Social Media: Does it Connect or Disconnect People in Real Life?

What do you think? Does social media connect or disconnect people in real life? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s an important issue as online social networks are becoming as real as our real life, and it’s getting harder and harder to make a distinction.

My first guess was that social media (and mobile technology) should connect people. I mean, otherwise what’s with all the “Facebook Friends” and followers on Twitter, Instagram, and others, right? But then when you think about it a bit more, you see that it’s not always the case. For example, take a look at the image below:

Family Dinner in Real Life - Perspective IX by Behrouz Jafarnezhad
Seem like a very connected family – just not to each other! (Source: PropertyTalk Forum)

To me, it’s a bit of a paradox. What’s supposed to connect people and make them more “social,” disconnects them from real people – and connects them to real virtual people.

I believe there is nothing wrong with the second part. In fact, like Anna Pickard and many others, I’m totally pro-connecting to real virtual people; but NOT at the cost of “real” real people.

Umm.. Quick question:

During the last two decades, the internet, social media, and mobile devices (the ingredients) have had a profound impact on many aspects of our lives; and changes in our connectivity habits and communications paradigms have been two of the main ones.

Today, we have the ability to be connected 24/7 and communicate independent from time or location. This is unlike any other generation in the history of mankind. The ingredients are not just parts of our real life anymore; for many, they are the real life. They are changing our behaviour on so many levels that it cannot be ignored anymore.

Connectivity Affects Real Life

So, why is this suddenly more important? I mean, looking at the picture above, I would think it has always been the same. People have always been busy with their own life – and that makes sense. However, the difference is that there used to be a time and a place, but not anymore! Now it’s all the time and everywhere!

I mean, you wouldn’t have seen the board members of a company all reading newspaper during a meeting, but now, you probably can see them checking their emails during board meetings. Or at a dinner party, you wouldn’t have seen all the guests reading books, but now, you see almost all of them are checking their Facebook feed at the dinner table!

This is important because the combination of these ingredients has given us the ability to remove ourselves from where we are, and be wherever we want to be. Some might argue that this is pretty awesome – and it is – but is it?

Using technology, we are settling for mere connection instead of [real] communication (Sherry Turkle on TED) – escaping reality to enjoy virtuality – and I think we are missing out on some very real life stuff.

Real Friends and Family, Real Relationships

With all the friends and followers on social media, we are missing out on real friends and family and real relationships. The ones who are close to us and are physically present. We don’t pay enough attention to them, because we are busy with our Twitter or Instagram feeds and likes.

Or for example, nowadays, parents complain about kids’ not paying attention because they’re busy with their smart phones, but the same parents usually have one eye on their smart phones, doing email or social media, at breakfast while their kids are talking to them; but it’s about the example we’re setting with our behaviour, isn’t it?

The Ability to Be Alone

Being able to connect and communicate anytime at any place, we are losing the ability to be alone – with our thoughts; with ourselves. As soon as we’re alone – or we feel like we’re alone – we reach out to our pocket and take out our smart phone; and there we go! We’re not alone anymore.

Being alone is not necessarily a bad thing that we have to avoid. It can help us focus, pay attention to what we have to pay attention to, or THINK – deeply. We can’t do that with so many distractions racing to grab our attention.

I’m not saying that we always have to be alone, but not being able to be alone has consequences, and the main one is loneliness.

(Further reading suggestion: The Difference Between Loneliness & Being Alone by Samuel Leighton-Dore.)

 

Although many would argue that online interactions are with other real people on the other side, but the truth is that it cannot beat face to face interaction – with real feelings, not emojis! I mean, here’s a quick question to put it in context:

Conclusion

All in all, I think social media is a great way to connect to people all around the world. Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be in this business if it was all negative.

Although there’s no doubt that we can get a lot out of social media, I think there are downsides to it. I believe the key is to understand it and prioritise – specially our time.

What do you think? Up until now, do you think social media has connected or disconnected you in real life? Share your story! We would love to hear it!

GREAT STUFF, RIGHT?

GREAT STUFF, RIGHT?

Join the iX insiders list to make sure you won't miss out on the next one and get access to iX Vault and exclusive FREE downloadables!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Oh, and by the way, you can follow Perspective IX with Bloglovin as well.

28 Comments Social Media: Does it Connect or Disconnect People in Real Life?

  1. Shane November 9, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    An interesting post with some interesting questions around why people use social media.
    Social media is something that fits into the fundamental need of people to fit in and be accepted – and thats okay on many levels.
    It is however, important on a personal level to strive to make real connections. Too often you see people motivated by likes, followers and “distant” connections that do nothing more than help them to paint a perfect popular image of themselves.

    We need to all measure engagement on the value of the connections and it can be difficult to do this through things like Facebook and Twitter. I’m really happy that we are starting to see things like blab.im and periscope because these are REAL social networks. There is no filter, no time to compose – its all on the fly and that’s why people like it. It’s all about interaction with real people.

