The downside of social media prompts my exit

A columnist explains why he's leaving social media

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by David Riley |

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It’s better late than never, but I finally figured it out — or rather, at last I admitted to myself that a certain pursuit was a complete waste, something that was draining and devaluing my personhood. And this time there would be no compromise: Social media was a dead end and had to go.

In a recent column, I acknowledged how the use of technology conflicts me because it can be used for great good but also harm. Conversely, fellow Friedreich’s Ataxia News columnist Sean Baumstark writes about how technology and its effects on globalization have positively influenced those with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA).

There are many examples of how social media is used to bring awareness and foster advocacy for those affected by rare diseases. Therefore, I cannot just put shade over the power that the digital world provides. That would be to ignore reality for a vendetta I have against social media — a self-fulfilling diatribe.

Instead, I’ll speak on the shared humanity I have with every person, of which FA is just a peculiarity.

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The formation of who I am

I’ll admit it: At 38 years old, I’ve never met another person with FA besides my older brother. I was one in a family of five kids being raised by Christian parents. There was no such thing as social media, and the closest I came to digital interaction was watching the film “You’ve Got Mail.”

Because of the disease’s rarity, meeting another person with FA was impractical and my parents and I found it unnecessary, as they were busy raising kids and I was busy growing up. Instead, I learned how to interact with those around me and how to conduct myself while alone by learning to be constructive, among other things.

Growing up and learning to live with FA have affected the very core of who I am. Because of the peculiarity of being a boy with a rare neuromuscular disease among other boys, I tried to polish off some of my distinguishing rough edges to fit in, with lasting effects on my personality.

Carl R. Trueman, church historian and author of “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” writes, “The desire to be recognized, to be accepted, to belong is a deep and perennial human need.” His purpose is to identify and analyze the factors that influence our modern social ills. However, what is easily apparent inside the lengthy book, which chronicles the historical quest for authenticity that cumulates in a culture of expressive individualism, is that people are social beings and will go to great lengths to fit in.

It’s not that there is this real David Riley underneath how society has helped to shape him. As much as I’d like to claim my independence, I cannot get away from how my desire to be recognized and accepted has formed a large part of who I am.

Therefore, I must accept that all the people and events surrounding me have affected the formation of who I am. This acceptance is not to deny personal responsibility, the uniqueness of every individual, or, according to my faith, the power of God to form his people according to his will. Rather, it reinforces that we are social beings, and cultural influences are binding.

The pursuit of ‘likes’

Social media kept me coming back by entertaining my deep desire for recognition and approval. “Likes,” “loves,” and angry-face emojis allow a user to give and receive responses that mimic those fundamental human desires and needs. Yet they do nothing more.

What’s offered instead are isolation and confusion. A life devoted to internalizing things and trying to get more likes is a sad place to be. Engaging in conversation with real people that ignores decorum and defies social convention is deserving of ridicule. And engaging in or uttering things in the digital world that one wouldn’t do or say in real life is a like being at the bottom of a pit.

Yesterday, I took part in a Labor Day barbecue with my family. One of my sisters and her husband are in the process of adopting a young girl, who was with us. It was a joy to sit, talk, and eat hamburgers and bratwursts on the back porch with a child so impressionable after living through great tragedy. 

If I were responsible for the child’s upbringing, I’d shield her from the counterfeit influence of social media and limit her exposure to the digital world. Instead, I’d let her grow in her ability to interact with others in real life as she becomes shaped into the person she’ll be through those relationships.

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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