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:
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 of 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, I 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, Real Life
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 smartphones, but the same parents usually have one eye on their smartphones, doing email or social media, at breakfast while their kids are talking to them; but it's 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 smartphone, 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:
All in all, I think social media is a great way to connect with 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 - especially 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!
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