Socializing vs. Social Media

Being Social =/= Social Media

Spending time with close friends has been shown to help with dementia, blood pressure, your general health, and even your willpower. It shortens the grieving period after losses, makes you happier, and boosts your immune system. There’s a famous saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and that’s great, but you have to spend time with people.

The problem is, once you’re past about college, you’re going to have to make a real effort to keep up with friends and family. Friends are getting married, getting demanding careers, having kids, and you’re going to have to get on their calendars if you want this to work.

You build friendships by spending time, so make sure you spend time with your friends. 

Remember, this effect does not apply to your social media “friends”. Spending time on social media can make you sad. It’s more like doing cocaine than spending time with close friends: a quick hit of dopamine and then a lasting sense of inadequacy.

I’m not an expert on social media, but I know (from personal experience) how easy it is to spend tons of time on these sites. And it’s an easy, low effort way to stay in contact with a lot of people: like a billion people have Facebook accounts. But the fact is that your brain evolved in a context where Facebook didn’t exist. Robin Dunbar, author of the classic “Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language” believes there is a limit to how many close friends, friends and acquaintances you can have, despite Facebook. Human beings evolved in a specific context and have adaptations for that context.  Thankfully, one of our most important adaptations is behavioral flexibility (that’s why we can live from the desert to the arctic), but that doesn’t change some of the underlying “hardware” limitations of the brain.

People have been predicting the end of the era for younger generations for a long time. Facebook is bad, Xbox is bad, iPhones are bad. In the 80s Nintendo was bad, cable TV was bad, and Dungeons and Dragons was causing a “Satanic Panic”. In the 50s broadcast TV, rock & roll, and comic books were causing the “Seduction of the Innocent” . In the 30s movies and even radio were corrupting the youth.   Basically anything that’s different from the way that people themselves were raised is either is destroying the younger generation’s minds or their moral compass. I would say that “everything bad is good for you” but I would also say that there are legitimate problems with too much time in front of the TV, watching movies, or using social media. Just like there could be legitimate problems with too much horseback riding, hiking, or even drinking too much water. The old saying is that the poison is in the dose and I think that applies here.

One of my core beliefs is that you need to take a sensible, evenhanded approach to everything. I am exploring this idea through the year: there’s no point in doing stuff if you’re not looking at it critically. So my personal balance is to spend more time being with people in person and less time spending time on social media.

So how do you spend time, real time, with friends and family?

My solution to this is in two parts: first, I have a “date night” once a week with my wife where we go out to eat somewhere and then go see a movie or do something fun together. Just a little mid-week break. Second, I try to see friends or family once a week for dinner and a fun activity.

The way this literally happens is that I look at my calendar and try to plan time once a week to get together with friends or family. That’s literally what I do. You can take a look at my weekly review, and one of the practices is to make sure that I’m going out and doing social stuff once a week.

Another option would be to workout with a friend or two: get the benefit from hanging out but also increase your health by running, stretching, weight training or whatever. Again, put these appointments on both of your calendars and stick to them. 

Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond.

–from “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.”

Being with friends and family is what life is about. 

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