The Social Media Paradox

I have never made it a secret; I do not really feel attracted to social networks. Simply because I don’t feel the need to be on them so many times or be in constant contact with my friends, or by having a bunch of virtual friends that I absolutely do not know.

I do not really understand Twitter, throwing small shout-outs into the world that might or might not hold some level of interesting information.

But the fact that I do not ‘understand’ social networks and social media, does not mean I do not understand its importance, especially in the world of networking and marketing. And these forms of media are popular, used by millions and millions of people, and they like them. Who am I to tell them I am wrong… because they are not. It is just not the thing for me.

I am going to make here a pretty bold statement, that I will explain a little bit later on. The fact is, although I do not ‘understand’ it, I do know what makes it tick, why people are on there, the technical and social dangers of it from a psychological point of view simply because it is also my profession to study and develop for, for example, social platforms.

Here it is: Social media demoted personal improvement and ambition


I know.

So, why do I make that statement, and what do I mean with it?

It is not stating that people who use social media are then limited in capacity and intellect; absolutely not. The smartest people are on social media. Also, I do not say social media kills ambition or personal improvement… I only say that, by default, social media demotes personal improvement. Which is normal, by the way.

One reason why children evolve into the person they will become, is because of external influences from society. We all remember our childhood years in school, where every class had its bully, its geek, the popular girls, and the not popular guys, and the one or two children that were always picked on. Agree with it or not, but fact is, it usually is a small-scale representation of the people you will meet during the rest of your life, and it will teach you how to deal with them. You will encounter versions of the same people all your life. And it is this diversity of people that makes you evolve. There are people who you do not like, and there are the ones you do like, and the majority that you , honestly, do not care about.

There are the people who manipulate you, people you manipulate, people who use you, people you use, people you care for, love, dislike or maybe even plainly hate.

Then you have people you strategically place in your life for your own gain in networks. Liking these people or disliking them plays no role in this scenario, it is a web of connections that in some way or another is useful to you.

I am not writing anything new here. It might sound harsh, but it is something that has been done ever since society started to develop somewhere from getting caves into real estate. And it always has been normal to feel socially attracted to people who are like you.  I am a Dutch guy living in the US. Whenever I hear someone talk Dutch, I feel like a bond, and immediately start talking, while still living in the Netherlands, I could not care less. Also, I like it when people are also interested in areas that I am interested in. It is perfectly normal.

What causes this attraction is because it is special. You do not always find a person that is more or less like you. So this is how friendships start and develop. My best friend I have met in ’88 taking music lessons and we found out we both actually owned the same computer (which, in that time, was a major geek-level match). It is that rarity of matches that make friends stand out, and that you do not have too many of them.

And within a society where matches are rare, and a regular person (with the exception of a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath) wants to be liked. So in effect to be more generally liked, you evolve. Kids who always bully other kids do not have any real honest friends. People who do not dare to say a word to someone else hardly get any social interaction.

But social networks bring this out of balance. In your class, there might have been one real bully. Eventually, with luck, if this kid was not a sociopath, he would have learned by the end of high-school that his behavior makes him disliked, and he would find out that if he wants to be liked again, he should change. But a social network brings people together on a much larger scale. Within the 500+ million people on Facebook it is easy to find like-minded people, who also enjoy bullying. Worse, they might even encourage each other to not change and continue their behavior.

The same thing with people who are in social isolation; finding other people in social isolation might increase the thought that it is okay to be in that kind of situation, not pushing themselves a bit harder to actually get out of it.

Of course, it is good to find groups of like-minded people,  but social networks do make it easier to do so in such large numbers, that those groups form smaller virtual societies on their own. And being in such groups, might not promote the will to change yourself for the better.

People who are always praised can approve of this; if you are always praised, there is no way to lay a basis of how to improve. Once you are on the top, you cannot grow. If you live in the penthouse of the largest building on earth, say the 200th floor, and you decide to build another 200 floors on top of that and you relocate then to the new penthouse on the 400th floor, it makes no difference… you are still living on the highest floor in the world. Socially, your position did not change a bit.

Social media could promote personal growth and evolution by promoting matching with networks you are not socially comfortable in. But even then, in the end, you will not excel because the majority of the people in the network will always be impressed if your performance is above 50%.  And since social networks mostly do not guide their users, people cling to their own. Like the groups of different people during a school dance. It requires some mixing and mingling to make people set their ambitions higher.

Let me make another statement, I do not say that social media are bad.

A lot of people find a lot of comfort and friendship in meeting more of their own kind and liking. Or if you are a newbie in any kind of network, the rest of the network can help you to improve to a average level, which is a very good starting point.

But that is some other use that blurting out some tweets about nothing, and having 7,000 friends and counting that you have never known.

I think one of the major social networks should improve on actually a sort of a guidance in the use of social networks. Because, social networks could use some ambition and self improvement too.




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