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Junk Food for the Soul

Posted on May 6, 2014 at 9:20 AM

I have been a member of Facebook since 2009. I literally had no use for Facebook and the soon-to-be-irrelevant Myspace at the time, but at the encouragement of my nieces and nephews, I signed up and became yet another willing participant in the social media experiment. What originally passed as mindless entertainment and a way to find out what became of old high school friends has morphed into something much more serious, less entertaining, but just as lacking in substance or meaning.

There's a reason that we have friends and acquaintances, and most of us are able to clearly distinguish between the two. There is a reason that we don't just hang out with the people we say "Hi" and "Bye" to on an elevator. Yet, on social media sites that is often what we find ourselves doing. We accept friend requests from people we hardly know and then get to see every baby picture, political post, endless selfies, and pictures of what they fixed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The line between friend and acquaintance doesn't exist in the world of Facebook. It's the equivalent of being at a party where everyone is constantly mingling, and meaningful coversation and real connections are replaced with idle chit-chat and small talk. The difference between the two is that at some point, the party ends and everyone goes home. In Facebookland, we are the annoying, drunk party guest still hanging around long after the party is over.

We live in a society that is becoming ever more divided along political and ideological lines. There is no accounting for this on social media. People sometimes post things that are so in-your-face and offensive that you are left no choice but to "unfriend" them. This happened to me recently when someone posted a graphic picture (which I will not describe) in the name of raising awareness. The problem is, I was already aware. I do not want to see depictions of graphic violence toward man or beast mixed in with inspirational quotes and cat pictures. Some things cannot be unseen and it makes me question the mental makeup of someone who feels a need to post such things. 

The filters we have in place when dealing with people in person are absent online. Not being able to see the discomfort that talking politics, religion, or some social issues creates in others is taken as permission by some to talk at length about those things nonstop on social media. It doesn't end there. Add the 24 hour news channels or any popular dot com news site and we become unindated with more of the same.

We would treat this constant consumption of media junk food much differently if its effect on the brain was as obvious as the effect that too much junk food has on the body. Social media, when used properly, can be beneficial. Much of the time, however, the opposite is true. Like junk food, moderation may be the key. A little exposure to social media may be good for a laugh or two, but a steady diet can weigh heavy on the mind, fill one with worry, or even feed insecurities when relied on too heavily for feelings of validation. Perhaps mom and dad said it best: "It's nice today, go outside and play".

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