid in the class’?”
“LOL. Remember when you cheated in math and Hessleton hauled me into her office?”
“Sorry. :) U still with Carl?”
“April 10, 15 years.”
“You’re still too good for him.”
“He’s OK. And you? Still hot, I see.”
“Whoa.”

And so it goes. Beth is married to Carl. Rory is married to Jill. Life is OK for both couples; nobody’s as happy as they thought they’d be with married life.

Before long, Beth and Rory are talking every day. They instant message, text, call, Skype, exchange photos, and forward YouTube videos. As the volume and frequency of evidence begins to pile up, Rory and Beth decide to meet for lunch. They decide not to tell their spouses, though, because they “don’t want them to get the wrong idea.” What’s the harm, eh? So Beth suggests they meet someplace public, where they’ll both feel “safe,” and Rory agrees.

Questions:

  • When was the last time the word “safety” was uttered while making a lunch date with a friend?
  • When have you spent this amount of time with anyone, without mentioning it to your spouse?
  • Who else knows about your lunch date and your new old friend?
  • What would your spouse think if he or she overheard your conversations or read your texts?

If these questions occurred to Beth and Rory, they were quick to ignore them. Half in a daze, they meet for lunch, and overwhelming feelings begin to surface. Who could have guessed after all these years that two people approaching midlife could feel so alive?

In his book The Erotic Mind, Jack Morin describes desire as a force fueled by a short list of predictable factors: novelty, uncertainty, scarcity, danger, and a sense of one’s love interest as “the mysterious ‘other.’ ” Unfortunately, the same things that turn us on at the beginning of a relationship raise red flags once the courtship is over. Pat Love has written that desire is hard-wired into our DNA. It’s what makes us want to “meet, mate, and procreate.” But desire isn’t what sustains us. It’s only what gets the ball rolling. Consistency, abundance, fidelity, dependability. Safety is what we want in a life partner.

If it sounds like I’m against social media, I’m not. Any connections that strengthen and support values that serve the common good are good for humankind. What I am against is mindlessness, and the willful ignorance or denial of the real dangers it poses.

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  • Britt

    Britt

    June 24th, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    It isn;t the fault of social media that there are some people who are bound to take things a little too far online.

    Being online gives them this feeling of safety and invincibility that it is likely they would never display in person.

    The bad thing is that this kind of bravery is ruining many relationships, but that’s no one’s fault but their own.

  • zane

    zane

    June 25th, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    I don’t even want to know how many hours of my life I will never get back because of this. Too many to count. Too depressing to acknowledge.

  • Betsy

    Betsy

    June 25th, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Sorry to hear it, Zane. I know. It all seems so harmless at first. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is defined as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”

    Internet addiction–like other addictions–clouds judgement, defies reason, destroys health, kills relationships, and underestimates risk.

    It also makes our brains more vulnerable to other addictions, so be on the alert for substitutes that may carry some of the same risk factors.

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