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Making social media an asset: passive consumption versus active engagement

Published on July, 22nd 2018
By Greg Wells

Social media: damaging distraction or fabulous connector? It’s a question I get all the time from people who are wondering about their technology use and its effect on their lives. My answer? It depends on you.

Each of us has preferences about the social media channels we use. I interact mainly with Twitter and Instagram, though I have spent more time of late on Snapchat because it is the platform of choice for the students I work with. And of course, though it’s not a main channel for me, Facebook is another major social presence, irrespective of its recent troubles. No matter what you use, you need to make choices about how you do so.

A resource I refer people to regarding their relationship with social media is Dr. John Izzo’s great book The Five Thieves of Happiness. In it, he articulates a way of thinking about technology use that is super helpful: passive consumption versus active engagement.

Izzo explains that passive consumption is scrolling through your feed, constantly observing other people and how great their life looks based on the perfection portrayed in their Instagram and other media posts. No one posts failures. They don’t share pics of themselves when they wake up in the morning and their hair is all over the place. Or their reaction when they realize they made a big mistake. People post successes, vacations, and perfect selfies.

If you are constantly exposed to stories of perfect living that happen to everyone but you, your mental health will be negatively affected. You will end up feeling worse because you are dwelling in the gap between your real life and the seeming success around you. Passive consumption equals a not so healthy mental state.

Active engagement is different. If you use social media as a tool to share celebrations, congratulate each other, offer encouragement or ask questions about what people are up to, it can be an inspiring form of connection. Social media can, if used deliberately, improve and support your mental health, because it enables you to create a community around you.

I try to post encouraging images, news or observations. For example, I posted a picture of my Apple Watch after I went out for a 6K early run. Tons of people commented on it. They made me feel good about getting it done, and I know many of them felt inspired to get out there and do something. It was a way for us to support each other in living an active, healthy life.

At the other end of the spectrum, social media and the Internet played an important role during one of the low moments of my life. If you type Dr. Greg Wells into Google, one of the top hits is the story of my heart infection and struggle to get back to health. That story captured a huge amount of attention because I was able to share it with people through technology. Being able to connect to other people helped me recover and gave them an opportunity to be inspired by my story.

Here’s another example I love. One of my good friends, Dr. James Rouse, practices in Colorado. He is one of the fittest, most passionate people I have ever encountered. On June 6, he posted a picture on Instagram of doing plank on the floor next to a baggage carousel. It was hilarious because everyone is looking at him like he’s completely insane. But his followers loved it. That’s his thing. Challenging people to live with passion and rock the world awake.

When I saw it, I laughed like crazy, and I immediately started thinking about doing plank in some crazy location and firing it back to him and his hundreds of thousands of followers. Actually, on June 8, he and I got together when I was in Colorado and did a picture of us in plank with the sun going down. It was epic.

I hope you enjoyed this article!

If you’re interested in getting a copy of my book The Ripple Effect you can get it here!

And my new book – The Focus Effect – is available at this link.

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