The social animal

High ground

Every night before I go to sleep, I set the alarm on my phone, and every morning I awake to its irksome ringing. I promptly hit the snooze button, and after repeatedly hitting it between two and 17 times during what I call the snooze cycle, I get up. From that moment on, I am connected. At my fingertips, I have the power to contact people all the way across the world, search a massive archive of data for any information I desire or play some Candy Crush Saga. Inevitably, I end up on some kind of social network.

Through these sites, I can communicate with friends, followers or strangers about virtually anything I wish. With this capability has come a plethora of consequences. We now live in an era where any post, comment or tweet we make can and will be scrutinized by prying eyes. Potential employers may check your Facebook, the government is reading your emails and those tasteful nudes you keep in that file named “The Summer of ‘69” are no longer safe in the depths of the cloud. In this day and age, it is important to remember that nothing is private or sacred on the web and you should act and react accordingly. A cavalier approach to all things social on the web can insulate you from its dark side while still allowing you to access its potential.

The research is clear. Relationships are critical to one’s well-being. We are social creatures who crave acceptance in one form or another from those who we respect and love. We are codependent. We learn, grow and rely on each other. That is why social networks are such a natural fit. We can keep in touch and listen to one another, regardless of physical location. On certain sites, we can receive validation from fake Internet points or compare ourselves to our old high school rival. “God she got fat.” Unfortunately, much of this interaction is superficial and lacks depth. People who occupy this space often conflict with one another over the most insignificant of topics. It can annoy even the most sanguine of individuals if they are not careful.

Avoidance is one possibility but not preferable. Whether you like them or not, chances are that sites like Facebook and Twitter are here to stay. Most likely they will play bigger and bigger roles in people’s lives as technology advances. How you wield this resource can have a dramatic effect on your life. They can help you find a job or help facilitate meaningful interaction while teaching you new things. You can meet interesting people and keep up with friends whom you no longer live close to. But at the same time, heavy users tend to have lower grades and are less efficient, as sites often entice people to waste time. It all depends on you. This is why your approach to the Internet and how you react to what you experience is so important.

As we all know, the Internet can be a front of knowledge and entertainment, but it has a dark side. It is my understanding that people can become very attached to their profiles, as they see them as an extension of themselves. But it is so depressing when someone acts as if spiteful Yik Yaks or Facebook comments have any real relevance beyond what you allow.

If you don’t already know, trolls are individuals who revel in the suffering of others and engage in meaningless spiteful attacks and arguments under the veil of a computer persona. Classic bullies who give wedgies and steal lunch money are being replaced by cyber bullies who leave mean comments on your swimsuit pictures (it was a bad angle) and send you harassing messages anytime you check your feed. Remember, any time you encounter a troll, do not respond to them. Any response you give will just be met with an onslaught of ignorance or hate speech and plays right into their hand. It is an inevitable downside to the Internet. Unfortunately, some people let these trolls adversely affect their self-image or views, sometimes causing lasting and tragic consequences. In the worst cases, young impressionable minds have been driven to self-harm or suicide.

Needless to say, if you spend too much time occupying the virtual space, you can develop dependence. Moderation is key. If you wish to carry on in the face of the evils of the Internet, a cavalier approach is advisable. Don’t let these sites suck you into a vortex of constant browsing. The less attached you are to your profiles, the less power they have over you. That being said, one should not act with complete disregard. Keep in mind that what you type or post can have negative consequences. The government has used social networking sites to prosecute criminals. Remember that there is a person on the other side of that screen, and they may be a cop or potential employer.

In the end, your experience on these sites is what you make it. Yik Yaks only have the meaning you attach to them. Facebook will help you connect only if you make sure to reach out and make an effort. Social networks can either equip you with knowledge or spread ignorance. What I wish to impart is that social networks exist in your life on your terms, and as long as you don’t let the haters and baiters get you down, you can enjoy and benefit worry-free. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and—trust me—ignorant or hateful comments are most certainly just that.

Chandler Holcomb is a junior at Case Western Reserve University.