Social Media Psychology

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By Guest Blogger Marcela De Vivo, from Los Angeles

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Social Media Psychology

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With various social media outlets constantly vying for our attention and requiring increasingly more time to maintain, our digital lives are taking over our real ones. Recent studies have shown that we now spend an average of 6.9 hours each month using social networks—double the amount of time since 2006. With smartphones, tablets and increasingly more apps and platforms through which to share your life digitally, it’s undeniable: social media is here to stay.

The boom of social media is endless and it has brought about many benefits to our everyday life, which include:

  • Networking
  • Finding like-minded people
  • Reconnecting with old friends
  • Sharing ideas and information quickly

Despite the fact that these benefits seem positive, they have also increased our dependence on social media as the primary form of interaction, possibly leading to some psychological issues. In fact, preliminary research has shown some disturbing mental health problems that arise from people who choose to connect mainly in the online world and fail to balance time spent on social sites with face-to-face interaction.

Communication can often become misrepresented or misconstrued as tone and facial expressions, cues that help the communicator convey the message, are often missing in online interactions. These unintended insults, miscommunications and slights can lead to poorer quality relationships and stress from the unintentional consequences of posting a comment, picture, etc. online.

Below are some of the major problems that come from prolonged exposure to social media and not enough real time interaction.

Virtual Relationships

Relationships, whether online or in person, can be difficult to manage; however, virtual relationships can often seem easier to maintain compared to relationships offline. A glib post or funny picture can generate masses of replies; all you have to do to reciprocate is to simply click a “like” button or “retweet” the message and your social obligation has been fulfilled. The time spent cultivating these superficial relationships takes so little effort, that it becomes increasingly easier to amass a large group of online friends. In fact, it has become so simple that some people will completely forgo making the effort of meeting people outside of the online world and immerse themselves in their virtual relationships.

The practice of focusing solely on virtual relationships pushes the limits on the depth of the connection. While this does not necessarily mean that validation through “likes” does not strengthen bonds between people, it hardly replaces an in-person conversation about a shared interest. The elements that have been previously relied on to add depth to a story or conversation, such as facial expressions, physical contact, gestures, etc., are now replaced with a 140-character limit that fails to convey the depths to the interaction.

In addition, without these cues, it is more difficult to discern the intentions or emotions of others when communicating, meaning that you are more susceptible to be misled, intentionally or otherwise. Communicating online is a completely different ability from speaking with a person in the physical world—a skill that, without use, can become rusty.

This is not to say that online relationships are all false or not worth instigating. Social networks were created to bring people with like-minded interests together, especially people who would not have, due to geographic or other constraints; however, the problem arises when online relationships supplant real life relationships.

Social and Self Esteem Issues

People are naturally competitive. Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, allow us to see how others are doing—how they look, what activities they’ve participated in, where they have traveled—and naturally, we compare them to our own lives. While healthy competition is necessary for growth and development, some social media users forget that these online postings are merely snippets of a life being lived. Rarely is someone going to post about doing the laundry—and would likely be de-followed for posting something so mundane.

The competition created from a reliance on social networking is three fold:

Firstly, relying on the group mentality to determine which events in your life are or are not considered to be newsworthy can lead to self-censorship, insecurity and second-guessing oneself.

Secondly, constant comparison can create decreased feelings of self-worth and personal success. For example, studies have found that daily use of Facebook can make some people more prone to depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

And thirdly, an overuse of social media outlets can lead to an increase in narcissistic and antisocial behavior in teenagers and young adults.

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Image courtesy of Life Mental Health / Flickr.com

Addiction

A recent University of Chicago study found that social media outlets can be more addictive than known addictive substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. “Likes,” “retweets,” “repins,” and so on, cause a chemical release of endorphins in the brain, triggering a positive reinforcement between that activity and feeling good.

It is easy to see why addicts gravitate towards social media.The need of an addict is to calm any anxiety, perpetuating a particular behavior helps create a sense of control over their environment, or serve as a means of escaping the less than pleasant reality. Social media websites provide constant distraction, with never-ceasing updates in which a person can easily lose himself or herself. The constant reward and validation system only strengthen the neural pathways between social media activity and positive feelings.

Despite these potentially harmful mental health effects, social media is not the enemy. Used wisely, and in moderation, it can be an excellent tool to enhance your life and social networks. The key is balance. Contrary to spending all your time interacting online through social media with your “friends,” set up time to meet with them face-to-face and discuss current events in your lives. Begin to integrate real life socializing with online interactions, ensuring that you will be able to avoid the pitfalls of social media.

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Author Bio:

marcela

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from Los Angeles. Her background is in online marketing but she writes on a variety of topics, from technology and medicine to travel, music, gaming, and real estate. Social networking is one of her strong points so the emerging social media psychology field is something she finds fascinating.

For samples of her writing, visit her website http://marcela.co

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Real Writers

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Image from NexusPlexus | Masterfile

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* This post might be a bit disjointed, though perhaps it’ll make sense in terms of “chaotic order.”

One of the reasons I like the cyberpunk genre is the blend of introspection and self-reflection it encourages (it makes us question where we’re headed; it makes us ponder on the interaction/interplay between humanity and technology; so on and so forth).

