The MerriamWebster dictionary defines social media as: “forms of electronic communication(such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which userscreate online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages andother content (such as videos) (“Social Media”).”According to recent statistics, there are almost 2.6 billion people on socialmedia (Hainla). Experts estimatethat every year for the next 5 years, over 5 million people will join socialmedia (“Number of Social Media”). The average internet user has more than fivesocial media accounts (Mandor). On these different platforms there is a widerange of message types someone could send; Snapchat sends photos, WhatsAppsends texts messages, Instagram posts picture and Periscope lets peoplebroadcast video blogs. Between the staggering number of social mediasubscribers and the range of messaging platforms, it is clear that social mediaplays a prevalent role in how people communicate. While in theory, the abilityto stay in constant contact with our friends and loved ones sounds great,social media is causing the quality of our conversation to go down.
This is dueto the lack of focus and investment in others. Social media connects peoplemore than ever but while our connections increase in quantity, it is lacking inquality. Inour day, people spend a lot of time connecting to each other but a lot of our connectingis at a distance. A businessman once complained to Sherry Turkle, a sociologistwho studies people’s relationship with technology, that no one talks to eachother in his office. Everyone is too busy spending their potential socialmoments on the internet.
As the businessman thought about the situation, herealized that he too is being absorbed by the internet. He then admitted that itis easier for him to be on his phone then to converse with his colleagues (“TheFlight”). This is not just standard practice in places of work. There seems tobe an unwritten rule about being in public; whether a restaurant,transportation, or even while waiting online at a convenience store, that oneshould be on their phones to avoid any confrontation. Even worse, it is notuncommon for parents to ignore their children because they are preoccupied withtheir cell phone (“Stop Googling”). One of the issues of social media is thatonline we are popular and we are talking to a lot of people, but in reality, itis not so.
This is destroying our connections where they count the most, thereal world. Meaningfuldialogue requires two things, presence and empathy. Now a day, when people havetime to themselves they no longer use it to think, they spend their time using socialmedia. There was a study done to see how long people would be able to sit andthink.
It was discovered that people preferred to give themselves minorelectric shocks the suffer through 15 minutes of silence (“Stop Googling”). Thinking stimulates growth, it helps us formcoherent and logical ideas. When we do not think but just respond we are notpresent in our conversation. This lack of being present creates dialoguewithout depth. If our conversations arenot meaningful then they are not really connecting us (“Stop Googling”). Oncewe are not connected to each other we begin to lose our empathy since we nolonger are relating to others. It is no wonder why in a study of collegestudents who use social media, according to a study had a 40 percent decline in empathy (“Stop Googling”). When we communicate with each other withoutempathy we are not connecting.
Empathy is the key to creating a connection between two people. The MerriamWebster dictionary defines empathy as “theaction of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariouslyexperiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another (“Empathy”).”Understanding others is how we become closer to people, that is how we becomeconnected. When people lose empathy, their relationships do not stimulate deepconnection. If people do not have a deep bond then they are only connectedsuperficially.
When people connectsuperficiality and no longer relate to each other, it could cause them todehumanize others. Monica Lewinsky, in a Ted talk in 2015, spoke about howsocial media destroyed her life. When the scandal with her and the presidentbecame public there was no modern day social media, there were only commentsections on news websites. Lewinskyspoke about how even in that primitive form of social media were still able tosay vicious things in public forms about her. She spoke about how sheconsidered suicide and fell into a deep depression because of this publicberatement.
In our time the comment section on news websites would not even beconsidered public compared to forums like Facebook and Twitter (Lewinsky). There are unfortunately countlesscases of people’s lives being destroyed because of cyberbullying. Social mediacan become a catalyst for people to bully others. When we see people on ascreen it can lead to us visualizing others as just colors on a screen. Withoutempathetic connecting people do not feel that they are talking about a realperson. Not connecting to others can lead to this dehumanization. Therefore,social media does not seem to connect us.
When analyzing anything one mustlook at the positives to determine whether the negative effects should holdback people from using it. Social media is a public platform which and makesthings visible to billions of people. With this many eyes watching, it hasnever been easier to fundraise for an organization. Lev-Hatorah, a school Ionce attended, raised 600 thousand dollars in twenty-four hours due to a socialmedia campaign. Lev-Hatorah is not an anomaly, every day there are hundreds ofvery worthy organizations appealing succefully for money. Without social media,their message would not have been as wide spread and would not have made asmuch money. The famed ALS ice bucket challenge raised over 100 million dollarsfor research and people who suffer from ALS (Wolff-Mann).
Just as social media can raise negative awareness, whenused right it can spread positive social awareness. In recent news, there is amovement called #metoo. This movement’s goal is to make people aware of howunfortunately common sexual misconduct is. This movement has led to the oustingof many public figures who would have otherwise gotten away with their crimes.Also, #metoo helped a lot of women who have been sexually abused to beemotionally supported by an online community of people who can they can relateto. This shows how social media can help people connect to others. The goal of social media is toconnect people. David Ginsberg and Moira Burke are researchers who study theeffects of social media on its users.
In a recent report, they reported a lot of what goes on in social media lacks depth anddoes not make people feel connected and in some cases, lead to depression. Theyexplain that using social media the wrong way is the issue, not social media initself. On social media one can connect with family and friends when they arenot physically present. Also, people can keep in contact with loved ones who theynever get to see, such as relatives who live other countries. The study foundthat when someone sees their past connections, like old photos and conversation,it helped them reconnect with old emotions. The report found that when someone uses socialmedia mindlessly can lead to depression, which is the feeling of not being connectedto others.
The researchers also discovered if someone used social media inmoderation and used it while they were more aware, the user would feel astronger sense of connection (Ginsberg and Burke). Social media seems to have theability to either damage relationships or connect people. On the connectingside, social media connects us to old memories and each other. The extreme formof social media’s connecting power is that social media can spread awarenessand help people connect with a large group of people. Social media’s damagingside is when it causes conversation to be superficial. This leads to peoplebecoming less empathetic to each other. Taken to the extreme it can cause atotal lack of empathy and even have people dehumanize each other.
The key to having the positive aspects ofsocial media is to use it in moderation and with awareness. Social media shouldnot be the main tool for strengthening a connection, rather just a way ofenhancing existing ones. Too much focus on an online connection brings out itsnegative effects. In conclusion, it would seem social media used with having ina state of awareness would, in theory, connect us. Using social media withmoderation is great in theory but in practice, it might not be so feasible.
Intheory no bank vault should ever need to be locked. It would be irresponsibleto leave a bank vault unlocked and guarded with the premise that people willnot steal because stealing is wrong. In fact, no one would even use a bank likethat. It isnot realistic to rely on the masses to not be tempted to steal. Unlike a bank,we cannot take steps to prevent cyberbullying or the lack of empathy that cancome from social media. We can have all the right mindset when using socialmedia but in the end, it is like the businessman told Sherly Turkle, it is moretempting to just use the phone than speak with his coworkers.