    On setting boundaries for technology – I try to have down time where possible.
    Once place I won’t compromise is when it comes to family. I use an app on my phone to impose a couple of hours “family time” in the evenings where I can step back from social media and the noise to focus on the things that matter.

    Reply
    1. Behrouz November 9, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Shane.

      I really like the notion of “distant” connections. Also, the fact that we get to edit, delete, and create the “perfect image” is really important, and should be considered; so thank you for mentioning it.

      Quick question: Can you please share the app – the family time imposer one – you mentioned?

      Reply
    2. Mallory November 14, 2015 at 11:41 pm

      Great point, Shane, about The transparency inherent in new social media platforms like blab.im!

      Reply
  2. Clayton d'Arnault November 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    The following article embodies how I feel about what technology is really doing for us: https://medium.com/digital-culturist/stop-saying-technology-is-causing-social-isolation-1e004de63a5ee

    I think people focus on the negatives more than the positives. But, I agree that no matter how you argue it, I think it all boils down to balance. We tend to have a natural addictive disposition, which causes us to abuse things we like. This is something that will never go away, especially as technology continues to advance and become engrained in everyday life. So I think in order to create this balance, It’s necessary to understand and appreciate both sides of the coin.

    Reply
    1. Behrouz November 10, 2015 at 4:04 pm

      Thank you, Clayton. ‘Balance’ is exactly the keyword here, and as you mentioned, understanding both sides of it is necessary, and it’s not possible without education.

      PS. The link you shared points to a 404 error 🙂

      Reply
        1. Behrouz November 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm

          This one works. Will read it soon. Thank you.

          Reply
  3. Peter Billingham November 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Behrouz – what an interesting perspective on real/virtual relationships. It’s something that is a growing subject in lots of areas where I am mixing at the moment. Perhaps there is a movement developing? It is so often the case that when you see anybody these days they are in the mobile friendly stance. Hunched over, thumbs active. I even wrote about it myself recently as well http://peterbillingham.com/social-media-sabbath/ very interesting reading.

    Reply
    1. Behrouz November 11, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Thank you, Peter. I think there should be a movement to inform and educate people. Technology is affecting our life, and although lots of those effects are positive, there are negative effects too.

      By the way, I really like the “thumbs active” people. I think I’ll start using it 😀 And thanks for sharing your post. I’ll definitely read it.

      Reply
  4. Thessauron November 12, 2015 at 7:01 am

    I think the underlying effect of social media is that it inflates perception. All those likes and kisses and hearts and retweets, very easy for someone to start believing he is that great, popular, beloved etc. With time, the social media world becomes more attractive compared to the real world. And the user secludes himself inside this pseudo perception.

    Reply
    1. Behrouz November 12, 2015 at 9:27 am

      Thank you, Thessauron. That’s exactly the negative effect I’m trying to warn people about. I think social media is a great way/tool to enhance different aspects of our life, as long as it doesn’t take over our real life.

      Reply
  5. Brita Long November 12, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Eh, I’m a little tired of reading the same piece over and over with photos of people on their phones, completely removed from any original context. For example, my husband and I recently took a 9-day vacation together. We were literally only separated during bathroom breaks and on the few rides we decided to do separately. Oh, and this vacation included a long drive there and back. We spent the vast majority of that time together talking. So yeah, we were both on our phones during most of our meals. Those were the only times all day when we sat down. We were checking wait times for our next rides. We were responding to emails. We were playing our favorite games that we hadn’t played all day. If you took a picture of us during a meal, you could easily twist that around to say we weren’t connecting with each other.

    Besides, I use my phone (or my laptop) to keep in touch with my real life friends and family. In the last 6 years, I’ve lived in 10 apartments or houses in 8 cities in 3 countries. Technology has enabled me to stay in touch with all my friends and family while far away from them. It’s a false dichotomy to say that the people we’re connecting with online are only Internet friends whereas the people we’re connecting with in person are real friends/family. Trust me, I’ve been to enough awkward get-togethers with vague acquaintances to know that just because you’re spending time together in person doesn’t mean you’re more likely to become BFF.

    Of course, considering I met my husband online, and I’ve met up with four “Internet” friends in person already (meeting another tomorrow!!!!!!), I’m probably biased.

    Reply
    1. Shane November 12, 2015 at 5:38 pm

      I think these are good points and it sounds like you are using social media for connecting rather than just meaningful time killing which is really good. While I do always have down time for my priorities, a lot of what I do revolved around my phone and laptop. It does go deeper than that though! Like you, I have many friends that I met online first and then later they became colleagues or friends away from the keyboard so I do owe social media a lot of credit.

      Reply
    2. Behrouz November 12, 2015 at 11:59 pm

      Thank you for sharing your views, Brita. Just to be clear, I’m totally biased myself. I always have my phone and laptop with me because they are part of what I study/do for a living. I’ve made many new friends through social media in the past 8 years. I used to organise Twitter and FriendFeed – RIP – meet ups back in 2009, and I found many amazing friends on different platforms, and kept in touch with many others who are living around the world.

