Forbes ran a recent opinion piece, “Three Reasons You Should Quit Social Media in 2013” that advocates quitting social media cold turkey. While I understand the sentiment behind the piece, I’m not sure that the argument for abdication is as strong as the title suggests. Let me explain why:
The argument for quitting social media
In the piece, three reasons are given for shuttering all social media accounts:
- Social media is harmful to self-esteem
- Social media is annoying
- Social media not a good substitute for offline relationships
By this criteria we must accept their conclusion that overall self-esteem has diminished in the past few years and that we are more agitated after visiting a social network than before. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence supporting or refuting either point. The argument that our self-esteem diminishes by comparing ourselves to Facebook friends probably could be used for real-life interactions as well and a lot of people that I know agitate me every time I’m with them, too.
There is evidence that offline relationships are of higher quality than online relationships, however they aren’t mutually exclusive.
So, while these aren’t iron-clad reasons that demonize social networks, on any given day I might agree with some of them more than others. So it might be worthwhile to examine the advantages to participating social networks.
A bad rap?
Does anyone remember classmates.com? It was a pay service to put you in contact with all of your high school friends. It was essentially a pay-to-play Facebook with nowhere near the features. The reason that they were moderately successful was that people wanted to reconnect with friends they had lost touch with. There wasn’t any talk of diminished self-esteem or annoyance, even though the majority of interactions happened over email. In fact I’m hard pressed to recall anyone I know physically meeting as a result of re-connection on classmates.com. (Classmates still exists, a fact that I find as curious as the persistence of Angie’s List)
So, the self-esteem issue must correlate with the frequency of online messages? But if we agree with the bellwether of unimpeachable information (Wikipedia) and define self-esteem as “a person’s overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth,” then isn’t an increased frequency of posts indicative of higher self-esteem? More posts would seem to indicate that a person feels that their posts have value to people.
Until social media came along, connecting with people over email wasn’t construed as inadequate, though the connection is just as tenuous as in social media. And by measurable indications (posts), self-esteem is actually enhanced on social media.
Could it be that social media gets a raw deal because of its newness?
What is social media?
Social media (as people use it) is heavy on the media and light on the social. By all accounts, people on Facebook and Twitter are consuming and publishing far more than they are conversing. Mark Cuban recently likened Facebook to television viewing, and though they’re somewhat different they have a lot of consumptive behaviors in common. Facebook seems to have acknowledged this somewhat by morphing their advertising from targeting social connections to interruption marketing. And many studies have concluded that the time spent on social networks is time previously spent watching television (or concurrent).
Should people stop watching television? Maybe. But should social media be held to a different standard than television? Probably not. In fact, I would argue that there is a higher value to consume social content than typical media. But we don’t really know.
What we do know is that social media is taking up an increasing amount of people’s leisure time, so there must be something to it. There may be a compelling reason to quit, but my guess is that it has little to do with self-esteem, agitation or wanting more fulfilling interactions. If people quit social media, my guess is that they have other things to accomplish.
What do you think? Are you ready to retire from social media?