The Psychology of Social Media: Finding Balance in an Evolving Digital World

This February 25, 2013 photo taken in Washington, DC, shows the splash page for the Internet social media giant Facebook. AFP
This February 25, 2013 photo taken in Washington, DC, shows the splash page for the Internet social media giant Facebook. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Just this month, a faculty member with expertise in social media was called upon by the news media to comment on a story about Instagram Beauty Contests. It has become exceedingly clear that social media is and will continue to be an integral part of our lives for decades to come. Who could argue that helping people to connect and communicate with each other regularly is not a good thing, especially in times of crisis and tragedy, when it allows each of us to quickly share life-saving information or respond to a national tragedy? Communication brings us together as a human and global family.

In the latest issue of INSIGHT, the magazine for alumni and friends of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, we explore the virtual self, and how social media is altering not only how we perceive others but how we are subsequently defining relationships with others. We also hear from several TCSPP experts on how the excessive use of social media can affect interpersonal interactions and relationships and our personal sense of well-being. Also discussed herein is an introduction to the emerging "darker side" of social media, especially among the youth of our nation. We have all read the tragic and heartbreaking stories about cyber bullying, increased depression and suicide, and the growing concerns over quick and sometimes brutal reputational damage. While many of us are enjoying the benefits of social media, we are also grappling with how best to understand and even prevent the related unintended consequences.

At the professional level and organizational level, many are increasingly engaged in how to leverage social media for constructive and business enhancing purposes. At the same time, many of us are surprised by how individual and organizational reputations can be damaged in a tweeting second. This new highly public rating system for everything we do -- personally and professionally -- has so quickly become part of our everyday reality.

Like all disruptive innovations and shifts in cultural norms, we will wait to determine the eventual outcome. For now, we must remember that even though we can publicly express our various opinions on almost any and every issue at any given time, this new freedom brings substantial responsibility. It seems reasonable to suggest that a society take an active role in shaping how an action can or cannot adversely affect the lives of individuals. As a psychologist whose practice was once dedicated to the well-being of children and adolescents, I am especially alert to how social media is impacting our adolescents and young adults. As a parent myself, I -- like many other parents -- take an active role in the use of social media with my own children. As an individual with great access to social media, I find myself reflecting more and more on its role in my own life. As a professional school president, I am curious to watch how social media and web applications will shape the profession of mental and behavioral health.

There are interesting days ahead.