Social media does not breed perfect idiots

A clash of recent news stories suggests the ambivalent power of social media.

First came the CBS Philly report that “a study looking at college students from 1989 to 2016 found that the personality traits that label someone a ‘perfectionist’ have risen dramatically in recent years.’

Then came the national news story about the poisonous results – literally – of a phenomenon touted as the “Tide Pod Challenge,” in which teenagers chomp on the detergent packet and then post a video of their experience.

I doubt the two groups of young people have any intersecting members.  Where the stories do overlap is in their attribution of a significant contributing role in both problems played by social media.

The meta-analysis on perfectionism points to a connection.  About that “irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others,” lead author Thomas Curan says, “raw data suggest that social media pressures young adults to perfect themselves in comparison to others, which makes them dissatisfied with their bodies and increases social isolation.”  He admits that further research is needed to confirm this causation.

No research is needed, though statistics will support it, to know there’s a link between young people and social media, particularly the attractiveness of it, the compelling use of it, and the narcissistic desire to be liked and followed there.  Twitter carries the message: “The perfect meal. Retweet if you would eat this,” with a photo of a bowl of Tide pods.  YouTube reaches more than a billion people with the noxious culinary results.

The posts and pics are mind-boggling.  But let’s be real.  Blaming social media is a deflection.

No one can deny the powerful hold that social media have on young people, whose cell phones often function as lifelines.  But communications technology is not the demon in either disease.

A “medium” (plural: media) is a go-between.  It’s a mechanism to convey something from someone to someone(s).  The ease, speed, and reach by which social media effect that conveyance is revolutionary, and no doubt contributes to the proliferation of flawed ideas.  But it’s the idea – the “something” that is shared” – that is the problem here.

The quest for perfection can exert pressure.  But the idea that someone can be perfect in any way is simply false.  So, too, is the assumption that personal and social satisfaction is determined primarily by others.  Clearly, young people need to learn where their value as a person lies.  Hint: it’s not in a device or in social media statistics.

Nor do devices dictate the idiocy of intentionally choosing to ingest poisonous detergents (a mix of ethanol and hydrogen peroxide, if you want the chemical details).  Children who don’t know better might confuse the colored pods for candy.  But teenagers supposedly know better.  Protect the former by keeping laundry detergent out of reach.  How to safeguard the latter from themselves is an open question.  Perhaps the NFL can help.  Or maybe a humorous, but no less accurate and still gross, rendering of how temptation works in this regard.

Yes, social media are powerful tools in a person’s life.  Admittedly, they can have deleterious effects – as can anything not used properly in, on, by, or between persons.

But when it comes to seeking presumably necessary perfection or supposedly joking in dangerous ways, the medium is NOT the message.


featured image from www.wric.com;
image of Lawn Perfectionist Guy from www.youtube.com;
image of guy eating a Tide pod from pplware.sapo.pt/

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