How Social Media Turned Evil

By Dan Kadlec

October 31, 2018

Social media discourages smart spending

Social media, and the Internet as a whole, have been taking a lot of flak lately for some good reasons: privacy issues, of course, but also for the spread of fake news, disinformation, hate messages, and cyberbullying.

These are not small or passing concerns. On the same day this week, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni proclaimed that “the Internet will be the death of us” while Times contributor Kara Swisher declared social media was a “monster.”

Bruni noted that Cesar Sayoc, alleged to have sent pipe bombs to political enemies of President Trump, and Robert Bowers, accused of murdering 11 Jewish Americans in Pittsburgh, were both radicalized online. “Enclaves of the internet warped the worldviews of all of these men, convincing them of the primacy and purity of their rage,” Bruni writes.

Swisher, also taking note of these and other thugs, calls social media a “monster” that is “designed so that the awful travels twice as fast as the good.” Awful, by the way, includes poor financial practices, which are nothing next to the online spread and nurturing of outright evil. But it is a notable concern nonetheless.

Two-thirds of Millennials say they do not understand how people in their social network afford the lifestyles they portray online, according to a study from Fidelity Investments. An equal share says social media, which spreads FOMO (fear of missing out) like a weed, has a negative impact on their finances.

You may know FOMO as keeping up with the Joneses. So, yes, it is an ages old thing. But social media…

• • •

…acts like a steroid, magnifying the effect through so many connected friends, family members, and casual acquaintances. Young people, especially, are hyperaware of what others are doing.

The most damaging part is that social media almost never tells the full story. So, while a young person may be envying a friend that posted smiling Instagram shots on a three-mast, tall ship in the San Francisco Bay—and wondering where they got the cash—the full story is that this friend was on a 15-minute break from their side gig swabbing the decks for a tech billionaire.

Young people are highly susceptible to this kind of imaging. One in five Millennials say FOMO experienced via social media is a major driver of splurging, vs. just 6% of their boomer parents, Fidelity found. Financial educators should consider lessons around the rose-colored nature of social media, helping students to understand that much of what they see online is an illusion. They would do well to avoid temptation.

Better to set goals and stay with them. Paying down debt, saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, or saving for a down payment on a house are good places to start. Two-thirds of Millennials say they would be motivated to save for such things if they could better visualize the result. An illustration of compound growth might keep young people on track. Only 9% say their social network encourages them the save.

Another strategy is asking young people to look beyond their expenditure to how it will make them feel later. Blowing a paycheck on a weekend trip you don’t really care about, just to not miss out, is an empty feeling. Spend discretionary money on things that make you happy.

The ills of social media notwithstanding, young people are doing a fair job of balancing today’s wants and needs with their future financial security, Fidelity found. Two-thirds say that saving is as gratifying as splurging.

Millennials are far more likely than older generations to value things like therapy and counseling to tend to their mental health. Millennials say paying essential living expenses, building an emergency fund, and saving for retirement are their top three financial priorities.

So even if the Internet has emerged as a great spreader of evil and confusion—and throws temptation in our face every day—young people are doing alright, even if they could be doing better.

How to Get the Last Third of Life Right

Bruce Springsteen has always been a storyteller. Yet last year, at age 68, he found a whole new way to tell stories—on Broadway—and a whole new batch of stories to tell.

Mixed in with his older songs about working class rebellion and romances that ended badly, the Boss recounts tales of his life now to packed audiences at the Walter Kerr theater in New York City. Like how he dances with his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. And how much he misses his longtime friend and sax player Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011 after complications from a stroke at age 69, just a year older than Springsteen is now.

“Aging is scary but fascinating,” Springsteen wrote in his 2016 memoir Born to Run. “And great talent morphs in strange and often enlightening ways.”

Springsteen calls it morphing but the more common term these days is reinvention.

Whatever word you use, the dynamics are the same: You reach a turning point in your life when outside forces and inner yearnings combine to convince you that you need a new path to remain vital and relevant. Enlightenment is what happens, hopefully, along the way.

Keep reading

More on technology and money:

How Venmo is Changing the Rules of Financial Education

With ‘Chatbots’ Will We Need Financial Education?

How Venmo is Changing Personal Finance

Cardless Cash Part of Financial Literacy Landscape

 

Posted in Policy & Government on October, 2018