Culture Clips: The Vexing Conundrum of Social Media

Ah, social media. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Seems like there’s a bit of truth in that old, unfunny saying I just co-opted and twisted for my own Culture Clips purposes. Researchers are talking a lot these days about how Instagram, Facebook and the like can negatively impact our lives. But scientists also tell us that we have a hard time shutting them out.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter, tries to unpack the latter thought. “In the past, we thought of addiction as mostly related to chemical substances: heroin, cocaine, nicotine,” Alter says in an interview with The New York Times. “Today, we have this phenomenon of behavioral addictions where, one tech industry leader told me, people are spending nearly three hours a day tethered to their cellphones. Where teenage boys sometimes spend weeks alone in their rooms playing video games. Where Snapchat will boast that its youthful users open their app more than 18 times a day.”

Without accusing the Times of piling on, it also ran a column that noted 46% of us now say that we can’t live without our smartphones. Column author Jane Brody implored us all to shut off our phones for a bit and get out and walk or talk with folks face to face. Our obsession with our phones has gotten so bad that a school in Britain is telling its parents to put them down when picking up their kids. “Greet your CHILD with a SMILE, NOT A MOBILE,” signs at all three entrances say.

(Oh, and in extreme cases, your phone apps can apparently kill you—if you have heart problems and catch an extremely rare critter in Pokemon Go.)

But all that time we spend socializing online can have a pretty strong impact on us—particularly if we’re young. Social media has been linked to young adults feeling isolated and alone, according to a new study. Christianity Today says that Generation Xers feel pressure to be constantly happy on Facebook, because revealing how we might really feel is a sign of weakness. And in an unrelated-but-maybe-not-really-unrelated story, prescriptions of antidepressant medications have doubled in the last decade.

It’s kind of ironic that we worry what people will think of us on social media, given that “people” is a fairly flexible term there. Word has it that as many as 48 million Twitter “users” aren’t people at all.

Putting down the phone and talking with someone face-to-face—particularly if that someone is your own kid—can have a huge impact. That’s what Duck Dynasty star Sadie Robertson is saying, particularly when it comes to those difficult conversations about sex. “It’s an awkward conversation but it can save you a lifetime of regret,” she says. And more studies are suggesting teens really need those conversations. Researchers have linked teen sex with depression. Another article recently published in Developmental Science, for instance, found that the brains of teens and young adults are primed to take unnecessary risks, ranging from unsafe sex practices to using drugs. Interestingly, the study also found that teens take greater risks in more permissive cultures: In other words, the environment a child is raised in makes a difference.

Oh, and still another study—this one from Great Britain—found that while good students are less likely to smoke cigarettes, they’re actually more likely to drink alcohol or smoke pot.

What else are kids doing these days? Watching a lot of Netflix, from the sound of things. For the first time ever, more families have a Netflix subscription than have a DVR in their homes. In fact, 54% of us have access to the streaming provider.

But few people took the time to watch ABC’s high-profile miniseries When We Rise, chronicling the gay-rights movement. Despite a strong advertising push and a lead-in from ABC’s popular reality show The Bachelor, the show’s ratings were abysmally low. Some voices within the LGBT community are blaming its own members for the failure of When We Rise. “For Hollywood, LGBT rights are not a charity case,” wrote Daniel Reynolds of The Advocate. “This is a business. If you want to see a transgender lawyer, a queer activist of color, or a gay prince charming on TV, then you’d better view the show.”

Finally, we’re happy to report that the Internet is now home to a new inexplicable fad: The Get Out challenge. Based on a scene from Jordan Peele’s R-rated horror flick, the challenge basically consists of people running toward the camera, then switching directions rapidly and running another way. Such luminaries as the Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry are even joining in.

Hey, it’s not exactly planking. But this week, we’ll take what we can get.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.