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In our opinion: There are familial costs to social media’s dopamine drip

A smart phone with social media apps.
A smart phone with social media apps.
DepositPhotos

Individuals and families should balance out their social media lives with robust real-world connections.

New technologies and modes of communication — including social media platforms — often prove to be a mixed blessing. While advanced communication tools unquestionably help disseminate and democratize information, increasing personal expression, autonomy and connectivity, social media can have anti-social costs.

According to a recent survey on adult social media usage by the firm VitalSmart, which was cited in recent reporting by the Deseret News’ Lois Collins, some 75 percent of surveyed adults admitted to being "rude or disconnected" while crafting a social media post.

Individuals should make personal decisions to proactively avoid online activities that damage personal relationships.

An astounding 9 out of 10 respondents in the VitalSmart study said they’ve seen sightseers busy on their phones taking photos or engaging online rather than actually enjoying their surroundings. A sizable percent said they’ve been guilty of the same behavior.

Even more troubling, nearly 8 in 10 said they witnessed “a parent undermine their own experience in a child's life" due to social media distractions. A fourth of correspondents said they’ve been preoccupied by social media or their phones during personal moments of importance.

Some have even risked personal safety to capture cellphone “selfies,” photographs take of one’s self. Scholars at Carnegie Mellon University put the number of deaths linked to taking selfies at 127. One can presume that at least some of these deaths were motivated by well-intentioned individuals hoping to document a daring moment in order to set social media networks a flutter.

When public safety becomes a risk factor there may be a place for legislation. New York, for example, banned the odd phenomenon cropping up in the Big Apple of taking selfies with tigers.

There has long been an impulse to decry the social changes wrought by emerging technologies, and certainly social media has inspired its fair share of hand wringing. Yet platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among others, have allowed families to connect across oceans and once forgotten friends to reunite. They have also brought greater freedom of expression to nations with restrictions on free speech.

These and many other benefits from social platforms should not be ignored. However, to look past the potential pitfalls of excessive social media is to imperil the relationships that matter most in (non-virtual) reality.

When social media habits become self-destructive, there are ways to sufficiently unplug without becoming entirely disconnected:

  • Delete social media apps from your phone.
  • Don’t check your phone at home or on vacation.
  • Schedule set hours and times for electronics, social media usage.
  • Restrict social media postings when caring for children.