Is Social Media Making Us Less “Social” Personally?
The above question seems to have sprung up as a topic of debate from the onset of social media. I find it an especially interesting point in the social media conversation because it is something that affects us all, or at least the majority of people to some degree. Even if you are completely oblivious to the world of social media (since you are reading this indicates you are not), the fact is that the world around you is immersed in the medium will ultimately affect your social interactions.
Like all arguments, it is important to define the topic at hand before diving in. Webster’s Dictionary provides various definitions for the word “social”, but that one that best applies to our circumstance is “marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with one’s friends or associates”. Keep that in the back of your mind for a bit.
First, let us begin with the argument for social media making us intrinsically less social. The claim here is obvious, but states that since we are spending more time interacting through the online space, we dedicate less time to communicating on the phone, in person, etc. Fair enough. I don’t think that anyone can argue that they haven’t substituted a Facebook message or Tweet for what would have been a phone call several years ago.
I think, however, much of the criticism that social media takes is the result of asking the wrong questions. People tend to always feel the need to rate everything on a spectrum; black or white, wrong or right, good or bad. Same goes for this discussion. I do not believe that what we are searching for can be laid out on a scale of “more social to less social”. The question we should be asking is “how is social media changing the definition of social, or personal”.
Like I said earlier, nearly everyone can admit to using social media as a substitute for face-to-face or phone conversation.That is the nature of this technology driven world we are a part of. Social media, however, allows us to connect with a much broader audience than ever before. We are no longer constrained to interacting with our group of friends or connections. With the click of a button we can be introduced to others on the other side of the globe with similar interests, hobbies, and values and begin a relationship that was never before possible. If we look back to our definition of social, the ability to connect and share in companionship with many others only serves to increase our social ability.
Facebook allows you to gain a glimpse into the life of a long-distance friend that you may only see every few years. Sure, knowing what is going on in their life from status updates may feel less personal than a phone call on the surface, but would you have really called them anyway? Those who we hope to stay “personally” in touch with in the traditional sense, we will if we choose to do so. I think that part of the beauty of social media is that it enables us to stay connected with those we care about, but when it comes down to it would ultimately not put forth much effort to stay in contact with.
Social media does not stop us from wanting to see each other; in fact it is just the opposite. Roll on down to Twitter and see thousands of Tweetups that are going on, encouraging you to hang with old friends and meet new ones. In essence, social media enhances classic “personal” interaction by improving communication channels. Foursquare enables us to know where our group of friends is on a given night, all the more reason to join them. Skype dramatically decreases the cost of calling, communicating, and seeing the faces of the ones we love when in years past it was too expensive to do so. The interaction we share in the social space ultimately enhances our quality of conversation when we do meet face-to-face. There is no longer reason to spend an hour catching up and going through formalities. We get that online, and are free to dive into deeper conversation. Social media should not be looked at as a substitute for personal interaction, but as a means of strengthening it.
Will social media isolate some individuals to purely communicate online? Yes, but these people would have strayed away from personal connection anyway in the end. Not everyone is extroverted, and that is fine. Life is full of choices, and if we choose to use social media as a means of reinforcing personal interaction, it will fulfill our wildest dreams.
This post is just a small piece of a continuous conversation, which is not going away anytime soon. Feel free to chime in, as I would love to hear your input. I encourage you to not try and pinpoint this dispute on a scale, but rather look at it in the eyes of how the definition of social and personable is advancing and evolving. I also promise to not have a blog post this serious for a long time. Cheers.
**Photo courtesy of Motherboard.tv