The Existential Dread of Social Media

“Existential dread” sounds ominous.

The term “existential dread” may sound sinister, but If you’re a social media user it’s a term you better become familiar with. Existential dread (or angst) is a feeling of despair, a sense that your life lacks meaning and purpose. Sooner or later, we all experience a sense of hopefulness. But we’re learning that there is a connection between existential anxiety and social media. In fact, if you’re an active user of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media sites, you may be on the fast track to an existential catastrophe.

Social media is driving us crazy. Literally.

It’s hard to believe that social media sites like Facebook have only existed for a little more than 10 years. But although social media is a relatively recent newcomer into our lives, it has radically changed the way we behave and interact with the world around us.

For example, instead of savoring life’s little moments, we feel an urgent need to document our experiences, share them and receive instant validation from our growing lists of followers. And if the content we post isn’t validated with likes or shares, we feel anxious, frustrated or depressed. Maybe we even begin to question whether or not our experiences or perspectives are legitimate or worthwhile, especially when we compare them to the experiences our friends share on social media.

Entrepreneur Poppy Jamie makes a convincing case for the idea that we’re addicted to likes. In her TEDxHollywood talk, she cites a 2014 study showing that U.S. college students are on their smartphones almost nine hours a day. Not coincidentally, anxiety in young people is at an 80-year high.

It’s important to know that technology skeptics aren’t the only people who are questioning the impact of social media on our mental health. In a recent interview, Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, admitted, “God only knows what (Facebook) is doing to our children’s brains.” He went on to say that Facebook is designed to keep users hooked on a “social validation feedback loop.” Did you catch that? The people who built some of the world’s most popular social media sites designed them to get you addicted to other people’s approval — even people you don’t really know.

The bottom line: Social media can be useful. But it can also harm us in ways that we’re only beginning to understand.

Why does social media make us feel bad about ourselves?

Existentialism is a philosophical concept that describes the contemplation of life’s big questions. By asking questions like “Who am i?” we begin the search for meaning and purpose in life. Not surprisingly, this process produces a certain amount of anxiety and that’s okay. It’s valuable to consider where we came from, where we’re going and what we’re doing in the meantime.

Existential dread happens when our search for meaning comes up empty. We are plagued by a sense that there is no meaning or purpose in life. We feel alone and isolated. We’re dissatisfied with our life. We’re chronically depressed.A major life event, like trauma or a serious illness or the death of a loved one, can trigger existential dread. But sometimes, everyday things can trigger it, too. That’s where social media enters the picture.

Social media allows us to create curated realities. We post content about the exciting pieces of our lives, but the mundane or less-than-flattering pieces of our lives never make it into our news feeds. So, the image we project to the rest of the world is skewed. Our social media presences reflect the lives we wish we had – not the lives we are actually living.

Over time, that alone can plunge you into an existential crisis. On social media, the rest of the world thinks you’re living like a rock star. But you know that your life isn’t nearly as interesting as it appears. You’re a fake. A fraud. A charlatan. Instead of finding answers to “Who am I?” you feel more confused and anxious about life than ever.

But it gets worse. All of your friends are doing the same thing. They’re posting selfies that shine the spotlight on the fabulous things they’re doing with their lives. And when you compare those things to the relatively bleak existence you know you are actually living, the cumulative effects are depression, anxiety and an overarching sense of dread.

 

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How to avoid the existential dread of social media

Fortunately, existential dread isn’t inevitable. You don’t have to throw away your smartphone or shut down all of your social media accounts to avoid anxiety and depression. It’s possible to use technology in a way that helps you find more meaning and purpose in life. But to do it, you’ll need to rethink your relationship with social media.

Limit the amount of time you spend on social media.

Social media and real life are very different things. If you’re spending hours on social media each day, you’re living a large portion of your life on platforms that are (by the founders’ own admissions) designed to addict you to an alternative and distorted version of reality. Schedule a few times each day to check your social media account – and stay away from social media the rest of the time.

Invest in real-life relationships.

For millennia, people have discovered meaning and purpose through their relationships with others — not through curated relationships, but through real-life relationships grounded in face-to-face interactions and shared, real-world experiences. But meaningful relationships don’t just happen. Be intentional about creating opportunities for face-to-face interactions with friends and strangers every single day.

Think about why you use social media.

Some people use social media for work, but most of use social media (in theory) to stay in touch with friends, family members and acquaintances. If you’re using social media to make yourself look good or to make everyone else feel bad, you’re doing it wrong. Life isn’t a contest. It’s an opportunity to connect with other human beings and to make the world a better place.

Stop using hash tags.

Hashtags amplify the reach of your social media content. If you’re promoting an event, a cause or an article, hashtags make sense. But if you’re promoting the selfie you took at breakfast or some other glimpse into your highly curated life, the only purpose a hashtag serves is to garner likes and validation from a larger social audience. Post your selfie, but skip the hashtag and enjoy the satisfaction of simply sharing it with your friends.

Periodically avoid social media completely. 

Three-quarters of Facebook users and half of Instagram users visit their social media accounts at least once every single day, according to Pew Research. From a mental health perspective, it’s helpful to periodically avoid social media completely. Pick a day each week to check out of social media – and use the time check in with your real life.

Robot Sex? It’s Real and It’s Terrible

Robot Sex? It’s Real and It’s Terrible

Robot sex is about to become a thing. With bot technology rapidly advancing, companies are racing to cash in. Believe it or not, some are already taking pre-orders for robots designed exclusively for sex.

