The term ‘what a small world' has become literal as we have never been this connected globally due to social media and instant messaging apps. It's this urge to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snap our daily events for self validation or the expression of our identity perhaps. Social media has played a fundamental role in our lives since 1997 revolutionising the way we communicate with each other. This is an advantage for the most part, for example we are more updated on current events around the world, it's instant and we are becoming more diversified as a race. The question here is, what will become of real life human experiences and interactions in the years ahead of us?
It all began with a website called Six Degrees, which enabled users to create a profile and then could start adding other users as friends. It lasted for a total 4 years starting from 1997 and ended in 2001. Onwards from that came instant messaging and blogging. It quickly became common for people to be socially active online, around 100 million people had access to the internet by the year 2000. People took this new tool to their advantage and began to use various chat rooms from discussions on topics, dating and making friends or keeping in touch with old friends, unaware that the massive boom of social media was yet to come. MySpace was the first popular social media platform to engage with friends and create new ones through. Inspired by MySpace came Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 which now claims to have over one billion users. Social media was not only for making friends, it could be used for professional business individuals to be able to connect with one another and find jobs. Fast forward to 2010 came the most popular photo sharing app Instagram, people nowadays make sure they include their Instagram handle on business cards and other advertisements. In fact it has become almost unusual to see a business website/card without any social media handles. This is a common social media marketing strategy to boost the visibility of their websites and social media accounts to be updated about their current events.
It's safe to say that some people are obsessed with social media to the point where they feel the need to update the world on everything that's happening in their daily lives that they often times forget to fully live in the moment. “I often heard parents complain that their children preferred computers to ‘real people' ” — (Danah Boyd, It's Complicated 2014). This is seen a lot in individuals who often feel disconnected in the real world and feel the need to spend more time on social media. On Facebook, competition and comparison are pervasive, when browsing through the news feed, one is flooded with statuses and photos of their friends which can lead to feelings of envy that may contribute to depression. Tandoc, Ferrucci, and Duffy looked at this in closer detail and found that one pivotal factor was associated with the build-up of Facebook envy: Facebook surveillance. “Facebook surveillance is the passive use of Facebook where people only read the news feed, check other people's status updates, view other people's photos, and browse other people's timelines – without actively engaging or interacting with other people. In a nutshell, stalking instead of talking.”— Tandoc, E. C., Ferrucci, P., & Duffy, M. (2015) (3).
On the other hand, social media has indeed given us the opportunity for direct communication with people we may not be able to meet in the near future but would like to build an alliance with. For example, people in the media industry such as photographers/filmmakers, there are certain creatives that we would look up to but would never even think about having the chance to speak to let alone meet. Social media is a great platform to reach out to those people and to be inspired by the work that they do. Another thing is that by keeping contacts as such, it becomes easier for creatives to get work by word of mouth. This paves a way for greater and more direct communication between people around the world because we are enabled the access to do so. This can also take a turn for the worst with the likes of users befriending unknown people around the world which can be dangerous if a lot of information about oneself is given out.
“My mom always uses the excuse about the internet being ‘public' when she defends herself. It's not like I do anything to be ashamed of, but a girl needs her privacy. I do online journals so I can communicate with my friends. Not so my mother could catch up on the latest gossip of my life.” – (Bly Lauritano-Werner, 17) (1)
“The PBS documentary film, Digital Nation, has an entire segment called “Distracted by Everything”. In it, the authors argue that in today's digital world everything can distract us from what we are doing. This affects the way schools work, the way students write their essays, even how ties between people form. The research that they cite suggests that human beings are not capable of performing several tasks simultaneously and well. If such is the case, it might be a strong argument against the notion that strong ties can emerge between people on the Internet. Perhaps, as Turkle (2011) and Carroli (2011) argue, the Internet is not only bringing the world together, but is creating a paradoxical “community of strangers” who are “alone together”, unable to connect on a deep level.” — (Modzelewski, Rafał. “Virtual Togetherness: Sense of Identity and Community in Cyberspace”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies 1/2013, 37-53). (2)
There is also evidence to suggest that the individual characteristics of social media users may influence the direction of social outcomes. Research based on older forms of computer-mediated communication suggests that socially anxious people benefit from their online interactions due to online disinhibition (Suler, 2005)(4), a phenomenon known as the social compensation hypothesis (Desjarlais & Willoughby, 2010; Jin, 2013; Poley & Luo, 2012)(5). However, the results discussed here suggest that shy or socially anxious individuals who use social media to achieve online disinhibition may actually be at risk of increasing their loneliness (Teppers et al.,2014)(6). The constant craving to be plugged into the virtual world may cost us the wonderful things that happen in front of our eyes. Such outcomes suggest that the social compensation hypothesis may need to be revised to account for the effects of social media use. We no longer have conversations, we share information. We no longer use words, we use ‘textese' — abbreviations and acronyms. We have came to the conclusion that people have nothing more to offer other than information either about themselves or the world, and for this reason, we see no reason why we should spend time interacting in person. Our communication skills are slowly shrinking. Oration was once considered a great skill, one reserved for those with wealth, power and titles. Nowadays public speaking seems more difficult than it is and the associated skills unnecessary. We can now hold the attention of our audience with PowerPoint presentations — or even better, avoid speaking to a large audience altogether (Paul Hudson. Elite Daily, 2013)(7).
Nowadays, rarely can we see someone immersed in a book or magazine because people revert to their mobile phones for the latest news or for entertainment to pass time while traveling. We would think that we are remaining in constant communication with a large number of people because the platform is so huge and that makes us more socialised, but if anything it could be steering us in an anti-social direction, this is a destructive illusion created by social networking platforms. Social media, at least in some cases, could be pushing us away from soul and deep human connection. We need to comprehend that social media can have a positive or negative influence on our lives depending on how we use it and to what extent we use it. It can either enhance or undermine our lives and possible promote mass social isolation if not used in moderation to facilitate and supplement face-to-face interactions. As our social horizons expand we also tend to have more diverse connections with people all over the world, but, we may be spending too much of our time attempting to maintain superficial connections online where we could be using that time and effort to cultivate deeper relationships in real life. Hence, we must examine our technology usage to ensure that it is not stopping us from engaging in real life connections and receiving emotional support from those who are closest to us because social media cannot serve as a replacement for this.
(1). (Citation: boyd, danah. (in press) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning, Identity Volume (ed. David Buckingham) — Lauritano-Werner, Bly. 2006. “Reading My LiveJournal.” Youth Public Radio. June 28. http://youthradio.org/society/npr060628_onlinejournal.shtml).
(2). Modzelewski, Rafał. “Virtual Togetherness: Sense of Identity and Community in Cyberspace”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies 1/2013, 37-53.
(3). Tandoc, E. C., Ferrucci, P., & Duffy, M. (2015). Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 139-146.
(4). Suler, J. (2005). The online disinhibition effect. International Jour- nal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 2, 184–188.
(5). Desjarlais, M., & Willoughby, T. (2010). A longitudinal study
of the relation between adolescent boys' and girls' computer use with friends and friendship quality: Support for the social compensation or the rich-get-richer hypothesis? Computers in Human Behaviour, 26, 896–905.
(6). Teppers, E., Luyckx, K., Klimstra, T.A., & Goossens, L. (2014). Loneliness and Facebook motives in adolescence: A longitudinal
inquiry into directionality of effect. Journal of Adolescence, 37,
(7). (Paul Hudson. Elite Daily, 2013). Why Social Networking Makes Us Less Social
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