      I also agree that the context is very important to the story, so in that sense, you’re right; although I still think there’s something wrong with the “family dinner” photo.

      Besides, I believe this is more of a problem for the younger generation who haven’t experienced pre-internet/all-digital era. Observe them for a week, then you’ll see what I mean. Teenagers get together and all they do is SnapChat or Instagram. They don’t talk. They don’t go out – except to take pictures for their IGs! They feel sad and unloved when they don’t get enough “likes” on their photos! Basically, all they do is scrolling and snapping! Even if we consider that normal teenage behaviour, like the need for peer acceptance, they’re paying for it with their future.

      I don’t normally read Huffington Post, but this article by Nate Hanson – I know him from working with Sumry – makes me think: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nate-hanson/the-last-generation-of-ki_b_6139504.html

      I enjoy social media and I think it’s amazing, but only until I’m using it to connect, not if it’s taking over my life – and I know that’s a choice. I know I can live without it; but take away a teenager’s smart phone or disconnect him/her from internet, how do they cope with it?

      Reply
  6. Mallory November 14, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    Hey there! Point I am a new reader here but was really intrigued by the depth of this article and especially like that you brought up Sherry Turkle. I read her book Alone Together recently and loved several of her arguments she made including her quote
    “We expect more from technology and less from each other.”
    We are so intertwined and this network of half-baked connections that we have naturally lost the ability to connect on an intimate level IRL

    It’s funny because I recently wrote a post very similarly related to your piece
    http://www.mischievousmal.com/social-media/the-internet-rabbit-hole/
    Check it out if you want ! Excited to read more intellectual, thought-provoking post from you!

    Reply
    1. Behrouz November 15, 2015 at 12:27 am

      Hey, Mallory. Thank you for your kind words. Hope you subscribe/follow to come back for future posts.

      I must say, I haven’t read Turkle’s Alone Together yet, but I’ve seen that quote and I love it. I see people turning to technology the moment they feel alone, and I think that’s a little problematic in long term.

      Will definitely read your post – the title has already got me thinking! Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
  7. Pav November 16, 2015 at 4:42 am

    I definitely think our attention span is lower. Sometimes as soon as conversation begins I think whether or not it is “interesting” to me. If not, then my attention is gone. If yes, then you have 100% of it. However, taking out a phone when talking one on one is sometimes ridiculous. One of the things that I noticed a lot is people not using each others names often. Your name is literally the most important thing you have, but everyone just goes on saying “yo dude” or any other alternative.

    Reply
    1. Behrouz November 16, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      I totally agree. I think we rarely pay full attention to anything anymore. Our attention is usually divided as we’re multitasking. We also usually make a snap judgement in the first few second of a conversation and that’s it; changing someone’s views after that judgement is very difficult. That’s why first impressions are very important – both in digital and real life.
      Thank you, Pav.

      Reply
  8. Pingback: Connect or disconnect | Comm 663's Blog

  9. Amy October 17, 2016 at 5:47 am

    I think people still hang out in real life just as much as they did before social media.

    Reply
  10. Kenny Lee October 17, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I think it does both. It connects people who are far and distant people who are closed to us. Does the scenario of having a dinner with your loved ones while texting away on your phone sound familiar?

    Spending too much time absorbed into the virtual world of social media’s like Facebook may also twist our perception on reality. Example, people are looking for the number of ‘likes’ on their photos as an indication of acceptance. I don’t think that’s a right indication.

    What’s your thought?

    Reply
    1. Behrouz Jafarnezhad October 18, 2016 at 9:01 am

      I think you’re right, Kenny. Social media has the power to both connect and disconnect us, however, the way we choose to use it – or let it use us – defines our relationship with it.

      Reply
  11. Sonya October 18, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    This is a very interesting and well thought out post. I think it is a question a lot of people are really starting to ask, and it is even becoming something that tears apart the differences in generations.
    “People have always been busy with their own life – and that makes sense. However, the difference is that there used to be a time and a place, but not anymore! Now it’s all the time and everywhere!”
    This quote from your excerpt really made me think. I think Now, being on social media is the time and place, that is why we have snap chat, and Instagram. We want people to know and see what we are doing right now, not what we did earlier in the day. Again, great article, Social Media is extremely powerful so its up to each individual person to control how it affects their lives

    Reply
    1. Behrouz Jafarnezhad October 19, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Thank you, Sonya. I think we used to live in the moment, but now many just live to share the moments – and I don’t think that’s right.

      Reply
  12. David February 9, 2017 at 9:07 am

    I always got teased and made fun of almost all my life so communicating to people face to face well no one really understands where I am coming from so social media takes the place of a lot of relationships. trying to learn how to get along when others keep tearing you apart in a red flag there are a few people I interact with but not everyone.

    Reply
    1. Behrouz Jafarnezhad February 9, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. That’s a very different point of view – and a really interesting one. I’d say social media is connecting you to real life, isn’t it?

      Reply
      1. Moe jeb March 26, 2017 at 9:02 am

        Cool man cool😎😎😎

        Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *