We’re through! The end of a social media love affair

The first Facebook divorce has now happened. It was only a matter of time.

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Earlier this week it was reported that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper had allowed jilted wife Ellanora Baidoo to serve her elusive husband with divorce papers via a Facebook message. Baidoo’s lawyer commented, “it’s new law, and it’s necessary,” but many critics have condemned the move as a new low; one that is indicative of society’s ever-growing disconnectedness.

It’s always sad to learn of a relationship breaking down, but this story made me sit up and take notice. With social media now so deeply ingrained in some peoples’ lives that it can be used to deliver news of such gravitas, what’s next? I came to the realisation that my own relationship with social media – one that once provided me with immense personal gratification – has now changed dramatically.

Social media addiction: are you talking to me?
An Australian student e-mailed me recently to ask about my social media addiction. They wanted my thoughts on the role that social media now plays in society, following a piece I wrote that was published in the debut edition of Guru Magazine back in 2011. The article, Confessions of a Social Media Addict, explored the huge swathes of time that social channels were taking up in my life, how I used it, and addressed whether I was beginning to lose control of the situation. Here’s a quick extract:

There are many reasons why social media has become so popular. For me, it provides a way to stay in touch with a variety of people with a minimum amount of effortIn just a few clicks I can post photos of my life or make a quick comment to a friend. It’s much easier than picking up the phone and actually talking! But where social media really comes into its own is that it allows me to keep in contact with people that are spread out all over the world.

I look back at this viewpoint now and openly cringe.

Four years ago, social media was my life. I was connected to my entire social circle on it; I arranged virtually all my personal and business engagements through it; I shared all key life events on it; and I afforded great value to the number of followers I had and to my online ‘influence.’

I was living in a bubble, and forgetting that there was a real world existing right outside of it – one full of surprises and incredible moments in its own right.

I recently had a 12-month hiatus from Facebook. It was an experiment, and one that I’m glad I undertook. I returned, but my view of the site and its necessity in my life was no longer the same.

It was like breaking up with a girlfriend. We got back together, but something had irrevocably changed.

That’s how I now feel about social media as a whole. On a professional level, working within the communications industry, I wholeheartedly believe that social media is a valuable and essential marketing tool for organisations that can enable true, measurable engagement and foster crucial two-way dialogue. On a personal level, however, it’s just not as important to me as it once was.

After the split: What does the relationship now look like?

It would be foolish of me to say that my relationship with social media has completely ended; of course it hasn’t. Quite simply, social networks are now so pervasive and integrated into virtually every facet of civilisation that they are almost impossible to avoid, for me or anyone else. I also don’t want to stop using social media, as the technology itself has provided a previously-unheard of forum for campaigning against injustice and has brought about transparency from firms and public figures alike. In that respect, it’s a great thing.

But my use of social media in 2015 is very different to that of 2011. I now see that we live in a world where it is expected that we should document every moment of our lives online, and in which we believe online connections to be of equal value with those made and fostered in the real world. Belonging has always been sought and social media is a modern approach to achieving this, but I fear we are losing touch with what true connection actually feels like.

For me, social media is now principally a communications platform that allows me to speak with people that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to reach without it (like I’m doing right now, with you). I wouldn’t want to lose that, but equally, I now realise that there are just some things in life that are better done face-to-face.

Image source: Dennis Skley [via Flickr]