Nowadays, we can’t do away with social media. It’s an “epidemic” infecting almost anyone. Since the advent of Facebook in 2004, which is still the number one social media and networking service company tool with 2.167 billion users as of January 2018, we have now accumulated a huge volume of data to study the impact of social media. We can learn from Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote about how things trend or go viral in his best-selling book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. He named three elements or rules about why epidemics or trends become viral: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. These rules are quite present in the social media craze. Facebook in fact started with very few young people (power of the few).

Since social media bank on human relations and friendships, it stays active in people’s minds (stickiness factor). The technological landscape with the Internet and state-of the-art smart phones and androids in demand, has greatly influenced people who now opt for instant access and gratification (power of context). The world has witnessed mass migrations and most men and women have great longing to connect, adding to or spiking up the social media epidemic, and there are many more factors and elements to consider.

Recently, we also noticed the negative impact of social media as some power-grabbers have used it to analyze the data from its users and target voters by studying their personal data. We know we are giving up our privacy when using social media. But why are we hooked on them? It’s the stickiness factor and the human need to connect. Facebook has now added security features to detect manipulators of public opinion like terrorist groups and political personalities.
To connect and be part of a family is a real human need. Social media provides a venue for social inclusion. If we look into cases of dependence on substance, gadgets, and others, addiction can always be traced to deep psychological roots. People resort to addictive behavior because they can’t cope with rejection, frustration, or even depression. However, when they experience acceptance and a sense of family and belongingness, addiction can be prevented.

The tide of social media has now turned into a very strong current, and like any current we can be drawn by it either towards what’s good or what’s destructive. Nevertheless, like any good captain, we can still steer the rudder of our ship towards “islands and shores” that can provide refuge on dark and stormy days. Indeed, any wave, after some time, will subside and calm will return. As for any epidemic which has affected human history, people with their ingenuity and creativity, can still come up with new vaccines to stop the spread of the virus.

Concretely, we can also set aside our social media gadgets, by disconnecting from the Net, or go visit a nature park, a forest or a beach.

We have to reclaim our freedom by living well each present moment. Living the present well is a lesson as old as time, for it helps us to connect more deeply with ourselves. That’s why this moment is called the “present” – a gift – which opens up for us life’s many surprises. Gary Turk’s poem Look Up (found in YouTube) can make us more aware of the pitfalls of social media.

Here I quote some excerpts: “I have 422 friends, yet I am lonely. I speak to all of them every day, yet none of them really know me…. It’s just an illusion of community, companionship, a sense of inclusion… Yet when you step away from this device of delusion, you awaken to see a world of confusion… a world where we’re slaves to the technology we mastered, where information gets sold by some rich greedy bastard… a world of self-interest, self-image and self-promotion… where we all share our best bits, but leave out the emotion… Being alone isn’t a problem, let me just emphasize.

If you read a book, paint a picture, or do some exercise, you’re being productive and present, not reserved and recluse… you’re being awake and attentive and putting your time to good use. So when you’re in public, and you start to feel alone, put your hands behind your head, step away from the phone. You don’t need to stare at the menu, or at your contact list. Just talk to one another, and learn to co-exist…We’re becoming unsocial. It no longer satisfies to engage with one another and look into someone’s eyes.

We’re surrounded by children, who, since they were born, watch us living like robots, and think it’s the norm. It’s not very likely you will make world’s greatest dad, if you can’t entertain a child without using an iPad. So look up from your phone, shut down the display, take in your surroundings, and make the most of today. Just one real connection is all it can take, to show you the difference that being there can make…”

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