How Consuming Media Can Help And Hinder You Socially

There's an idea floating around that media can damage people's social lives. For one, you've got the lazy stereotype that the main reason awkward loners are the way they are is because they've spent too much time playing video games and watching anime. Also, some self-professed shy, lonely people will tell you high school movies and romantic comedies gave them a false sense of how the social world actually works.

You hear less about how consuming media could help someone socially. I think the issue isn't as simple as saying, "All media rots your brain" or, "How someone consumes media is totally inconsequential". I'll share my thoughts on ways I think it can boost or hurt someone's social life.

Note, when I say "media" I don't just mean TV and movies. I'm also referring to online articles and videos, books, podcasts, video games, live streams, social media posts, and so on.

Ways media could help you socially

I'm not saying a certain type of media will always have a positive impact, but it might. I'll stick to the bonus effects someone could get from media they're mainly consuming for entertainment. Of course, you could benefit if you read a book on conversation or anxiety management skills, but everyone knows that.

Media can give you more to talk about, and help you generally be more well-rounded and interesting

You could watch a new TV show and be able to chat with your classmates about it the next day. You could read a book or view some online videos on a hobby, and now be able to have a good discussion about it with your co-worker who's been into it for years. You could listen to a podcast about an environmental issue and be able to share an intelligent opinion on it.

Sometime people assume that you can only become more interesting through the active things you do outside of the house, and that lounging around on the couch watching TV or whatnot is a waste of time. However, if you think about it for a few seconds you'll realize that's not true. Some really engaging people are so fun to talk to because they've absorbed certain media and have all kinds of fascinating things to say about it.

Media can help you discover and improve in all kinds of hobbies, which you can then connect with people over

This is similar to the last point, but goes beyond just having more to add to a conversation. You may get into a new interest because you see it in the media, and then can use resources like online tutorials to improve at it. Once you're into a new hobby it's often not hard to find ways to connect with others over it, or find related social events.

Media can help you gain experience and knowledge about how the world works

For example, in high school you may be sheltered and socially inexperienced, and not have much sense of what it's like to go to a party or have a part-time job. You may pick up some knowledge and familiarity with those things through a book you read or show you see. Yeah, the portrayals may be exaggerated and not totally accurate, but it still fills in some gaps for you.

Media can help you understand and relate to different types of people

You may have limited opportunities to get to know and learn about certain kinds of people in your day to day life. Media can give you a window into their lives and mindset. When you do meet them in person you'll have a better foundation for being able to connect with them. They don't seem so one-dimensional and mysterious. For example, a guy may not feel like he can relate to his relatives who live on a farm. He could watch some vlogs about farm life to get a better sense of what their lives are like. A woman may not know much about her friend's bulimia, but listen to some podcasts about it and learn way more about what she's going through.

Media can give you common cultural reference points

There are movies, TV shows, online jokes, etc. that most people in a certain age group or demographic are familiar with and make references to. If you're in the loop you have an easy way to connect or joke around with everyone. If you're not up to speed on that random quote everyone keeps using as a punchline, you can feel clueless and like you're missing something.

I'm not saying everyone has to watch the same required list of TV shows their peers all grew up with, but it can be nice if you have that shared experience. If you missed something you can always catch up on it later, even if it's just looking up a summary so you finally know what everyone's getting at when they imitate the character from that one movie.

You can see examples of conversation in the media and learn from them

Obviously you can practice and polish your social skills through real life conversation, but it's not the only way you can learn. Even if you don't feel like you're actively looking for tips, you could get a sense of how to banter or ask effective follow up questions by listening to a podcast or watching a livestream. A movie may show a good example of how to resolve an argument.

You can see affirming, supportive examples of people like you

You may live in a small, closed-minded town where most people aren't like you, and anyone with your interests or values is looked down on. A positive, nuanced representation of yourself on TV may help you feel a little less broken and alone. Though these days you don't even need to wait for the mainstream media to get around to depicting you. A YouTube channel, Twitch stream, or social media group may be all you need to realize there are other people like you out there, and you're not all misfits.

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Ways consuming media can hinder you socially

Again, I'm not about black and white thinking. Even if watching, listening to, or reading certain kinds of media has a negative impact on your social life, it doesn't mean it's all bad, or couldn't also have upsides.

You can pick up false ideas about how the social world works

Like I wrote at the start of the article, some people will tell you they picked up inaccurate beliefs about the social world through the movies and TV shows they watched when they were growing up. Here are some common ones:

The fact is not all popular people are jerks. The same goes for anyone who's athletic or good looking. Not everyone who's unpopular or more alternative is a nice, accepting person. If you're really shy you probably have to do more than wait around for everyone to discover what a hidden gem you are. Some people keep dating toxic abusers, and never come to appreciate their kind hearted classmate who's held a torch for them all these years. Following simplistic stereotypes from the media this can cause you to write off people for no good reason, or pursue social strategies that aren't likely to pay out.

Then, of course, there are also the broader negative messages the media can spread, like that people from a certain race have various negative traits, or that all men or women must act a certain way to be acceptable.

Consuming a ton of media can keep you from getting enough social practice

I don't think it's inherently bad to enjoy spending a lot of time alone watching movies, being online, or playing video games. I don't believe the one "right" way to have fun is to do a bunch of group activities outside the home. However, practically speaking, you can fall behind socially if almost all of your free time is devoted to consuming media by yourself. Though technically, it's less the media's fault than the fact that you're on your own. You could have the same problem if you spent every free hour woodworking.

You can pick up some bad social habits

Just as you can indirectly absorb some useful social lessons through media, you can also learn some damaging ones. For example, modeling yourself after the hosts of a certain podcast may accidentally teach you to talk to everyone in an argumentative style, or use humor most people find too abrasive or random.

You can be exposed to views and stereotypes that harm your self-esteem

One movie may have a positive portrayal of someone with your interests or from your subculture. Another may paint an unflattering picture of people in your group, which makes you feel ashamed of yourself. Negative messages like that can hit especially hard when you're younger and still forming a sense of who you are. You may feel you have to hide your true passions from everyone, because some TV show made it seem like everyone looks down on people with your interests.