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Social Media Is The New Smoking

I was shocked when I received a request from a friend’s 10-year child asking to be my friend on Facebook. It set me back that this young soul is being exposed to the harsh reality of the social internet.

I am a parent, and I am not withholding the facts of life from my son. Up until now, I haven’t exposed him to the social side of the internet. There is no need for him to be there at this point in his life. There are far too many who are not in the right mindset to speak to him. I am not talking about the sexual predators and the evil-doers. But I am talking about the finger pointers, lynch-mobbers and the “negative Nancies.” He needs a little more time to build up his self-confidence and maturity before he faces the unbridled online world of “free speech.” Some may see this as being over-protective, I see it as being pro-active. He will eventually become an online socialite, but until then, we need to parent a little bit more to build up his defences.

What did I do growing up?

This brought me to think about my own childhood. I grew up in the 1980s, it was the tail-end of the acceptable smoking lifestyle. People could smoke in McDonald’s, and I remember playing with the little disposable aluminum ashtrays stamped with the “Golden Arches” that sat on the restaurant tables. Anyone could smoke in the shopping mall corridors, and I remember waiting around for my father to finish his smoke so I could go into a department store to check out the toy section.

Smoking anywhere was acceptable then, but the mood was beginning to change. More reports of cigarettes causing lung cancer made the way into the headlines. To a kid growing up in this era, it was understood that only grown-ups could smoke, I wasn’t allowed. Yet, my parents were not discouraged from smoking when they were teenagers, it was almost a rite of passage. When I would venture to question the law of smoking, “because it’s bad for you” was the response. “So if it’s so bad, why do you do it?” I would think to myself.

What does smoking have to do with social media?

By and large, social media is not good for you. There are times when it works well, but for every nugget of goodness that it brings, there are four bad. I know I am sounding negative here, but it is the truth. I almost never feel good after my experiences with social media. Over the years, I have been able to control my emotions and have adequately adapted to the online social phenomena, but as a rule, I always feel better after interacting with someone face-to-face; even if the interaction is not favourable. This comes down to our primal instinct to connect physically. Until we evolve to connect through electrons shared over a fibre line physically, social media will never feel like an actual genuine connection.

Once upon a time, I was addicted to smoking, and as such, I always craved that next cigarette, but I still felt unfulfilled after I squashed that butt. I was looking for something more. When I browse my social media streams, I feel much the same way: unsatisfied and wanting more. Like smoking, social media is just another addiction to distract our brains from what it is lacking. We smoke to reduce stress, aid in social situations, attain social status and to kill time. Isn’t that what we do when we consume social media streams? Instead of blowing smoke, we just stare at our phones and blow off our nearby friends.

Social media in the future

I have to wonder if someday there will come a time when social media will become the pariah of our social circles. That the dude off in the corner consuming his Instagram feed will be looked at the same as the guy standing at the street corner sucking on a Marlboro. I wonder when we will see TV and radio commercials about laser treatments to cure your addiction to Facebook games and Snapchat pictures.

Will there be social media consumption tables at restaurants or Facebook isles on airplanes?

Will social media consumption in large doses cause social cancer or some other horrific disease of the mind?

While naive to believe so, I have to hope that when my son becomes ready to consume the social media lifestyle, by then it will have been a passing fad and shunned like the cigarette packages of today. Until then, he can remain friends socially… without the media. He isn’t grown up to smoke yet.

UPDATE: Citing a weakness to avoid the pressures of social media addiction, I have vowed to refrain from social media feeds for the entirety of 2019. I want to find out who I am without the social media influence.