Dragonsinn.net has been up for almost 13 years, and I’ve been meaning to write a dragon-themed series for some time. I’ve “taken my time” with it because I have high expectations for it [the original version of Dragonsinn was one of the first small dragon websites on the net, first uploaded in 1999 ;)].

Online social media in 1999 wasn’t like what it is now in 2012 (which probably means the scene will be very different once another decade has passed).

I enjoy the social aspects of social media, though I personally would prefer to see more profound or witty status updates and posts. I suppose I may be a little bit of a hypocrite since I don’t post “profound or witty updates” 100% of the time. But I do know that my personal preference is for something with mental/emotional/spiritual depth and variety.

Thinking about the early social media scene makes me think about the independent writing/publishing scene in 2009-2010. Both weren’t over-commercialized or saturated at that point in time yet (though I get that these two factors are “subjective” to an extent).

I’ve never doubted a single word (not even a comma) of George Orwell’s writing. Perhaps the introduction to Orwell’s Why I Write says it best:

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. . .When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. . .It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

— George Orwell: Why I Write (Introduction)

I often see the same themes on the blogs and social media platforms of indie authors (exception = poets).

Yes, it’s fun to sail high on the Amazon bestseller ranks and rake in the dough.

Yes, it’s tempting (and comforting?) to convince oneself that quality writing doesn’t matter because the public only cares about entertainment, not technical standards.

Yes, it boosts the ego and “things happen” when someone in the industry contacts you because they can see the commercial value in your book/product and want to make a profit from it.

Yes, publishing is a business and traditional publishers have to do whatever they can to make a profit.

Yes, many people enjoy writing and if they can succeed at self-publishing and gaining an audience for their work, more power to them.

Yes, writing well and being praised doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pay the bills with your writing.

Yes, money is good.

But I like to keep in mind the authors who “write to have a good time” (Ms. Meyer of the Twilight series), versus the authors who write because they’re fuelled by a passion and purpose (like George Orwell).

I know that “you are what you consume,” which is why I’m selective with what I choose to ingest both physically (food) as well as mentally/emotionally (information, entertainment, infotainment, etc).

Writing is a means of communication — I like to produce stories that could be branded as “meaningful” entertainment (versus “mindless” entertainment).

I’m happy carving a niche out for myself, since the mainstream media seems to be infinitely more interested in hype than substance.

And I do know — and am very happy to have met — several indie authors who also have a purpose behind their interest in writing. These people, to me, are the real writers.

For me, at the end of the day, both money/materialism and spirituality are “real” things I have to face and deal with.

But I won’t sacrifice either one for the other (both are important).

I hope to see more people in the indie writing/publishing scene who have a real message to share, and who’d like to make a difference somehow. A lot of people still consider the traditional lottery-ticket bigshot agent-book-movie deal to be the pinnacle of (literary, or general) success. There’s nothing wrong with that (unless you dislike extreme commercialism and/or commodification).

But I like “resisting” systems and ideologies that aren’t interested in making a difference at all. Empires have every reason to maintain the status quo. Obedient sheeple are guaranteed to keep the empires in existence via buying/consuming what they’re told by the media empires is “good” for them.

That, itself, is what I enjoy resisting.

Because when we’re sheeple, who are we as individuals? Where is our sense of self-identity, and dreams, and thoughts, and motivations? Or are all those things defined by an external system that wishes to mold and control us simply for the sake of profits? Surely there is more to human life than being part of a sheeple audience?

Astrologically-wise, maybe it’s because I have an Aries North Node in the First House (psychological ground-breakers Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both had the Aries North Node). I instinctively resist and put up a fight (in my own way) against anything that threatens my sense of individuality, autonomy and “sense of self.”

Going back to the beginning of this blog post, “corporate control” is a cyberpunk trope I’ve always been drawn to as well. I don’t think cyberpunk is a genre anymore — it’s become an actual reality (perhaps more quickly than science fiction writers actually anticipated).

That is reason enough for me to have some kind of purpose to what I write.

That purpose, in and of itself, is more important than whether I decide to label/categorize certain projects of mine as “cyberpunk,” or whether I consider myself a “real writer.”

And I hope the small but spirited/very motivated group of real “resistors” out there will always be dedicated to their cause.

I’ve this instinctive knowledge that once you stop fighting, you become both in and of the system/The Matrix/whatever you want to call it (the thing that deletes your freedom of thought/speech/action, your identity).

I know that when you stop fighting, you are, essentially, forever under the influence of the hegemonizing “one world, one people, one wallet” mindset of megacorporations everywhere.

As a writer/artist/non-conformist, that really scares me — even if society doesn’t give a damn about where it’s headed.

P.S. I enjoyed the following 3 articles on social media:

1) The Decline of Facebook | Jim Lastinger

2) The unsocial network you can never leave | Martin Utreras Carrera

3) Social Media Smart But People Stupid | Margie Clayman

Branding Yourself

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From my strategic marketing textbook:

“A good brand name can evoke feelings of trust, confidence, security, strength, and many other desirable characteristics.”
— Pg 86, Marketing Management (ISBN-10: 0-07-313763-4)

I’ve been doing the independent publishing thing for about a year (I can’t remember when I started exactly — May or June 2009). Throughout that time, I’ve observed many people, experimented with pricing, and have constantly kept a sharp eye on my work and “public image.”