I don’t want to sound like a prude, but are we ready for robot sex? And more importantly, do we really need another way to objectify women by stripping sex of its spiritual and emotional core?

Rise of the Pleasure Bots

On the surface, robots seem like a great idea. Forget about doing laundry, mowing the lawn or taking the kids to soccer practice. Just pick up a robot at Walmart and you can start living your own real-life version of the Jetsons.

But it’s not that simple. Although there are hundreds of positive applications for robot technology, robots can also be used for more nefarious purposes. And those purposes are a top-of-mind concern for ethicists who specialize in the field of technology.

According to a recent Gizmodo report, ethicists are particularly concerned about the use of robots for sex and violence. In addition to implementing a ban on “killer robots,” ethicists are calling for a ban on robot sex, primarily due to its potential impact on the relationships between flesh and blood human beings.

3 Reasons Why Robot Sex Is a Bad Idea

Robot sex companies are pushing pleasure bots as technology that will benefit widowers and lonely people. They also argue that robot sex will improve the lives of sex workers around the world by replacing people with machines in the sex industry.

But let’s be honest. I’m not convinced many 80-year-old widowers will be rushing out to pick up a sex bot. It’s more likely that robot sex will increase the degradation and sexual objectification of women and children, and provide additional fuel for global sex trafficking.

Here’s why ..

#1: Robots are owned.

Sex bots are built to resemble human beings. But despite their appearance, robots aren’t people — they’re objects that people own. Sexual abuse and exploitation dehumanize women and children by treating them as objects that exist for sexual gratification. In essence, robot sex reinforces tho objectification of women by making sexual partners less than human.

#2: Robots can’t say no.

Artificial intelligence aside, robots do what we tell them to do. In fact, they’re programmed so that they have to do what we tell them to do. See the problem? Unlike human sex partners, robots can’t say no. That makes robot sex very different from sexual relationships between human beings and distorts the view of sex as an activity based on mutual consent and respect.

#3: Robots are incapable of love.

Most major religions name love and commitment as the spiritual prerequisites for sexual relationships. In Christianity, love isn’t a feeling — it’s an action word. But there’s no love in robot sex because machines can’t love. It’s impossible for them to receive love or actively give it. As a result, the presence of robots strips sex of its spiritual and emotional foundation, reducing it to a superficial and self-gratifying physical act.

When sex bots hit the market in the not-too-distant future, I’m sure there will be those who say that robot sex doesn’t affect anyone but the people who are getting it on with their machines.

Don’t believe it. At the end of the day, robot sex hurts women and children, and holds us all back from becoming the people God created us to be.

 

Unplugged: Surviving a Tech Sabbath

Unplugged: Surviving a Tech Sabbath

What happens when a weekend camping trip turns into a mini-tech sabbath? Isolation, boredom and emptiness. And that’s not a bad thing.

No Wi-Fi. Just Trees

Over Memorial Day weekend, Melissa and I headed off on a weekend camping trip with our oldest daughter. Our family spends a lot of time in nature, but this was different. We couldn’t just pack up and go home at the end of our hike.

For a few days, the great outdoors was home.

Let’s be clear: Our weekend camping trip was a far cry from an expedition into untamed wilderness (we stayed at Robert Treman State Park in Ithaca). We had mobile service. But no Wi-Fi and our meager data plans meant limited smartphone usage.

Like it or not, we were taking a tech sabbath.

Should a Tech Sabbath Feel This Strange?

I like to think I have a healthy relationship with technology. Of course, it’s a lie. Most days, I’m tethered to my laptop, iPhone and other technologies from the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to sleep at night.

Within a few hours of setting up camp, I caught myself reaching for phantom devices. Technology is a hard habit to break. When people like me take a tech sabbath, we feel:

ISOLATED

I use (okay, overuse) technology to stay on top of current events. When I can’t surf my favorite news sites every half hour, I feel cut off from what’s happening in the world — even though not much has changed since the last time I checked my newsfeed.

BORED

The Internet is the ultimate entertainment venue. When we’re bored, we use our devices to cruise social media or play games or check out the latest deals on Amazon. It’s not very exciting, but it keeps us occupied.

EMPTY

Many of us rely on technology to stay connected to the workplace. When we aren’t working, we use technology to connect with our communities and our passions. As ridiculous as it sounds, when we take a tech sabbath, we feel empty and even anxious because something is missing.

Over the past few decades, technology has threaded itself into the fabric of everyday life. The ubiquity of technology makes a tech sabbath difficult for everyone — not just tech addicts.

Don’t believe me? Step away from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV and other devices for a few days to discover how dependent you’ve become on technology.

The Upside of a Tech Sabbath Is Genuine Connectedness

Something interesting happened as the three of us struggled to survive our tech sabbath. Gradually, we started filling the gaps that were created by the absence of technology in each other’s lives.

Instead of using technology to stay on top of current events:

We caught up on the “current events” that were happening in each other’s lives.

Instead of relying on technology to entertain ourselves:

We entertained each other with conversation and campfire silliness.

Instead of asking technology to connect us to the world:

We connected with each other and rediscovered the common ground in our relationships.

The upside of our tech sabbath was that it forced us to genuinely connect with nature and with each other. There’s a lot to be said for living in the present moment. And more and more of us are discovering that technology can be a hindrance to experiencing the real sense of connectedness that is found in the present moments of life.

When technology becomes a substitute for connectedness or an obstacle to living in the present moment, maybe it’s time to take a tech sabbath and re-examine our relationship with technology.