“Great pic!”, “Beautiful!”, “Looks fun!” are all pretty common replies to a post on social media, aren’t they? And I think most of us, at one time or another, have commented that it is thanks to all of these social platforms that we’re able to stay in touch with one another. It’s fun to see what old friends are up to, or get family updates from those you wouldn’t normally have a phone call with, but is this type of communication really good for us? Does it make us feel more enriched to have these online only relationships? The short answer? It depends.
We are connected to one another through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and countless others. Able to send a message off to a person far away or someone we haven’t spoken to in decades with just the click of a button but, unless we’re communicating by direct message, rarely are these touchpoints true communication. We see snippets of life; pictures of families in artistically matching outfits amidst fall foliage, dogs enjoying a walk, a video of baby’s first steps, a graduation photo. And these snippets are true life, but they rarely if ever show the full picture. The behind the scenes is often a much different face of life—the family bickering that preceded to the pictures from the stress of creating a “perfect” moment, the dog who is now on a walk because he’s just eaten his weight out in the couch cushion stuffing, the baby’s mother who has been awake for a week straight because of night terrors, colic, or the croup. The same goes for the pictures of a “perfect” home. Some Instagrammers are showing more reality, sharing pictures of the behind-the-camera scenes to try to keep a healthier perspective and not set unrealistic expectations.
There has been much said about the dangers of comparison and not trying to live one’s life in an effort to keep up with the Jones’. In fact, there are countless quotes about comparison, among them is a well-known one I favor, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt. The beautiful beach vacations, the perfectly styled tables of bountiful food, the smiling couples, the trendy interiors are all photos designed to put a best foot forward and celebrate the shiniest of moments. And that act of sharing is not a bad thing, it’s simply important to remember that those pictures are just a moment in time and we never know what else is happening behind someone’s closed door. They may be dealing with any number of things that they are not sharing publicly so be mindful of that if you catch yourself sitting with the green monster of jealousy as you peruse. And, if you feel watching your social media feeds has gotten you anxious, depressed, or otherwise upset consider either limiting your exposure by setting a timer and allowing yourself only 30 minutes a day. Or, take a break from it entirely by making the choice to stay off all social media for 7 days and see if that impacts your overall level of stress and mood. If you find that the break has improved things, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your usage on a more permanent basis. Begin by taking note of which accounts are affecting you negatively and take action to mute or unfollow them. If you don’t know how to do that, use Google as a search, instructions are posted online about all levels of disengagement from muting to unfollowing.
This type of short photographic post with only a few words, may be a fun way of seeing what is happening in others’ lives, but remember—only true connection and conversation will give you a better understanding of someone. The quick response of “Nice pic!” is missing a major component in connection, namely–conversation. We are exclaiming emotion in the short bursts that has become normative speech, but we are not asking questions and getting replies. And, in short, it’s changing how we all communicate. People are losing the ability to converse with others. Engaging in questions and answers is the only way to really stay connected and feel supported. And, while that can be done via direct message, email, or text, the better way is phone or video chat. Remember that there is no tone that accompanies typed words so misinterpretations and misunderstandings can occur. So, if you’re having a written conversation with someone that delves into deeper matters than a quick catch up, use your actual voice, not your written one to talk—so much more can be understood and heard if you do. It’s that warmth of connection that makes each of us feel less alone and more understood. I met for coffee with a friend a few days ago outside with no one else around for some socially distanced time together. As we chatted, we connected on something that had been happening in each of our families. Her response? That we need to meet once a week, hearing that someone else is dealing with the same thing made her feel so much better—and I agreed. If you’re spending most of your free time connecting only online, set a goal to choose one person in your life to call or video chat with each week. It can be the same person; it can be a few different people. The objective is simply to hear other voices, opinions, and feel the warmth of a relationship taken offline.
Staying with the topic of communication but shifting gears somewhat, I’ve become aware of many people in my personal life who have been getting phishing, or scam phone calls, and want you to be aware and prepared in case it happens to you. The examples I’ve heard about happen to have been all female, and intelligent, and get scammed over the phone. All but one were all told that the agent calling was from Apple and their identities had been compromised. The agent then kept them on the phone with highly believable and frightening information. They provided numerous steps to “help” them get things resolved while in reality, garnering identifying information. I cannot stress enough how credible the men calling sounded, one of the women even asked how she was to know how this wasn’t a scam. The caller told her to look at a spot on a website he had directed her to, and she could find his name, which made her feel this was legitimate. At some point in the call he has some way of explaining how purchasing a Target gift card would help, and in one case the woman did this. All callers were kept on the phone in excess of an hour and told they would be called back the following day to continue this process. The remaining woman was someone in her 20’s who was threatened to lose a huge amount of money due to these threats if she didn’t respond. I know this same type of scam has happened with calls saying they’re from other companies including banks, Microsoft, Amazon and the part that I want to stress is that these callers are VERY convincing so it would help to be prepared in case you receive a call like this. One of the first advised ways to prevent this from happening to you are to, 1-not answer unknown callers, 2-consider adding an anti-robocaller app to your phone such as Robokiller, and if you DO receive a call, do not share personal information with the caller. Hang up, look up the name of the business they claim to be calling from, and call the number known to be for that company, ask for fraud and have your account checked while reporting the scam call you received. And, do not forget—if you feel there is a danger any of your information, including date of birth, driver’s license number, social security number, passwords, and any credit, debit, or bank account information given, notify all of you financial accounts separately, change your passwords, and consider signing up for credit protection. Many affiliations offer a free trial or reduced fee, so check with AARP or AAA or similar for discounts before you sign up. In times of stress and panic, it’s easy to fall prey to this type of phishing. Like any other type of emergency, the best protection is preparation. Having a plan, knowing what to say and how to avoid or get off a call like this may save you immeasurable headache in sorting it all out too late.
The overall theme today has been on communication, hasn’t it? Whether with those we love or are close to, an acquaintance or co-worker, or some individual getting hold of us by phone whom we don’t know – communication is extremely important. When you have a reaction to anyone or any text or even when someone doesn’t “like” a message you’ve posted – remember that they might just not have seen it. Pick up the phone and check it out. Or give them a chance. If you do call, try to do so non-confrontively but with love and concern about the relationship. And if you don’t know them, only go to websites you already know about and check out sites like Snopes and others that provide information about phishing, scams, and mistruths. We all want to maintain our relationships in a healthy manner to the best of our ability, so get the “whole picture” when communicating, and check in with them. It will save a great deal of stress, heartache, and miscommunication that happens online. A great quote I found sums this up perfectly: “We are stronger when we listen, and smarter when we share.” -Rania Al Abdullah
Dr. Beth Sikora, PhD
Angie Read, Practice Manager
The Wholeness Institute