Subconsciously, I’m always asking myself:

  1. Is this a book/piece of writing/project/product I can stand by, once I put it out on the market?
  2. (a) How is my branding image? (b) Is it what I want it to be? (c) Is it associated with quality?

I’ve observed (and/or hung out with) many people online — professionals in the traditional publishing industry (it is quite interesting to note that several of the top agents/agencies have extremely sparse websites/profiles — if they even have an online presence in the first place…), traditionally-published authors, both traditionally-and-independently-published authors, independently published authors, and paying customers.

I think many people have a tendency to go slightly haywire, when money is involved.

For example, the optimum selling price (thus far) for J. A. Konrath’s books is $1.99-$2.99 (he has determined this from past price tweaks, etc). Therefore, many indie authors think it is impossible for them to go higher than $2.99 (not all indie authors, but quite a few).

* Side Note #1: I like reading Konrath’s blog posts. Not so much the comments section — things can get quite ugly a little down the road (page on the computer screen, in this case), lol.

The thing is, I’m not too entirely sure that this would be the optimum selling price for every single ebook out there.

I’ve found that too much focus on price, leads to less focus on value.

I’ve found that too much focus on quantity, leads to less focus on quality. There’s an overemphasis on a novel’s wordcount, instead of the storyline — on the number of pages in a book, versus the substance/content of the pages — on the number of books one can get through (in the shortest amount of time, in some cases), versus the number of books that get through to you (the ultimate experience of reading a good book — “good book” being something that’s perennially subjective).

There’s a lot of noise, and constant chatter…which eats into production time. In my case, I may not be selling thousands of copies of my books yet (I’ll almost hit 200 this month — whether this remains consistent is something I’ll “wait and see”)…but they move every month, even if I don’t pimp/advertise/mention them anywhere.

I initially spent obscene amounts of time on: (1) product description/s, and (2) my blog designs/websites (even those that are not as fully customizable as those on www.wordpress.org). Why? Because these are the FIRST IMPRESSIONS a potential customer/reader has of me/my work — people I don’t personally know — that I may never have any personal, direct contact with — but who may check out my other work, if they happen to like one of my works.

I know having an online presence is paramount these days. If one desires to “be a brand,” one needs to have a Facebook and Twitter account, and blog/website, etc. Still, I think it’s quite interesting how the line between socializing (purely for leisure), and networking/marketing can be blurred. Not that it’s wrong. But the really, really great business people [who can (literally “adjust themselves to your personality” so that they can) sell you any-thing (these things are way more interesting than the actual theories one would have to learn as a “psychology student”)] know that at the end of the day — there’s still a product to be sold.

A Lexus doesn’t come cheap — that is part of the company’s branding, and they justify this branding with their “pursuit of perfection” (official slogan) and the luxury/prestige associated with owning one of their cars. Linking this to pricing (for ebooks, specifically):

  1. There are people who’ll snap up any $0.99 ebook, because “it’s cheap.”
  2. There are also people who’ll not look at any $0.99 ebooks, because “they’re cheap.”
  3. The reasons classics last (not just books but art, film, music, etc) is because of their timelessness and excellence.
  4. “Instead of stubbornly attempting to use surrealism for purposes of subversion, it is necessary to try to make of surrealism something as solid, complete and classic as the works of museums. ” — Salvador Dali

* Side Note #2: I know my thoughts can appear disjointed, but I come close to what I’m trying to find, via “seeking order by disorder.” My journal entries also tend to be more “disjointed,” than what I write fictitiously (just saying).

As a writer, I have always concentrated on the storyline, and the characters. Also, I never do the same thing twice. Of course, there will be certain recurrent themes and elements which appear throughout the poems/short stories/novels I produce — but I suppose I’m inspired by some form of change and challenge. Churning out the same thing over and over again is stale for me. It might work very well for other writers (and their paying customers / target audience), but if it doesn’t work for me, I’m just going to be making my own life very difficult if I try to be something I’m not. The whole experience wouldn’t be very pleasurable as well (I know; I’ve done so in other departments in my life).

I am what I am. I’m true to myself. I write because it’s what I love to do.

And I’ve found that what I value — what I tear my hair and eyeballs out for, what I rack my brains for, and what I bleed myself dry (at times) for —  is what my target audience appreciates, too.

I dedicate a lot of time and attention to include some level of style/substance in my material, which is simultaneously not so far-out/high-brow as to alienate/confuse the reader. It’s a balance that takes skill and effort, which I continue to cultivate with each new project. My aim is to offer quality, without being completely elitist.

I do these things, because my books + writing are part of who I am.

And because all this, ladies and gentlemen = My Brand.

* Unrelated Note: Two of my favorite magazines = National Enquirer (one issue ~$3.50) + Psychology Today (~$2.66 per issue, with 1 year subscription / 6 issues per year).