Erma Bombeck could make you laugh about onion rings. Or dirty laundry. About cleaning the bathroom. And fixing dinner. She could write about vacuuming her couch cushions with so much wit and realism that 30 million people stopped to read her.
Twice a week. For 30 years.
The majority of her posts, commentary, and columns would have fit right in with our current social media world. Her Facebook posts would have been shared. Her tweets retweeted. Her Instagram a hit. She would have gone viral. Weekly.
Bombeck made the dullest aspects of life ripe with relevance. Mostly, though, she just made us laugh. And she did it by doing exactly what 2.34 billion social media users do every day – talking about her life.
However, despite her fame, name recognition, popularity, and, what we’d call today, following, she didn’t view the size of her fan base as her end goal, and she warned others not to either. “Don’t confuse fame with success,” she once said. “Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”
Type here for relevance
On average, people spend 118 minutes every day on social media. When our daily hour usage is broken down, we spend less or roughly the same amount on exercising or activities. And only half as much on actual socializing. Along with eating, sleeping, and brushing our teeth, social media now holds a significant block of our daily life. It isn’t just a distraction; it’s part of our routine.
That’s a lot of cat videos.
We’ve threaded it into our daily, normal, expected existence. But do we know why? What do we get out of being on social media?
We know the reasons behind why we eat, why we socialize, why we spend time on personal hygiene. Our work hours are necessary, as are our sleeping ones. These are all daily activities with a crucial and beneficial end result. But social media? What are we getting out of posting pictures of our coffee? Sharing mundane details of our day? Writing our opinion in 140 characters or less?
We’re getting something from our social media time or we wouldn’t be doing it, but are we sure we know what that something is?
Like and share if you approve of me
There’s a sense of significance that comes from garnering response on social media. All those beautiful likes. Those cheering comments. Those attaboy/attagirl shares. It’s a way of feeling validated. People are saying our opinion/beauty/achievement/life matters.
They comment on our new hair style, our new job title, our new exercise routine. They embrace and like and encourage us…as long as you do the same for them. We’re so thrilled by the rush of it all, we want to repeat it daily. And in other online networks. One social media platform simply won’t do. That’s why, on average, most internet users have five.
Why only post that vacation photo to Facebook when it’ll also get attention on Instagram? Why only live tweet the concert we’re attending when we can also upload videos to Snapchat?
Why not get as much of that something we can’t name as possible?
Besides, there are people tuning in. We have an audience. A following. We’re like a 24-hour cable news network all about our life, and we have dead air to fill.
Oh, look. It’s dinner time. We should take a picture of our half-eaten piece of pie. That’s sure to go viral.
No one remembers our name
Social media has benefits, of course. It provides the opportunity, though not the guarantee, of sharing our message or thoughts. It can be a source for garnering product recommendations, sharing tips, connecting to new groups, passing on or obtaining information, learning about events, and sharing in the activities and lives of our friends.
It’s social. Sort of.
The main reason for social media, at least at the onset, was to connect people and create more social interaction. What started out as its strongest focus, however, may end up being its biggest failure.
James Katz, a Boston University media professor, found that married people active on social media actually become far less social with their spouse. So much so, in fact, they’re 32 percent more likely to divorce. Instead of socializing and connecting with the one person committed to share their life, active social users are turning to their online relationships for their emotional needs.
Millennials, also, aren’t faring well with social media. A 2015 study done by Flashgap found that 87 percent of millennials admitted to missing out on conversations due to checking their phone. Their comfort with social media may actually be hindering their social skills. In a June 2014 interview with the Huffington Post, Tara Kennedy-Kline, author of Stop Raising Einstein, said millennials are becoming an entire generation who is losing social and conversational skills due to their focus on living online.
And, lest anyone not in those categories think they have escaped, all users are struggling to separate the fictional world of social media, with its easy to reach edit buttons and photo filters for every day of the week, from the real world. What may “feel” like an intimate relationship online because we’re exposed to a person’s private family moments and life events, may not actually be a real connection at all. In fact, people we follow may not even realize we exist.
Our avatars are creating confusion.
Always in the mood to socialize
So, is social media a good thing?
It can be. It can not be. It may all have to do with the why, when, and how we use it. Like any tool, it can be mismanaged. How do we know if it’s a healthy aspect of our daily life? Here are some questions to help:
What do you get from being active on social media? Is it stress relieving or stress inducing? Does knowing about your friends’ lives make you happy for them or sad about your own situation? How often does what you read or see on social media make you happy? How often does it make you angry, upset, or depressed? Do you get positive feedback from your posts? If so, where else in your life are you getting positive feedback? Do you rely on your social media interactions for your confidence, self-worth, or main social interaction? If you removed social media from your life, or limited it, what would you feel is missing? The honest answers to these questions can help you navigate and, hopefully, find what value you associate with your social media hours.
How often are you on social media platforms? Is Facebook the first thing you check in the mornings? Can you start your day without reading the posts that happened while you were sleeping? Does your online time interfere or too often take priority over spending time with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends? Can you go an entire day without being on a social media site? Can you go a week? Do you consider messaging through social media channels “quality time” with friends and family? Does it often take the place of spending one-on-one time with people?
We’re spending so much of our lives online now, but are we getting enough value back on our time investment? It’s an important question, one that we may not have stopped long enough to truly consider.
Are you controlling your social media profiles or are they controlling you? Do you set your phone beside you while sharing a meal with friends? How often during those meals do you pick up your phone to check your social media apps for messages? Can you set your phone aside while having a conversation? Or does your need to check social media interrupt the conversation or cause you to lose track of what you or your friend was saying? Do you check your status updates every hour? Half hour? When you’re at an event or special occasion, are you as focused on what is happening around you as you are on what photo you’re going to take and what you’ll say in the post? Do you view every event or activity in life as content for your social profile? Are you capable of living in the moment, or does every moment need a hashtag and a selfie to make it memorable?
What we may not realize is, while we’re busy checking our phone, our life is happening all around us. Family and friends who take a backseat to our need to check our status may begin to feel less connected, overlooked, or unappreciated. When we have the opportunity to be in a social setting or enjoy social time with others, we miss out on real connection when we can’t put aside our social media lives. Our listening skills falter. Our relationships suffer. And our need for social interaction goes hungry, even with all our social channels up and running.
Seek value, not followers
Bombeck had one goal: connecting people through finding and expressing the humor in our shared life experiences. That’s why people loved her and why her columns still hold relevance. She bonded people over the dirty, daily act of living.
She once explained what she hoped to achieve through all her writings, musings, and living: “When I stand before God at the end of my life,” she said, “I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”
She didn’t hope for a bigger audience. She hoped for a bigger impact.
Now that’s a life worth tweeting about.