Cybersmiling, a social media positive!
The bright side of living in a social-media-infused world.
By this point, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the rise of virtual communication and social media is not all peaches and cream when it comes to improving the human condition.
Cyberbullying is on the rise, leading to all kinds of adverse outcomes for teens and others across the world. Various forms of scams that rely on this kind of technology are gutting bank accounts of unwitting and trusting seniors in so many of our communities, and anonymous, deindividuated, and often-nasty communication between people naturally goes hand-in-hand with online communication. And more. The rise of the internet and social-media-based technologies is problematic in many ways when it comes to the human experience. And it behooves all of us to take this issue seriously at all turns.
But while I have personally written pretty extensively about these problems previously (see Geher, 2020; Geher & Wedberg, 2020), I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact there actually are some positives that social media and smartphone technologies are adding to our world.
From the perspective of Positive Evolutionary Psychology, social-media technologies are perhaps the prototype of mismatched technologies that hijack our evolved psychology, often wreaking havoc on our world.
The Bright Side
As is true of so many phenomena in our world, the effects of social media and the internet are mixed when it comes to the human experience. So, from the perspective of someone who’s been pretty vocal about the adverse effects of social media on the modern world, here are three points that speak to the bright side:
1. Large-Scale, Immediate Social Validation
Look, at the end of the day, we all want social validation. We want others to express appreciation, understanding, and respect for us (see Shrand, 2015). The need for social validation is a core psychological process that has roots in our evolutionary past. Our ancestors who failed to obtain validation from others were at risk with regard to important social connections that would have been critical for survival and, ultimately, reproduction (see Geher & Wedberg, 2020).
With social media, people can obtain social validation immediately, publicly, and substantially. With social media, people can obtain social validation in ways that are, in essence, evolutionarily unprecedented.
One selfie on Instagram can garner dozens of likes and positive comments such as “wow, you look great!”; “very nice!”; “gorgeous!”; and more. The same goes for Twitter, Facebook, and the others. Social validation, a core need for all of us, is now something that is more easily achievable than ever.
Sure, in many ways, this kind of social validation may be superficial and inferior to more genuine, in-person validation from close others. But still, without question, many people today receive various levels of social validation via social media.
2. Big Recognition And Appreciation Of Others
Recognizing and appreciating others’ efforts, accomplishments, and gracious actions is a foundational part of the positive side of the human experience. We like to express appreciation to others and we like it when others express appreciation to us.
Modern internet-based technologies, such as kudoboard.com, allow for easy, fun, and high-profile ways to encourage, recognize, and appreciate others. Recently, my home university, the State University of New York at New Paltz*, launched a kudoboard specifically to encourage our students during the famously stressful finals week of Fall 2020. As a university community, we have been thinking of ways to support students under pandemic conditions, and we have found such internet-based solutions to be extremely helpful in moving us toward this goal.
Internet technologies such as the kudoboard provide, in essence, a form of cybersmiling—gushing positive vibes to someone across the rainbow of the internet.