Today’s Powerful Media Mix Affects Us All



photo by saige roberts

I once knew a retired engineer who was an efficiency expert and whose not-so-nerdy son worked in the IT Department at the bank that also employed me at the time.

 

The bank president and several of his direct reports, including the IT jock, were Harley riders.

Occasionally, I would tail them as the beer truck driver on their outings to destinations including North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, where they conquered a ride called The Snake (318 curves in 11 miles).

The old engineer joined the rides. He was a smallish fellow with a military background and perfectionistic tendencies, especially where economies of time and motion were concerned.

Whenever the engineer approached a task — say making a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich — he would pause before getting started (thereby wasting time, I would argue) to calculate how he could get the job done in the fewest possible moves.

The sandwich ingredients were as chess pieces in his mind. 

Regrettably, the engineer was unable to prevent his particular form of OCD from contaminating relationships and group experiences.

Intolerant of inefficiency, he grew so frustrated with others’ plans for a side trip during a motorcycle ride to the Outer Banks that he turned his hawg around and drove 13 hours solo through the night back to Panama City Beach.

His son merely let him go, knowing that there would be no reasoning with him.

Nobody got hurt.

Our hang-ups with perfection have been around at least since the 4th century B.C., when Aristotle posited that all beings aim to achieve the perfection natural to their kind.

This surely is more difficult for human beings, given the vast individual differences among our number, than it is for cannonball jellyfish or other organisms uniform in size and shape.

Some of our hang-ups would seem to be inherent (like the engineer’s) and others the products of our culture. Philosophers and marketers have influenced the latter variety forever.

“You, too, can look like a Greek statue” has given way to “subscribe to Nutrisystem and you can rock a body like that of Jessie James Decker” — or Marie Osmond, worst case.

Today, social media has exaggerated tendencies toward perfectionism and competition, two elements that are already parts of our nature.

Will Storr, the author of Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, published in March, finds that people are given to a restless desire to get along and get ahead (competition) and want to feel that they are in control of becoming the great person they imagine themselves to be (perfectionism).

Add social media as an agent of addiction to that mix and what happens? Combustion.

People get hurt.

It was relatively easy to dismiss advertising claims as exaggerated or false. But now we find ourselves dealing with self-portrayals of friends, relatives, classmates and countless other associates.

People report they have a hard time dealing with the perfect pictures known as Facebook profiles, compiled by people who gush about how “I love my life.” A viewer of the profiles may wonder why his life is not as grand.  

Social media has exacerbated fears of failing. Mess up and you can be widely ridiculed in an instant.

And, these new media have created hierarchies based on likes or numbers of followers. Suddenly, it has become possible to precisely quantify popularity.

Trends, substantially attributed to social media, are these (per studies cited by Storr):

Since 2009, the incidence of eating disorders and bodily abnormalities arising from severe dieting or the use of steroids, etc., is up 30 percent in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Also since 2009, 51 percent more college freshmen in the United States feel overwhelmed. The number of freshman students feeling depressed has risen by 95 percent.

Between 2008 and 2015, the number of American adolescents who received hospital treatment after attempting suicide or reporting thoughts of suicide doubled.

All of this is to say nothing of lost privacy or lost workplace productivity resulting from social media addictions. A study summarized last year by Forbes magazine found that workers in office settings spend an average of five work hours a week plugged into social media and personal email.

Reversing this trend will not be easy because it depends upon people getting comfortable with who they are.

Or, as makeup maven Bobbi Brown, perhaps ironically, has said …

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”