In past posts, I have referenced the anthropology-based work around various technology platforms I had the privilege to develop, including a study on Social Media. A recent article, “Instagram posts can reveal depression better than anything patients tell their doctors,” brought the insights of this social study to fore for me. It reminded me of the deep beauty that we can actually derive from social media. I’m not referring to pretty pictures, though that has an important role in our lives. I’m referring to the deeper, societal benefit Social gives us.
Yes, for many of us social media is a playful pastime. We can post great bikini pics or vacation vistas. We can air our grievances or, at our worst, use it to put others down. Social media — not matter which sites we frequent or how we’re using them (including the posting of seemingly banal stuff) –serves as greater purpose: one that fundamental and, well, beautiful.
How? Because of the very elements of social — it’s real time, and raw nature; and the relative anonymity or physical distance from others — we tend to be more real and vulnerable. And, we will often say things and show things to MANY people that we would either keep to ourselves or only tell a few friends. In doing so, we often use a sort of language, what we call “poetic language,” (imagery, gifs, emoji’s or slang) that’s full of nuance and emotion to truly convey what we feel. For example, if you asked me how my day was over text a few years ago, the best I could offer was “good” or “GOOD” of “Way good.” But now I can add some rainbows, a video clip and an emoji looking up towards heaven to show how amazing it was.
It’s these elements that compel us to share and be open to “hearing” back — whether that’s about the best restaurant in a foreign city or if a woman should leave her abusive boyfriend (true story on Reddit). And this exchange of ideas, insights and challenges helps us learn about our worlds and our place in it. We call this “Self-Making through Others.” What does this mean? We are less and less motivated by individual self-help and more by interdependence!
So when I saw this article about being able to detect depression in others thanks to Instagram images, I thought:”this is yet another wonderful example of Self-making through Others.” The article explains how we can help alert others’ to their pain and maybe suggest ways to help them thanks to their Instagram photos. According to EPJ Data Science, a pair of researchers, Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont and Andrew Reece of Harvard University, were able to analyze Instagram posts based on previously known markers of depression. The article points out: “Depressed people tend to prefer grayer, darker colors, and to show less evidence of social activity (which the researchers thought might be evidenced by the absence of faces in posted images).” And depressed people tend not to use filters.
Imagine if you and your social network realized one of your friend’s is experiencing deep, emotional pain and you could help him or her? Wouldn’t you want to? Thanks to social media, in this case Instagram, we can. I realize social media can also contribute to peoples’ pain, for example, when the body-shamers rear their heads. But as our research indicated, most of what we share and chat about is positive, helpful and insightful; not negative. And now, thanks to this research, we can be more aware of others’ emotional states, and help them through their situations.
Social media is certainly light and fun, and and we should enjoy that. But let’s not just sit back an admire people’s images or scroll past them. Let’s pay closer attention to what others share. Let’s uplift those even higher who are celebrating their lives and embrace those who are crying out for help. And we will all be better for it.