Dialectics of complexity: A five-country examination of lived experiences on social media


This study examined people’s lived experiences with social media through 10 focus groups with 82 total participants across five countries: Brazil, Germany, Malaysia, South Africa, and the United States. Findings demonstrate that social media make people’s lives less complex, but this belies heightened complexity as they negotiate three paradoxes when using social media. We describe these as dialectics between: convenience versus privacy, trust versus distrust, and meaningful versus wasted time. These dialectics fit into one over-arching theme that social media make people feel better but also worse, sometimes at the same time. We characterize these experiences as negative—and likely unintended—side effects of reflexive modernization. According to our participants, these tensions leave people in a sort of existential limbo—knowing social media can distress them but not always having the will to leave.